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Poll: Non-Voters Cite "Corrupt System" as Reason for Opting Out


Nearly two-thirds of adult U.S. citizens will stay away from the polls during the coming midterm elections, and they say they have given up on the political parties and a system that they say is beyond reform and repair, according to a Suffolk University/USA Today nationwide survey of unregistered and unlikely voters.

A majority of those non-voters would like to see a third party or multiple parties.

As for their rationale, 68 percent of unregistered voters and registered-but-unlikely voters agreed with the statement: “I don’t pay much attention to politics because it is so corrupt.” That number is up sharply from a Suffolk University/USA TODAY survey of unregistered and unlikely voters taken in August 2012, when 54 percent agreed with that same statement about politics being “corrupt.”

Nearly 63 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I don’t pay much attention to politics because nothing ever gets done – it’s a bunch of empty promises,” compared to 59 percent who said the same nearly six years ago.

Confidence in Parties Wanes

Twenty-two percent said the Democratic and Republican parties do a good job of representing Americans’ political views, down from 32 percent in 2012. And 57 percent said a third party or multiple parties are necessary. That’s up from 53 percent in the earlier poll, which took place shortly before President Barack Obama was elected to a second term.

Fourteen percent of the non-voters polled said that political gridlock in Washington is the number one problem facing the nation.  That’s up significantly from the Suffolk University/USA TODAY survey taken in the summer of 2012, when 8 percent of respondents felt political gridlock was the most important problem, behind the economy (27 percent), unemployment (20 percent) and health care (9 percent).

Harsh Words for Trump

Though they say they don’t plan to vote, these Americans are not silent about President Trump, with a majority describing him negatively in their own words.

“Political pundits have focused on the dissatisfaction of the voters since Trump’s upset presidential win, but clearly non-voters are just as disillusioned,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “And yet these unregistered and unlikely voters don’t see the value of turning out in the midterms to elect a Congress that could stifle the president’s agenda.”

Fifty-five percent of people unlikely to vote or unregistered view Trump unfavorably, compared to 59 percent of likely voters in a March survey by Suffolk’s Political Research Center.

“Many non-voters used rather harsh words to describe the president, but their general disapproval was not unlike that of American voters we polled last month,” said Paleologos.

Among the negative descriptions offered for Trump were:

  • “Idiot/jerk/ass” (11 percent)
  • “Ignorant/moron/stupid/dumb” (6 percent)
  • “Unfavorable/dislike” (6 percent)
  • “Terrible/horrible/mistake” (4 percent)
  • “Crazy/unbalanced” (3 percent)
  • “Clown/fool/joke” (3 percent)

Nearly 1 in 4 had positive responses including:

  • “Favorable/like him” (9 percent)
  • “Doing a good job/trying his best” (5 percent)
  • “Make America great again” (3 percent).

Non-voter Reasoning

In the 2010 midterm election, 91 million people voted for the Democrats and Republicans at the top of their state ballots, while 127 million people who were eligible to vote failed to do so. Even fewer eligible Americans exercised their franchise in the 2014 midterms: 83 million people voted, while 144 million did not.

“America may never return to the strong electoral engagement of the nineteenth century, when turnout was as high as 81 percent, albeit restricted primarily to white males, but non-voters are telling us what they see as the problems in the political process,” said Paleologos.

The reasons unregistered voters gave for choosing not to vote were varied, led by the following:

  • “Vote doesn’t count/won’t make a difference” (15 percent)
  • “Apathy/don’t care/lack of interest” (12 percent)
  • “Too busy/no time/out of town” (8 percent)

The reasons registered voters gave for choosing not to vote in the midterms were as follows:

  • “Not familiar with candidates/lack of information/uninformed” (11 percent)
  • “Vote doesn’t count/won’t make a difference” (9 percent)
  • “If there were someone to vote for/depends on candidate” (9 percent).

Some registered voters who began the survey declaring they would not vote changed their minds during the course of the questioning, with 13 percent said they were “going to vote.”

Among those registered voters who were planning to skip the midterms, 33 percent said they voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election; 28 percent said they voted for Trump; 6 percent said they chose someone else; and 30 percent did not vote in the last presidential election.

The Obama Appeal

While President Obama endorsed Clinton with enthusiasm, his absence from the presidential ticket in 2016 appeared to hurt Democrats. There were 150 midterm non-voters in the survey who said they also skipped the 2016 presidential election. Of these, more than 50 percent last voted when Obama was on the ballot. And, according to their recollections, 88 percent voted for Obama over Romney in 2012 and 96 percent voted for Obama over McCain.


Asked if there were anyone who would definitely motivate them to vote in the next presidential election, 7 percent of voters offered the name “Bernie Sanders,” followed by “Joe Biden” (4 percent), “Donald Trump” (4 percent), “Michelle Obama” (4 percent), “Barack Obama” (3 percent) and “Oprah Winfrey” (3 percent). However, over 32 percent said no one could motivate them to vote in a presidential election.

Nearly 64 percent said they keep abreast of what’s going on in government and public affairs most or some of the time – whether or not it’s an election season. Yet only 51 percent could correctly name the current vice president.

Nearly 56 percent saw the country as being on the wrong track, and over 50 percent viewed Trump, the U.S. Congress, the news media, and Hillary Clinton unfavorably. Despite Trump’s attempts to undermine the credibility of the FBI, a majority of non-voters viewed the FBI favorably (54 percent) while 24 percent viewed the agency unfavorably.


The nationwide survey of 800 midterm non-voters was conducted April 2 – April 18, 2018, using live telephone interviews of landline and cell phone users. The margin of error is +/- 3.47 percent. Marginals and full cross-tabulation data are posted on the Suffolk University Political Research Center website. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310, [email protected], on Twitter @DavidPaleologos.

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