Poll: Obama wins if likely nonvoters show up

Some 82 million Americans are eligible to vote but typically don't. If they did vote this fall, Obama would cruise to victory, according to new poll. Top two reasons for staying home on Election Day: too busy to vote and my vote won't count.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
President Obama walks from Marine One to board Air Force One at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on Monday, en route to Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb., and onto a three-day campaign bus tour through Iowa.

President Obama has a big lead among US citizens who are eligible to vote but say they are unlikely to go to the polls in November.

Yes, we know this sounds like a piece from the satirical website “The Onion," or a bit from the show of comedian Stephen Colbert: “Obama Leads Among Couch Potatoes." But it’s true. A just-released poll from Suffolk University finds that Mr. Obama leads presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney among likely nonvoters by a margin of 43 to 14 percent.

In fact, the party of people who plan to not participate in the political process is so un-enamored of Mr. Romney that an unspecified third-party candidate outperforms him in the Suffolk survey. Twenty-three percent of nonvoters say they’d pull a lever for a third-party standard-bearer. Except they won’t be doing that, because they have to work that day, or they don’t have child care, or their polling place is too distant, or their aunt will be in town and they haven’t seen her in years. Or they can’t be bothered, frankly, because what does it matter? One vote won’t change anything.

The reason most often cited for not voting among Suffolk’s respondents was “too busy." Twenty-six percent of those surveyed said they didn’t have time to participate in America’s quadrennial choice of national leader. Coming in second at 12 percent was “vote doesn’t count/matter."

OK, maybe it’s a bit cheap to treat this matter lightly. But in the larger democratic scheme of things, nonvoting matters quite a bit.

In particular, it’s a big issue from the point of view of Democrats and the Obama administration. According to Suffolk’s results, Obama would cruise to an easy reelection if nonvoters changed their minds and showed up in November.

These results are in line with past surveys, too. In general, the party of “not voting” leans Democrat. Its members are younger, less educated, and more financially stressed than the voting-age population as a whole, according to a 2010 Pew Research Center analysis.

That’s why Democrats are generally (though not always) more eager than Republicans to pass early-voting laws and other measures meant to expand the voting electorate. It's also why higher overall turnout tends to favor Democratic over Republican candidates.

And the Stay At Home Party is huge. According to George Mason University’s United States Elections Project, 61.6 percent of the eligible voting population of the US cast ballots for president in 2008. That means about 38 percent of people in the US who could have voted did not do so. In raw numbers that’s 82 million nonvoters.

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