Why The Poor Don’t Vote


via Napoleon Dynamite

via Napoleon Dynamite

Alright, I have a ton of writing to do, but I’ve been casually thinking about this topic, so I’m going to jot down a few ideas. I don’t think it’s really a novel idea, but when I did a quick search, I was surprised to see the top search results neglecting the reason why I think the poor don’t vote. Apathy.

If you scan several of the top search results, you’re going to find articles that outline typical reasons why the poor don’t vote. Voter registration, time off work, lack of reliable transportation, long lines, and poor education. These are completely valid reasons why people don’t vote.

I have missed elections because I moved and wasn’t sure where I was registered and where I needed to vote (from the time I started college (’02) and my current apartment, I’ve lived in 16 apartments.) I’ve also worked shift-based jobs, which are hard to get time off. I’ve also taken the bus as transportation. What might take a 15 minute car ride, the bus might take you an hour (one-way). Basically what I’m saying is that while the physical act of voting can be hard, I don’t think that’s why the poor don’t vote. These are (relatively) easy obstacles to overcome if you’re motivated enough. But the poor aren’t motivated. That’s the heart of the problem.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

via withanopenheart.org

via withanopenheart.org

Back in one of my social psychology classes we learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s a theory by Abraham Maslow that states individuals have five basic levels of needs. If your needs at one level aren’t being met, then progressive needs in the hierarchy won’t be met either.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is typically represented in the form of a pyramid, with your base needs at the bottom. As you achieve the needs of a lower level, you graduate up to another set of needs.

As you can see from the graphic above, the five levels of needs are physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Most poor people fall in the safety level (2nd), while most voting citizens are in the love/belonging level (3rd). Therein lines the real problem.

The Poor Don’t Care

via Blind Side

via Blind Side

It’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that make me think most people are missing the mark as to why the poor don’t vote. I’m sure if you ask a sample size of poor people about different issues, they’ll have opinions. But at the end of the day, those opinions don’t translate to action because they’re too worried about meeting their most basic needs that they just don’t care about voting.

When you’re worried about where your next meal is coming from, where you’re going to house your family next month, or how you’re going to get a job, the last thing you really care about is finding the time/energy to vote (let alone find the energy to educate yourself on the issues).

When you don’t have food or shelter, it’s all you can think about. Nothing else matters. That’s something that nearly all of my friends and social circle can’t relate to. It’s something that (presumably) all politicians don’t have any experience with.

I think it’s important that we eliminate as many friction points as possible when it comes to the physical act of voting. Think of it as the user experience (UX) of voting. Just like tech products, poor UX leave a bad taste in people’s mouths and deter them from further action. Our voting experience is antiquated and less than optimal. That being said, these are much easier fixes than the underlying problem.

How Do You Make the Poor Care?

Is there a way to make the poor care about elections? Logically, they should. There are many issues that affect the poor and their votes would make an impact. Even if we rectified our poor voting process, I don’t think it would increase the voter turnout of the poor.

What’s the answer? Honestly, I don’t know. It’s quite the conundrum. Right now I don’t even have purely academic solutions on hand (it’s much more complicated than “help the poor meet their basic needs.”). But I think identifying the problem is the first step. How can you make the poor enthusiastic enough to vote when they don’t give a shit about anything other than their basic needs?

I hate being the guy to point out a problem without a solution. Most of the time it’s not very productive. Maybe this wasn’t a productive blog post? I agree that the voting process needs attention. It has to be easier to vote. But that’s not the reason why the poor don’t vote. Knowing this, how can we help the poor vote in their best interests, even when their basic needs aren’t being met?