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Study Notes

Differential Abstention

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

In elections turnout is not a uniform figure. It will differ between states, regions, and social groups. Differential Abstention is the term used to describe the difference in turnout between social groups.

Any number of factors can cause a disparity to occur between social groups in voter turnout. There are however several key areas that are useful indicators.

Income as a social group

How much a person earns can be a good comparison for turnouts. When looking at incomes a study has found that if a voter earned over $75,000, 86% would vote in a presidential election. If a voter earns less than $15,000 this figure is cut to 52%. It is clear in this example to see the different abstention rates between the two social groups. The first has an abstention rate of 14%, whereas the lower income group has a 48% abstention rate.

African-American Turnout

Historically turnout among African-American’s have been low down to restrictive voting practices adopted by some states in the early half of the twentieth century. In addition to this many states forbid convicted felons from voting which disproportionately affects African-Americans. The same can be said for Hispanic voters. However, despite these barriers, the US Census Bureau have said that African-American turnout beat the white turnout in 2012.

Abstention rates will change from election to election. This will depend on an numbers of factors including the importance of elections, presidential elections will tend to have lower abstention rates than congressional elections. In addition to this those states that are safe blue or safe red states will have higher abstentions than those states where the races are more competitive.

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