The 2000 election turnout, at 51 percent, showed once again that nonvoting is a chronic problem in American society. The slight upturn in turnout from 1996’s record low 49 percent does not significantly reverse the generally steady downward trend in turnout since 1960’s 63 percent.
Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, through its Washington
program, Medill News Service, has studied nonvoting in America since 1996, when we first polled 1,000 nonvoters prior to the election, through funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacAt1hur Foundation. Medill students then wrote a series of stories based on the poll results that was sent to more than 50 daily newspapers and produced TV stories sent to more than a dozen stations. Eventually, a book, “Nonvoters: America’s NoShows,” expanded upon that research.
After Election Day 2000, we surveyed 1,053 nonvoters and 859 voters; in both
1996 and 2000 our polling was conducted by the Campaign Study Group. In April 2001, we convened 24 of the nonvoters for a series of focus group meetings in Washington; we were aided by Lake, Snell, Peny & Associates. Funding for the 2000-2001 project was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Another series of Medill News Service stories based on the 2000 poll was
distributed in March 2001 to more than 100 daily newspapers and a dozen TV stations nationwide.
Medill’s stories and the media attention generated by the two polls, from stories
on the Associated Press and Reuters wires to appearances on CNN, has changed the way the news media, the public and officials view nonvoters. We have provided a fuller understanding of who nonvoters are and why they choose not to pat1icipate on Election Day. All of our research and stories are available at yvoteonline.org.
The types of nonvoters we originally found in our 1996 survey, and the labels we
gave them– Doers, Unpluggeds, Irritables, Don’t Knows and Alienateds — have become part of the nonvoting lexicon. In 2000, we added Now-And-Then Voters- a subset of nonvoters and voters from the 2000 election who haven ‘ t yet found a place as either regular voters or chronic nonvoters.