Disability Vote Grows to 38.3 Million, a 19.8% Jump Since 2008

Massive expansion of mail-in voting could spur higher turnout

Newswise — PISCATAWAY, N.J. (September 25, 2020) – People with disabilities form an increasingly large, powerful, and potentially decisive percentage of the electorate in key battleground states and across the country, according to a new report by the Program for Disability Research at Rutgers University. A projected 38.3 million eligible voters have a disability, representing a 19.8% jump since 2008, and millions more live with someone who has disability. Taken together, more than 25% of the American electorate may be motivated by issues affecting the disability community. 

“The sheer size of the disability electorate makes it clear that people with disabilities and their family members have the potential to swing elections,” said Professor Lisa Schur, co-director of the Program for Disability Research at Rutgers University. “While their partisan split is similar to that of other citizens, people with disabilities put a higher priority on health care and employment issues, so how candidates deal with those could be decisive.” 

Researchers analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s 2014-2018 American Community Survey and its 2020-2021 population projections to estimate the size of the disability vote. They found: 

  • Powerful Bloc: A projected 38.3 million people with disabilities will be eligible to vote in the November 2020 elections, representing 16.3% of the electorate. This exceeds the number of eligible voters who are Black (29.9 million) or Hispanic/Latino (31.3 million). 
  • Steady Growth: Due to an aging population and advances in medical technology, the number of eligible voters with disabilities has jumped 19.8% since 2008. The number of voters without disabilities has increased just 12% during that time. 
  • Family Affair: A projected 67.7 million eligible voters either have a disability or have a household member with a disability, representing 28.9% of the electorate. This suggests more than a quarter of all eligible voters may be interested in disability issues. 
  • Battleground States: The percentage of voters with disabilities is slightly higher than the national average in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and slightly lower in Georgia and Wisconsin. 
  • Disability Types: The disability electorate includes people with mobility impairment (21.3 million), cognitive impairment (13.1 million), hearing impairment (11.6 million), and visual impairment (7 million). 

Voter turnout surged among people with disabilities in the 2018 midterms despite a persistent turnout gap. If people with disabilities had voted at the same rate as people without disabilities, there would have been an additional 2.35 million ballots cast. A dramatic expansion of mail-in voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic could push turnout higher, especially among people who struggle with inaccessible polling places. But mail ballots don’t work for everyone. Blind voters are suing North Carolina and Texas over their use.

“Research from past elections shows that disability turnout was higher in states with all-mail or no-excuse mail ballot systems,” said Distinguished Professor Douglas Kruse, co-director of the Program for Disability Research at Rutgers University. “But sometimes people with disabilities need assistance in mailing a ballot, and given that they are more likely to live alone, that may dampen any increase in turnout.” 

State Rankings: Disability Rate Among Eligible Voters

  1. West Virginia 24.3%
  2. Arkansas 22.1%
  3. Kentucky 21.8%
  4. Oklahoma 20.9%
  5. t Mississippi 20.7%  5t. New Mexico 20.7%
  6. Alabama 20.3%
  7. Tennessee 19.6%
  8. Maine 19.2%
  9. Louisiana 18.7%

State Rankings: Overall Number of Voters with Disabilities

  1. California 3.7 million
  2. Texas 2.9 million
  3. Florida 2.7 million
  4. New York 2.0 million
  5. Pennsylvania 1.7 million
  6. Ohio 1.5 million
  7. Michigan 1.3 million
  8. North Carolina 1.3 million
  9. Illinois 1.3 million
  10. Georgia 1.2 million

Click here for the complete report, including a breakdown of all 50 states and Washington DC.

Research Note

These figures include only the noninstitutional population, as the data do not permit calculation.

About the School

The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) is the world’s leading source of expertise on managing and representing workers, designing effective organizations, and building strong employment relationships. SMLR’s Program for Disability Research studies the economic, social, and political inclusion of people with disabilities.

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