Jennifer Bradford – “Struggler”

By Jamie Coughlin

POTTSVILLE, Pa. – It’s been nearly 30 years since the first and only time Jennifer Bradford voted. It was in the 1984 presidential race, when President Ronald Reagan won re-election by drubbing Walter Mondale, taking nearly 60 percent of the popular vote.

Bradford, 46, doesn’t remember who the candidates were or whom she voted for. She said she’s followed presidential elections since the 1980s but has never cared to participate.

On Nov. 6, 2012, millions stood in line to vote in the presidential election, but Bradford wasn’t among them. She was likely at home working on a school assignment in her sparsely lit office, taking breaks to play with her pair of Shih Tzus.

After the election, the Medill School of Journalism surveyed voters and nonvoters, and found that 19 percent of nonvoters are like Bradford. They have a hard time getting by economically. These nonvoters are called “Strugglers.” They have low incomes and low employment, and are not engaged in their communities.

Like many Strugglers, Bradford is unemployed. She is going to school online for a master’s degree. She has also earned her associate’s and bachelor’s degrees online since she quit her job in 2007. Student loan money is her only source of income. Her fiancé, 53-year-old Chuck Tobak, has a low-wage job at a steel mill.

Bradford said that she has previously used government assistance programs, and like many Strugglers is in favor of a robust social safety net. She keeps to herself; she doesn’t volunteer and doesn’t participate in any clubs or religious institutions.

Strugglers are generally middle-aged and female, like Bradford. They are likely to have seldom or never voted and are not registered to vote. Strugglers don’t have a firm grasp on current events, but do pay some attention to politics.

While many Strugglers said they would have voted for President Barack Obama, Bradford said her vote would have gone to Republican Mitt Romney. Bradford said she didn’t know which politician to believe. However, she says she’s felt the pain of economic downturn since Obama was first elected.

“Everything’s going up but no one’s getting the raises, the cost of living raises, you should be getting that,” Bradford said.

Like most Strugglers, Bradford is worried about the economy. But even though the economy was the focal point of the 2012 election, Bradford still chose not to vote. She said she doesn’t vote because she doesn’t think her vote would matter.

“It’s gonna be whoever get’s in there, and unfortunately you just have to go with it,” Bradford said.

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