Professor Ellen Shearer of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications first became interested in the nonvoting phenomenon when the MacArthur Foundation provided a grant to Medill to study civic engagement. The project leaders decided the basic measure of civic duty is voting. The year was 1996; that year, voting dipped slightly below 50 percent for the first time since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1972.
The findings from that project, a survey of nonvoters that identified for the first time subgroups of nonvoters with very different characteristics created a foundation of knowledge that Shearer and Medill colleague Professor Jack Doppelt used to profiled nonvoters from each of the fives clusters in a 1998 book, “Nonvoters: America’s No-Shows.”
In 2000, Shearer and Medill colleagues and students again surveyed nonvoters with a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts and augments that research with a town hall of nonvoters to hear from them what solutions might work to get them to vote in the future.
Now, thanks to a generous grant from the Proteus Foundation, Shearer was able to test her past findings on nonvoters more than a decade later, in 2012. She commissioned a survey of more than 1,000 nonvoters and more than 500 voters to see how the recessions, increased partisanship and the dominance of online information might change the attitudes, beliefs and characteristics of nonvoters.