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Nonprofits Closed Voter Turnout Gaps in 2012 Election

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Turnout among voters contacted by nonprofit organizations during the 2012 general election was 74%, compared with a 68% turnout rate for all registered voters, according a study released Tuesday by Nonprofit VOTE.

The study found that the turnout rate of voters contacted by nonprofits compared with all registered voters was largest among groups traditionally underrepresented in the electoral process:

  • 18 percentage points higher for Latino voters (72% vs. 54%)
  • 15 percentage points higher for voters under the age 30 (68% vs. 53%)
  • 15 percentage points higher for voters with household incomes of less than $25,000 (68% vs. 53%).

To assess the influence nonprofits had on turnout, Nonprofit VOTE enlisted 94 nonprofit service providers in seven states to track their voter contacts for evaluation purposes. These organizations reached 33,741 clients who registered or signed a pledge to vote.

The nonprofit groups included community health centers, family service agencies, multiservice organizations and community development groups.

The study found that disparities in voter turnout by age, income, race and ethnicity narrowed or disappeared among those engaged by the nonprofits compared with the large turnout gaps evident among registered voters in census data and the data in the report.

Nonprofit voters whom campaigns typically disregard based on low “voter propensity scores” assigned before elections were three times more likely to vote than their low-propensity counterparts among all registered voters.

Low income, being young and not having voted before are among the factors that can give a voter a lower propensity score.

“The findings and demographic information from this study underscore the potential of local nonprofits to engage people missed by campaigns and who are not expected to vote,” Nonprofit VOTE chairman Michael Weekes said in a statement.

The study comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision in June that struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, prompting several states, including Florida, to toughen their voter rules or oversight, according to a New York Times report.

Nonprofits involved in the Nonprofit VOTE study said they had conducted voter engagement primarily to advance their organization’s mission and to empower their clients. These groups either registered or collected pledges from clients.

The nonprofits attributed their success to motivated staff and volunteers and to strong support from a state or national partner that helped with training, check-ins and materials.

Nonprofits engaged voters through a variety of agency-based strategies. They found time and opportunity to discuss the election and voter registration with their clients and constituents during services, in classes and meetings and at agency-related events.

“Political participation is highly unequal in the United States, and efforts to engage the lowest-income Americans are scattered,” Peter Levine, executive director of Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, said in the statement.

“One highly promising strategy is to integrate voter registration and outreach into the activities of nonprofits that serve the poorest Americans. The new report from Nonprofit VOTE shows that this approach worked in 2012 and should be strengthened for 2014 and beyond.”

Check out Guggenheim Analyst Looks Into Political Crystal Ball on ThinkAdvisor.


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