Voter Turnout Surging Among People with Disabilities

New Data Released Ahead of National Disability Voter Registration Week (July 15-19)

Newswise — PISCATAWAY, N.J. – People with disabilities comprise an increasingly powerful voting bloc heading into the 2020 elections, according to a new report by two Rutgers University researchers. The report finds people with disabilities were strongly represented in the turnout surge in the 2018 midterms, exceeding the number of Hispanic/Latino voters and nearing the number of African-American voters. Twenty percent of all voters either had a disability or lived with a person with a disability at the time of the last election, suggesting at least one-fifth of the electorate may be interested in issues affecting the disability community.

“Despite facing many barriers to voting, people with disabilities are politically engaged and will be a significant part of the electorate in 2020,” said Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations Professor Lisa Schur, who co-authored the report. “It’s good for democracy when we see such increased turnout by a group that is historically underrepresented at the polls.”

The researchers analyzed data from the federal government’s Current Population Survey Voting Supplement, which uses six questions to determine whether a person has a disability. Their report finds: 

  • Turnout Surge: 49.3 percent of people with disabilities voted in 2018, up from 40.8 percent in the 2014 midterms: an increase of 8.5 percentage points. (Click here for the full report, including year-over-year comparisons, voter turnout by disability type, and a complete state-by-state breakdown.) 
  • Powerful Bloc: An estimated 14.3 million people with disabilities voted, surpassing the number of Hispanic/Latino voters (11.7 million) and nearing the number of African-American voters (15.2 million). 
  • Family Affair: An estimated 10.2 million voters live with someone who has a disability. Added to the 14.3 million voters with disabilities, that’s a total of 24.5 million voters in “disability households” – equal to 20 percent of all voters in the 2018 midterms. 
  • Gap Remains: The difference in turnout between people with and without disabilities—called the “disability gap”—was 4.7 points. (One exception: there was virtually no gap between employed people with and without disabilities, suggesting employment helps bring people into mainstream political life.)
  • Untapped Votes: If people with disabilities voted at the same rate as people without disabilities, there would have been an additional 2.35 million ballots cast in the 2018 midterms.
  • Staying Home: Compared to the total electorate, people with disabilities were more likely to cite transportation problems as a reason for not voting and less likely to say they were not interested.

When it comes to voter registration, people with and without disabilities are nearly even. The report finds 65.7 percent of people with disabilities are registered to vote, compared to 67.1 percent of people without disabilities: a gap of 1.4 percentage points. The REV UP campaign, a project of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), will coordinate its annual National Disability Voter Registration Week July 15-19 in an effort to eliminate the gap.

“Going into the 2020 elections, these results show that the disability community is likely to be very politically engaged,” said Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations Distinguished Professor Douglas Kruse, who co-authored the report. “How candidates deal, or fail to deal, with disability issues may greatly affect the votes of the millions of people with disabilities and their friends and families.”

Professors Kruse and Schur lead the Program for Disability Research at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. They are experts on disability voting, polling place accessibility, and political engagement. Click here for a summary of their report on disability turnout in the 2016 presidential election.

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