Medill profs pinpoint voter population that may not be represented in polls

Kristine Liao, Reporter

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A recent study by two Medill professors revealed a group of politically disengaged voters that may not have been represented in past polls but could prove crucial to the 2016 presidential election.

Medill Profs. Martin Block and Don Schultz conducted a large-scale online media study that discovered nearly 30 percent of participants chose not to affiliate with a political party. Most polling organizations categorize unaffiliated voters as Independents, but the Medill study classified them as a unique group, Block said.

Unaffiliated participants’ interest in voting and the election is also “significantly lower” than that of Republicans, Democrats and Independents, Block said. If the 30 percent do end up choosing to exercise their right on Nov. 8, they could sway the election, he said.

The survey, which had a sample size of 16,121 people, included roughly 15,000 variables, including questions about political affiliations and voters’ stances on issues.

Responses to questions on political issues revealed participants to be “disengaged, apathetic and uninformed,” Block said.

“If you think about democracy and what it all means, it’s somewhat concerning,” Block said. “I’d like to think that everybody who’s a citizen expresses their opinion through their vote. I guess I’m too idealistic.”

Block said the study found Republican and Democratic parties differ primarily in issues voters typically respond to emotionally. He said the survey showed Democrats value compassion in a presidential candidate more than Republicans do. Democrats also tend to value government experience more, whereas Republicans value business experience more, he said.

But when it came to the 30 percent of unaffiliated voters, participants showed low interest or involvement in nearly all political issues, Block said.

“I would imagine you have to work some to be completely uninformed and disengaged through this election cycle,” Block said. “Although I assume if you were paying attention to everything, it’ll make you a little nuts.”

Block said some people’s reaction to this unorthodox election cycle may be to ignore politics altogether. This attitude is likely to be prevalent among the unaffiliated study participants, he said.

Compared to the three political groups, the unaffiliated study participants have a larger demographic of single, Hispanic and African American individuals. They also tend to be younger and have a lower household income, according to the study.

Weinberg junior Sabrina Williams, co-president of Political Union, said she was not surprised by the percentage of unaffiliated voters. She said the disengagement could be a result of the poor use of media to target voters as well as how “ugly” this campaign has been.

“I don’t know how effective it would be for candidates to try to appeal to this really large group of disengaged voters,” Williams said. “Money would be better spent framing their narrative and convincing voters who are engaged but not sure who they want to vote for yet.”

Williams said in boosting voter engagement, it’s important to make voting more accessible. She said making Election Day a national holiday would be a good start.

“A lot of people feel like it doesn’t affect their lives or they don’t think it’s worth their time,” Williams said. “People really need to be convinced that voting does have an impact and that people can make a difference in American politics.”

Email: kristineliao2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @kristine_liao

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