WASHINGTON — In the last presidential election, more people chose not to cast a ballot than those who voted for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton because they had less faith in the electoral system than voters did, a new study to be released Wednesday found.
But the survey of nonvoters also found that even if they had voted in the 2016 election, it might not have changed the outcome: They reflect most national polls in their views of Trump, and they would add nearly an equal share to the votes for Trump or the Democratic candidate.
That is among the key findings of the largest survey of verified nonvoters nationally in a study called “The 100 Million Project” by the nonpartisan Knight Foundation, which sought to determine why as many as 100 million Americans eligible to register don’t vote.
“With a lot of these people, we actually don’t know what would have happened if they had made it to the polls,” said Yanna Krupnikov, a Stony Brook University political science professor and academic adviser on the project.
But Krupnikov added, “I think with the participants in the survey who are in fact telling us their opinions, there’s really no evidence — or you really have to kind of have at the data to demonstrate some sort of evidence — that the electoral outcome would have been different if they had turned out.”
That conclusion adds new evidence to consider in the debate over whether Clinton would have won in 2016 had every one old enough to register to vote had actually voted.
The study also confirms other research about nonvoters, finding they tend to be less engaged in politics and issues, generally have less education and income, are more likely not married, and include a slightly higher proportion of women, blacks and Latinos than most active voters.
Nonvoters offered several reasons for not voting: They don’t like the candidates (17%), they don’t know the candidates or issues (13%), they don’t feel their votes matter (12%), they don’t have time (12%) or they’re not interested (8%).
What’s new about the study is that instead of relying on the people it surveyed to say if they were voters or not, the researchers checked whether they were actually registered to vote or, if they were, if they had voted in more than one of the six national elections dating back to 2008.
The study surveyed 12,000 nonvoters nationally and in 10 swing states and followed up with focus groups. The researchers also surveyed 1,000 active voters and 1,000 young voters under age 25.
The key findings include:
- Nonvoters have less faith in the electoral system than voters. Asked if they are confident election results represent the will of the people, 52% of nonvoters said yes, while 63% of voters agreed. And a third more of nonvoters than voters said the system is rigged or corrupt.
- Nonvoters would split their vote evenly between the two parties if they did turn out to vote. The survey found 33% would vote for Democratic candidates, 30% for Republicans and 18% for independents.
- Nonvoters are more evenly divided on issues and on Trump than previously thought, the study said. On Trump, the survey found 51% had a negative view and 40% had a favorable view. But nonvoters skew to the left on health care and to the right on immigration and abortion.
- Nonvoters are less engaged with news and information, the study found. They read or watch less news than voters and are less likely to seek it out. They say they don’t feel informed enough to vote.
- Nonvoters aged 18 to 24 are the least likely to say they will vote in 2020, the study found. They say they are less interested in and less informed about politics. And many of them saying they don’t have enough information to choose a candidate.
“The results of the report are believable and consistent with past studies of non-voters, which were due for an update,” said David Nickerson, a Temple University political science professor who has researched voter participation but was not involved in the Knight Foundation study.
“This study stands out for surveying an enormous number of non-voters,” Nickerson said in an email. “It is definitely the largest sample of its kind and the definitive study of non-voters.”