The U.S. Census Bureau published its survey data on voter registration and turnout in the November 2022 midterm elections on May 2. The data reveal persistent gaps in voter turnout rates between renters and homeowners and even greater disparities between low-income and high-income people. While 58% of eligible homeowners turned out to vote in the midterm elections, just 37% of eligible renters cast their ballots. Sixty-seven percent of eligible voters with household incomes above $100,000 voted, compared to just 33% of eligible voters with household incomes below $20,000. These disparities underscore the need for advocates, direct service providers, tenant organizers, housing providers, and other organizations that work with low-income renters to register voters and get out the vote in their communities.
The 21-point voter turnout gap between renters and homeowners is 2 percentage points wider than the gap in the 2018 midterm elections, a record-high turnout election in which 40% of renters and 59% of homeowners turned out to vote. The 34 percentage-point turnout gap between low-income and high-income people is consistent with the gap in the 2018 midterms, in which 32% of eligible voters making less than $20,000 and 66% of eligible voters making more than $100,000 cast their ballots. Less flexible work schedules, transportation barriers, polling place closures, voter purges, felony disenfranchisement, language barriers, voter identification requirements, and other voter suppression tactics all pose disproportionate obstacles to voting for low-income people.
The data also show significant disparities in voter registration rates. While 73% of eligible homeowners were registered to vote in November 2022, only 58% of eligible renters were registered. Eighty-two percent of eligible voters with household incomes above $100,000 were registered, compared to just 57% of eligible voters with household incomes below $20,000.
Ensuring that low-income renters are registered to vote is the first step to closing the voter turnout gap. Because renters move more frequently than homeowners, they must register to vote more often, which creates an additional barrier to voting. The “Our Homes, Our Votes Act” (“H.R. 2215” in the 117th Congress) would mitigate this obstacle by requiring public housing agencies and federally subsidized housing providers to offer voter registration when residents sign their leases and recertify their incomes. Many housing providers are also making voluntary efforts to incorporate voter registration into the lease-up process. In September 2022, a group of 22 affordable housing providers that collectively own or operate more than 257,000 units signed the Welcome to Vote Pledge, a nonpartisan declaration of commitment to offer voter registration when residents move into their new homes and to pursue other nonpartisan voter education and mobilization opportunities (see Memo, 9/26/22). The Welcome to Vote Pledge is an initiative of NLIHC’s Housing Providers Council, which convenes affordable housing developers and property managers to share best practices and receive trainings on nonpartisan resident voter engagement strategies.
The Census Bureau also surveyed eligible voters who did not cast their ballots on reasons why they did not vote. The survey found that 27% did not vote because of scheduling conflicts, 18% were not interested, 13% did not vote due to illness or disability, 8% were out of town, 8% forgot to vote, 6% did not like the candidates or campaign issues, 2% faced transportation problems, 2% faced registration problems, 2% had an inconvenient polling place, <1% were deterred by bad weather conditions, 11% had another reason, and 3% did not know or refused to answer. Organizers should consider these survey responses in their efforts to make voting more accessible and encourage political participation among those who have been historically disenfranchised.
The survey also breaks down voter turnout rates by duration of tenure. Forty-one percent of eligible voters (including both renters and homeowners) who lived in their homes for less than one year voted, compared with 68% of eligible voters who lived in their homes for more than five years. Renters who lived in their homes for five years or longer had a slightly higher turnout rate (50%) than homeowners who lived in their homes for less than one year (49%). This relationship suggests that the ability to stay in one’s home and be rooted in the community, for homeowners and renters alike, facilitates political participation. Disengagement from the political process is another of the many negative consequences of housing instability and displacement.
Addressing voter turnout disparities is one of the core goals of NLIHC’s Our Homes, Our Votes campaign, a nonpartisan initiative to boost voter engagement among low-income renters and educate candidates about housing solutions. Because elected officials are most responsive to constituents who vote at higher rates, closing the voter turnout gap between renters and homeowners is essential to achieving racially and socially equitable public policy that meets the needs of the lowest-income renters.
To learn more about the Our Homes, Our Votes campaign, visit: https://www.ourhomes-ourvotes.org/
To browse the complete Census Bureau data on Voting and Registration in the November 2022 Election, visit: https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registration/p20-586.html