Locals' apathy toward voting not unlike rest of nation, Earlham researchers say | Earlham College Skip to Content

Locals' apathy toward voting not unlike rest of nation, Earlham researchers say

October 25, 2016

Low and declining participation in local elections isn’t isolated to this corner of east central Indiana, a team of researchers from Earlham College says.

“Many lament low and declining turnout in local elections, but our analysis of census data and election results shows that the trends in our community are consistent with what political scientists know about who tends to turn out to vote nationwide,” Associate Professor of Politics Jennifer Seely says. “Moreover, our analysis of the county's presidential election results shows that turnout by party affiliation can vary widely from election to election, raising interesting questions about who will turn out to vote on Nov. 8, 2016.”

The research of local data from the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections is the result of a month-long collaboration last summer between Seely and Politics majors Genesis Galo ‘17 and Fredrik Lyford ’17. Data was obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Wayne County Clerk’s Office and maps of voter trends were made using ArcGIS software.

“We didn’t expect Richmond to be all that different from the rest of the country,” Lyford says. “But what our research shows in general, is that if you look at income, education, marital status, where people live, how big households are, these factors are all indicative of how people vote. People vote very predictably.”

But not always, the team says. Look no further than the 2008 primary election that ultimately put Barack Obama in the White House. That May, the Democrats received more votes in Wayne County than the Republicans, despite Wayne County’s penchant for electing Republicans, much like the rest of the state. In fact, Democrats cast 70 percent of all primary ballots in Wayne County for either Obama or Hillary Clinton.

The difference? The Wayne County Democratic Party appeared to mobilize behind a candidate, the researchers say.

“Obama didn’t just win in 2008,” Lyford says. “That November, we also saw that the rate of African American voters were similar to white voters nationwide.”

By 2012, voter behavior had shifted back in the favor of the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, even though Obama was reelected nationwide.

But despite the rare shift in voter behavior, one thing remained the same: both local and national figures show that nearly 60 percent of registered voters turned out for the polls in 2008 and 2012, respectively.

“It is going to be really interesting to see how 2016 plays out,” Lyford says. “People seem so disenchanted by the candidates on the ballot this year.”

Beyond the data, the team hopes to provide local Republican, Democratic and other community leaders with data that can help get out of the vote.

“While there are interesting patterns, the end goal is to get more people to turn out to the polls,” Lyford says. “There aren’t enough young people voting. If they turn out, we’re happy.”

This collaborative research opportunity is an example of Earlham’s distinctive approach to a liberal arts education, which is exemplified by the Earlham Plan for Integrative Collaboration (EPIC), which helps students make purposeful connections between classroom learning and experiential opportunities like off-campus study, internships, research and student club leadership.

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Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at 765-983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu. 

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