Some Nonvoters Believe Voting Yields No Benefit

By Roderick Hicks
Medill News Service

New Brighton, Pa. — Sue Jablonsky mapped out her Election Day ’96 game plan about two weeks ahead of time.

Like her life in this tiny river town 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Jablonsky’s plans for last Tuesday were simple: She’d fish for bass in the Beaver River.

The deluge of political messages that screamed from the console television in her living room for weeks somehow did not jolt Jablonsky. Knowing that voting would not be on her agenda this week, she tuned them out.

Jablonsky does not consider herself un-American. She prefers to spend her time on activities that she believes will yield her some benefit. Fishing passes that test; voting does not. She pays attention to some news about government or politics, but she rarely sees how it benefits her directly.

Jablonsky in some ways fits the profile of a “Doer” – the largest group among five types of likely nonvoters identified in a Medill News Service poll this summer of 1,001 likely nonvoters. “Doers” are educated, relatively affluent, informed and involved in their communities.

An overnight rain changed her fishing plans for Tuesday. She spent the day at home with Paul F. Porter Jr., her boyfriend and housemate. They watched television talk shows together in the morning, talked with a visitor throughout the day about what’s important to them and wrapped up Election Day watching the Discovery Channel and other cable stations that did not offer election analyses.

Jablonsky did not register to vote 16 years ago when she turned 18. And today, at age 35, she still has not found a compelling reason to register.

“I wish there was someone worth voting for,” she said.

She believes she and Porter, 37, can work out their problems without help from the government. Or, she’ll just deal with them.

“Been there. Done that. Had it. Don’t want it,” Jablonsky said of government assistance.

The couple lives with Jablonsky’s three sons in a brick duplex sandwiched between Fox’s Pizza Den and the 5th Street Lounge. Behind the building, a stone’s throw from the Beaver River, is Jablonsky’s small vegetable garden that still has a few broccoli stalks.

Porter is the family’s primary sources of income, earning about $26,000 a year in a maintenance job at a paper plant.

Jablonsky, who is separated from her husband, estimates she earns at least $5,000 a year baking nut rolls and other goodies and selling them around Beaver County. She’ll return to her previous career as a waitress if times get too hard.

“He makes enough for us to get by,” she said of Porter. “Our bills are paid. The kids have what they need.”

One of her biggest problems is her oldest son, 14-year-old Michael, who is constantly in trouble at school. Jablonsky is frustrated that her lectures have not gotten through to him, and she is worried what his future will be like if he continues to hang with the wrong crowd.

She doesn’t blame the school for suspending him, and she’s pleased with the school system in general. She’s hoping her husband will take custody of Michael and set him on the right path.

And she hopes her other sons, Matthew, 12, and Dave, 9, are not influenced by Michael’s behavior.

Jablonsky also is concerned about her own future. She suffers from bouts with bronchitis and has predicted that she will die prematurely from emphysema. The Basic cigarettes that she smokes only aggravate those health problems, she knows, but she can’t quit.

Compounding those problems is the absence of medical coverage. The boys have coverage through their father’s job and Porter is covered through his job. But Jablonsky is unsure how she’d pay for a major medical problem of her own.

The discussion over a lunch of homemade hamburgers and fried potatoes Tuesday included a bit of talk about politics. Porter was much more talkative than Jablonsky. Both were sure President Clinton would be re-elected. Neither seemed thrilled with their accurate prediction. But Porter spoke harshly about defeated Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole.

“He’s the biggest farce there ever was,” Porter said without elaborating. “At least with Clinton I haven’t seen anything rapidly deteriorate around here.”
They briefly mentioned two state races that featured negative television and radio commercials. They were not quite sure of the names, but knew one candidate was accused of not paying income taxes for four years and other other of being a resident of another state.

They spoke of politicians as if they all are inherently corrupt. Porter suggested that a woman needs to be elected president. Jablonsky said that might prompt her to register and vote.

Then Porter had another idea.

“I think what they need to do is just get somebody in there who doesn’t know who’s who … and just go in there and say, ‘I don’t need your kickbacks from this, I don’t need your brides.’”

Like Jablonsky, Porter does not vote. Unlike her, he is registered; he signed up about two years ago because that was a requirement to attend a gun show he didn’t want to miss.

Since alcohol is not sold at most places in Pennsylvania while the polls are open, Porter stocked up on beer the day before. “I did all of my pre-election work yesterday,” he joked.

The early morning rain never returned Tuesday. A weatherman on a Pittsburgh television station said during the evening news that the high Tuesday was 51 degrees.

“No excuse to stay away from the polls today,” the weatherman said.

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