Nonvoters: America's No-Shows


Jack C. Doppelt & Ellen Shearer

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    Voting is our most precious right as citizens. For more than two centuries, good people have been fighting and dying to protect that right. This year, be sure you vote to help determine the nation's future.

    Atlanta Journal and Constitution editorial titled “Clock Ticks on Voter Registration,” October 1, 1996

    I still get excited when I go to vote. It makes me feel important and patriotic, much more so than watching parades and fireworks on Independence Day. I don't think I'm alone here. My neighbor says it makes her feel like she's really part of the greater whole that is our country. I got a thrill hearing my oldest son talk about participating in mock elections at school, and I loved leaching my six-year-old about the electoral process as part of his homework assignment Tuesday night. I guess I'm not alone. My mother, who was an election judge, reported with a smile about the young woman she met at the polls who admitted she was scared and excited because it was only her second lime voting. Voting should be exciting and scary, insofar as it is our voice in how our government runs.

    —Opinion piece by Caroline Schomp in the Denver Post titled “Should We Force People to Vote?” November 8, 1996

    I believe if you vote, you have no right to complain. People like to twist that around, I know. They say, well, if you don't vote you have no right to complain, hut where's the logic in that ? If you vole and you elect dishonest, incompetent people and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done, you caused the problem, you voted them in, you have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not who, in fact, did not even leave the house on Election Day, am in no way responsible for what these people have done and have every reason to complain as loud as I want about the mess you created that I had nothing to do with.

    —Comedian George Carlin

    Producer Stanley Motss: Would you vote for that person based on that commercial?

    Fad Queen: You know I don't vote.

    Motss: Why don't you vote?

    Fad Queen: The last time I voted, I voted that one time, major league baseball when they started the fans voting. I think I voted for Boog Powell, the first baseman. He didn't get in and it just disappointed me. It stayed with me. It's futile. That was it.

    Motss: You've never voted for president?

    Fad Queen: No. Do you vote?

    Motss: No. I always vote for the Academy Awards, but I never win.

    Fad Queen: Liz, Liz, do you vote?

    Liz Butsky: Nah, I don't vote. I don't like the rooms. Too claustrophobic. I can't vote in small places.

    —Conversation in Wag the Dog, the satirical film that stars Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman. The conversation occurs as the Hollywood film producer played by Hoffman and his crew, while planning a phony war to save the president's reelection campaign, react to an ad by the opponent.

    A statesman is an easy man,

    He tells his lies by rote;

    A journalist makes up his lies

    And takes you by the throat;

    So stay at home and drink your beer

    And let the neighbours vote.

    —William Butler Yeats's The Old Stone Cross (1938)


    View Copyright Page

    Introduction: Why Hear from Nonvoters?

    This book began in 1995 as an inquiry into the politically and culturally disaffected in America, a subject that intrigued Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Chicago public television station WTTW, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. We wanted not only to study and report on the phenomenon of disaffection but to get to know the people who fall under this often-used but ill-defined rubric.

    We decided early on that it was not our mission to change disaffected Americans but to investigate the subject in ways and in media that also would engage them in the inquiry. We wanted to hear from them and report back what we learned—to them as well as to the rest of America. We wanted to give voice to the alienated themselves.

    One of the threshold conundrums was how to define the “politically and culturally disaffected” for the purposes of our project. We resolved to use voting as the minimum measure of involvement in the political process and therefore focused our work on those whom we could predict with a high degree of accuracy would not vote in the November 1996 elections. Our decision proved remarkably prescient: In the 1996 presidential election, the United States experienced the lowest national voter turnout since 1924, with less than half of those old enough to vote actually casting ballots.

    As we started our exploration, we found that almost every dimension of nonvoting and nonvoters opened a Pandora's box of dueling realities. Some observers claim the phenomenon strikes at the heart of democratic legitimacy; others write it off as trivial. There is plentiful evidence that nonvoters are virtually ignored, particularly during election years, yet the topic elicits angry responses that there is too much hand-wringing about nonvoters.

    We observed that during the 1996 election campaign year as well as during previous preelection periods, political parties and campaigns and the news media targeted likely voters, ignoring to a large extent the predictable nonvoters and, with them, the nonvoting phenomenon itself. We found little in-depth information available about the millions of Americans not counted on Election Day; most of the data involved gross characterizations of the group as a whole with little differentiation among its many members.

    To tell the story of nonvoters, than, we decided first to conduct a scientifically designed poll—to create a new body of knowledge based on a deeper understanding of those people pushed out of most other polls. With the help of graduate students in Medill's Washington program and Dwight Morris, president of the Campaign Study Group and a polling expert, between July 8 and July 21, 1996 we surveyed by telephone 3,323 adults, 18 years of age and older, living in the continental United States. We screened the respondents to distinguish between the likely voters and the likely nonvoters and asked the resulting group of 1,001 likely nonvoters 64 questions. (The survey methodology and survey results are included as appendixes.)

    When we released the findings of our survey on August 19, 1996, which fell between the Republican and Democratic national conventions, the information was so compelling that more than 50 news organizations covered the story. News organizations reported and in many cases adopted the subgroup nomenclature—“Doers,” “Unpluggeds,” “Irritables,” “Don't Knows,” and “Alienateds”—that we created. The subgroups themselves emerged from the cluster analysis of the project's polling, and we use them as an organizing tool in this book. In addition to the reporting by other news outlets, Medill's graduate students provided stories for television stations and newspapers around the country that subscribe to the Medill News Service, the school's student-staffed wire service in Washington, D.C.

    The students, in fact, named the five subgroups as well as the overall project: “No-Show '96: Americans Who Don't Vote.”

    Through our survey and the Medill News Service stories, we wanted to put faces to the people who don't show up on Election Day to create a better, more accurate picture of the other half of Americans, those who choose not to participate in the most fundamental right of a democracy, the right to vote.

    The stories, both those produced by Medill students and those reported by other news media, generated strong public reaction. We appeared on at least a dozen call-in radio shows in which a number of voters expressed anger at their nonvoting fellow citizens. But nonvoters were just as vocal, saying no one talks to them or takes them into account except as a statistic that is alarming on Election Night and than forgotten.

    We followed up the survey with a series of in-person profiles conducted on November 5, 1996. We dispatched five Medill graduate students to different cities to spend Election Day with one member of each of the five types of nonvoters. The students wrote a series of stories that was distributed to the more than 20 newspaper subscribers of the Medill News Service; they are quoted at length in the book. It was clear from their stories that nonvoters' voices and ideas had not been heard often enough or in enough depth to fully appreciate the philosophies and emotions behind their decisions, quite deliberate in several cases, to stay away from the polls.

    The collaboration between Medill, WTTW, and the MacArthur Foundation also yielded a 90-minute video documentary, None of the Above, which featured lengthy profiles of six nonvoters and a conversation between them and two former members of Congress. At times galling, exasperating, and annoying but at other times wise, insightful, and defiant of conventional wisdoms, the six people profiled in the documentary cut to the fault line in the divide that separates the participatory from the disaffected in American society. The documentary, hosted by WTTW senior correspondent John Callaway and produced by Tom Weinberg, debuted in Chicago on October 29, 1997, and aired in 15 cities thereafter.

    This book caps the collaboration with in-depth profiles of 30 nonvoters, systematically selected from the initial survey group of 1,001 likely nonvoters to represent the five groups that characterize nonvoters in America. For the book, we have added a sixth group—“Can't Shows”—to account for the more than 17 million age-eligible people who live permanently in the United States but who cannot vote because they are ineligible as aliens or convicted felons.

    We traveled to 15 states to visit 30 nonvoters in their homes or their workplaces, mainly within months of the 1996 elections. Therefore, the stories of these 30 people are written as of November 5, 1996—Election Day. Their lives and the world around them—ages, time elements, and events—are depicted in that year. However, we have returned to them to update their lives—and their voting decisions—through the November 3, 1998 election.

    In this book, as among the 100 million nonvoters in America, there are Doers, such as Dr. Robert Wolkow, Claudine D'Orazio, and Gene Tencza. They tend to be educated, financially secure, active, and news consumers. People who vote for the lesser of two evils offend Wolkow, who has voted only twice in his life. D'Orazio, a hotel employee in the thick of Savannah's thriving tourism and convention industry, feels she does not know enough about candidates but is embarrassed to be among the nonvoting majority. Tencza is content to let those interested in politics carry the load while he exercises his right to pursue ordinary happiness on his Massachusetts farm.

    Unplugged nonvoters tend not to have as much formal education and do not interact much with their communities. Jazz musician Jack Daniels's interest in politics is fixed on the heightened dramas of President Kennedy's assassination and Watergate. Barbara Beth tends bar and ignores discussions of politics, Iris Llamas tends to her nephew and her job, and Janet Shepherd tends to leave her mobile home mostly to sit at the pub across the road. They feel politicians do not tend to them, and they return the sentiment in kind.

    Irritable nonvoters are inclined to believe their vote does not matter no matter who is running. Michael Keegan has not seen a politician yet who deserves his vote. Melody Lewis sees them all as empty suits on parade and has no idea what they really do with their days.

    Don't Knows know they don't know. George Perez watches television news every night and realizes he doesn't know a Democrat from a Republican. Erica Smith didn't know until the last minute that Hillary Clinton was coming to her son's school, and when she saw the event with her own eyes, she just got mad.

    Alienated nonvoters, such as Kathy Smith, are among the hardest core of the nonvoters. She has lost faith in the system. Although her father voted as a lifelong Democrat, she has never voted and never will.

    Although the bedrock of this book is the actual voices of the nonvoters provided through the profiles, we also felt it was important to frame their perspective by a critical review of the conventional wisdom that has percolated through the news media about the nonvoting phenomenon.

    The book addresses a natural limitation in our and other national surveys: that nonvoter respondents do not have a firm grasp themselves of why they do not vote, often clinging to rationalizations that they do not fully believe or that are internally contradictory. The answers reveal multiple truths and observations, conflicting and almost always susceptible of deeper answers beneath the surface.

    Knowing more about the “No-Shows” can help illuminate the discussions of the future of a democracy without the active participation of half of its members. Beyond that, as the 30 people featured in the book tell us about themselves, they provide insights not only into why they do not vote but into our society and its ambivalence in the dual meaning of body politic—as a synonym for American society as well as a definition of Americans' responsibility, as a group, for public policy. They point us to a two-way disconnect, from nonvoter to the political process and from the political process back. We hope this book gives voice to a disaffection that prompts us to address a disturbing question as we move into the 21st century: Is American democracy half full or half empty?


    This book is the result of both a literal and a figurative journey across America. As we visited with 30 nonvoters who gave generously of their time to help us understand their nonvoting status, we were buoyed by colleagues, students, friends, and family.

    The No-Show project began in 1995 as a collaboration among more than half the graduate faculty and students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. As a group, we engaged in an ongoing, intensive investigation of the many aspects of disaffection in America, eventually settling on nonvoting as the barometer for taking the temperature of Americans' alienation from the democratic process. The project could not have been conducted without the generous financial support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the early and devoted nurturing of Medill's former dean, Mike Janeway.

    The collaboration also extended to a unique partnership with Chicago public television station WTTW; its former president and general manager Bill McCarter; one of its vice presidents, V.J. McAleer; and its senior correspondent and spiritual force, John Callaway, whose search for the meaning behind the disaffection of nonvoters helped steer the research. Callaway's documentary on the subject, None of the Above, created in conjunction with producer Tom Weinberg, is a cornerstone of the final results.

    Creating empirical data on which to base our reporting was crucial to the effort. Dwight Morris, president of the Campaign Study Group, and his partner, Murielle Gamache, guided us in devising and executing a survey that would shed new light on the views of nonvoters. Their extensive analyses of the polling data, continuous efforts to ensure the accuracy of our reporting, and commitment to teach and guide our students are greatly appreciated.

    At Medill, special thanks go to our faculty and staff colleagues Earl Barriffe, Jan Boudart, Neil Chase, Mary Coffman, Pat Dean, Mary Dedinsky, Sharon Downey, Mary Ann Gourlay, Ava Greenwell, Peter Miller, Gina Nolan, Rick Rockwell, Jean Shedd, Frank Starr, Larry Stuelpnagel, Mindy Trossman, Marcie Weiss, Jim Ylisela, and Jon Ziomek, whose energy and spirited teamwork during the spring, summer, and fall of the 1996 presidential campaign created an infectious enthusiasm that carried us through completion of this book.

    The summer 1996 students of Medill's Washington program, who undertook the No-Show survey and series of stories and who named the categories of nonvoters we found, deserve special recognition: Stacy Adams, Delia Blackler, Lisa Bowman, Stephen Coplan, Nicolle Devenish, Mary Dittrich, Eric Dyer, Crystal Edmonson, Michelle Gallardo, Jennifer Hamilton, Allison Haunss, Keith Huang, Courtney Jamieson, Nanci Kulig, Michael Lazerow, Shannon Luckey, Dawn MacKeen, Kelly McEvers (who also created the Web site), Holly Miller, Carmen Nobel, Brad Rubin, John Shea, Hannelore Sudermann, Carolyn Tang, Patricia-Anne Tom, Christine Van Dusen, Lisa Wirth, and John Zelenka. Special mention also goes to Michael Fielding, Julie Fustanio, Rod Hicks, Siobhan Hughes, and John Shea, the students who spent Election Day 1996 with five nonvoters around the country.

    Several other students provided research help for this book: Bridget Clingan, Dana Damico, Sarah Freeman, Michael Hershaft, Bridget Horan, Ben Dae-Young Huh, and Victoria Needham. Many thanks along the way to others at Northwestern—John McKnight and Ken Janda for inspiration, Medill Dean Ken Bode for allowing us time to finish the book, and Wendy Leopold and Audrey Chambers for spreading the word; the election officials who make voting their life's work and who encouraged us to continue our research; Isabel Wilkerson and Alex Kotlowitz for their advice on how to capture the context without losing the people; our agent Deborah Schneider for the fine print; and Margaret Seawell, our editor at Sage, who liked the project from the beginning and never wavered.

    Even before we began the project and book, Jack was commissioned by David Orr, the newly elected clerk of Cook County, Illinois, to produce a report as part of a comprehensive effort to increase voter registration and participation in the county. It was that report and continuing conversations with Orr, an official dedicated to the ideals of universal registration, that stoked an interest in core nonvoters, the people whom election officials treat, we believe mistakenly, as those who are getable if only more proactive voter registration procedures are put in place.

    Most of all, our thanks go to the 30 people who let us into their lives. They put up with our regular intrusions into their homes and opinions as we tried to understand and accurately portray them as people and as part of American democracy. From the 1996 presidential campaign through the 1998 off-year elections, we were welcomed into the lives of people whose failure to vote, had we not been exposed to more than their initial survey answers, would have said little about them or about the nonvoting phenomenon.

    We listened and learned from what they had to say and what they allowed us to observe. We offer unrestrained thanks here to those 30 individuals, whose lives beyond the electoral process involved, among so many other things, working to keep a daughter alive, recovering from a stroke, getting married, getting a new job, losing a job, losing a son to gang violence, and introducing us to a newborn son the day after his birth.

    During our travels and time at home spent on research and writing, our families motivated us by believing in the value of our undertaking. Our spouses took on added work, including editing, and our children tried to miss us when we felt the need to be missed.

    Alan Shearer and Margie Schaps were constant sources of encouragement, emotional strength, and editorial judgment. Zack Shearer helped care for young Nathan and vows to vote in the presidential election in 2000, the year after he turns 18. Nathan provided inspiration by becoming a voter himself at age 5. After mom voted on Election Day 1998, Nathan used an educational ballot machine to punch holes in his ballot for such candidates as Bertram Bronze and Charles Cinnamon. But he didn't consider it a game and demanded to vote for a real candidate for Maryland governor—Parris Glendening. Sylvie and Noah Doppelt, writers both, probed and kept probing until they got the full treatment from dad on what voting is about. Both appreciate why people do not vote, yet both say they will when they grow up. Hard to tell, though, at 8 and 6 years old, what is more ingrained, the commitment to vote or to write about it.

    Without the help of all of those mentioned, our journey would have faltered.

  • Appendix A: No-Show '96: Americans Who Don't Vote

    Results of Nonvoter Sample (N = 1,001)

    Hello, I'm_____from the Medill News Service in Washington, D.C. We're conducting a telephone opinion survey for newspapers and TV stations around the country. I'd like to ask a few questions of the youngest male, 18 years of age or older, who is at home now. (IF NO MALE, ASK: May I please speak with the oldest female 18 years of age or older, who is at home?)

    A. Interviewer: Record Sex of Respondent

    • Male = 46.4%
    • Female = 53.6%

    1. Some people seem to follow what's going on in government and public affairs most of the time, whether there's an election or not. Others aren't that interested. Would you say you follow what's going on in government and public affairs most of the time, some of the time, only now and then, or hardly at all?

    • 24% = Most of the time
    • 33% = Some of the time
    • 19% = Only now and then
    • 24% = Hardly at all
    • 1 % = No answer

    2. These days, many people are so busy they can't find time to register to vote or move around so often they don't get a chance to reregister. Are you NOW registered to vote in your precinct or election district, or haven't you been able to register so far?

    • 36% = Yes, registered
    • 64% = No, not registered
    • 1% = No answer


    • What would you say is the main reason you're not registered to vote? (DO NOT READ LIST)
      • 21% = Don't care much about politics
      • 14% = Have recently moved
      • 11% = Not a U.S. citizen
      • 5% = Don't know how to register
      • 4% = Place where have to go to register is inconvenient/too far from home
      • 4% = Work during voter registration hours
      • 3% = Registered and vote at a previous address
      • 2% = Don't want to get my name on the list for jury duty
      • 35% = Other
      • 3% = No answer

    3. Did you vote for president in 1992, did something prevent you from voting, or did you choose not to vote for president in 1992?

    • 16% = Yes, voted
    • 35% = Something prevented me from voting
    • 45% = Chose not to vote
    • 4% = No answer


    • What was it that kept you from voting? (DO NOT READ LIST)
      • 20% = Not registered
      • 12% = Didn't like the candidates
      • 12% = Not old enough
      • 10% = No particular reason
      • 10% = Not interested in politics
      • 9% = Not a citizen
      • 4% = Working
      • 4% = Traveling
      • 2% = Illness
      • 2% = No way to get to polls
      • 12% = Other
      • 2% = No answer


    • Was that because you weren't old enough, or for some other reason?
      • 6% = Not old enough
      • 94% = Other reason
      • 1 % = No answer

    4. How likely would you say it is that you will vote in the presidential and congressional elections this November—would you say you'll definitely vote, probably vote, probably not vote, or definitely not vote?

    • 25% = Definitely vote (ASK Q4a)
    • 28% = Probably vote (SKIP TO Q4b)
    • 20% = Probably not vote (SKIP TO Q4b)
    • 23% = Definitely not vote (SKIP TO Q4d)
    • 4% = No answer
    • What would you say is the main reason you'll definitely vote?



    • What would be your main reason for deciding to vote?



    • Why do you think you might not vote?



    • What would you say is the main reason you'll definitely not vote?



    5. Do you feel things in this country are generally going in the right direction today, or do you feel things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track?

    • 31% = Right direction
    • 58% = Wrong track
    • 11% = No answer

    6. What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today? (DO NOT READ LIST)

    • 18% = Crime/violence
    • 7% = Economy
    • 7% = Budget deficit
    • 7% = Unemployment
    • 6% = Drugs
    • 5% = Education
    • 4% = Ethics/values
    • 4% = Welfare
    • 4% = Homelessness/poverty
    • 4% = Race relations
    • 3% = Family breakdown
    • 3% = Congress/government
    • 3% = Foreign policy
    • 3% = Health care/health insurance
    • 2% = Social Security/other elderly issues
    • 2% = High taxes
    • 1% = Immigration
    • 1% = Abortion
    • 1% = Environment
    • 1% = AIDS
    • 9% = Other
    • 7% = No answer

    7. Thinking about the Democratic and Republican parties, would you say there is a great deal of difference in what they stand for, a fair amount of difference, or hardly any difference at all?

    • 24% = Great deal of difference
    • 32% = Fair amount of difference
    • 32% = Hardly any difference
    • 12% = No answer

    8. I'm going to read you a series of statements, and for each one I'd like you to tell me whether you completely agree with it, mostly agree with it, mostly disagree with it, or completely disagree with it. The first one is (READ EACH STATEMENT). Would you say you completely agree, mostly agree, mostly disagree, or completely disagree with that statement?

    9. Now I'd like to ask your opinion of some groups and organizations. First, would you say your overall opinion of… (INSERT ITEM, ROTATE ITEM A & B) is very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable?

    10. How closely would you say you've followed news about the terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans—would you say you've followed it very closely, followed it but not very closely, or haven't followed it much at all?

    • 29% = Followed very closely
    • 46% = Followed, but not very closely
    • 24% = Haven't followed much at all
    • 1% = No answer
    • How did you first learn about the bombing? (IF “TV” OR “RADIO,” PROBE TO DETERMINE IF THAT WAS A NEWS PROGRAM OR TALK SHOW)
      • 78% = TV news
      • 10% = Radio news
      • 7% = Read it in the newspaper
      • 3% = From friend or relative
      • ** = TV talk show
      • ** = Internet news service
      • ** = News magazine
      • ** = Radio talk/call-in show
      • 1% = Other
      • 1% = No answer

    11. How closely would you say you've followed news about the White House handling of FBI files on prominent Republicans—would you say you've followed it very closely, followed it but not too closely, or haven't followed it much at all?

    • 13% = Followed very closely
    • 31% = Followed, but not very closely
    • 53% = Haven't followed much at all
    • 3% = No answer
    • How did you first learn about the story? (IF “TV” OR “RADIO,” PROBE TO DETERMINE IF THAT WAS A NEWS PROGRAM OR TALK SHOW)
      • 73% = TV news
      • 11% = Read it in newspaper
      • 7% = Radio news
      • 4% = Friend or relative
      • 1% = Radio talk/call-in show
      • 1 % = News magazine
      • ** = From neighbor
      • ** = TV talk show
      • 1 % = Other
      • 2% = No answer

    12. How closely would you say you've followed news about Hillary Clinton's meeting with New Age psychologist Gean Houston—would you say you've followed it very closely, followed it but not too closely, or haven't followed it much at all?

    • 7% = Followed very closely
    • 19% = Followed, but not very closely
    • 71% = Haven't followed much at all
    • 4% = No answer
    • How did you first learn about the story? (IF “TV” OR “RADIO,” PROBE TO DETERMINE IF THAT WAS A NEWS PROGRAM OR TALK SHOW)
      • 72% = TV news
      • 18% = Read it in newspaper
      • 3% = Radio news
      • 2% = Friend or relative
      • 2% = News magazine
      • 1% = Radio talk/call-in show
      • 1 % = TV talk show
      • 1 % = No answer

    13. How closely would you say you've followed news about the Valuejet crash in Florida—would you say you've followed it very closely, followed it but not too closely, or haven't followed it much at all?

    • 54% = Followed very closely
    • 32% = Followed, but not very closely
    • 13% = Haven't followed much at all
    • 1% = No answer

    NOTE: ** indicates response given by less than .5% of those interviewed.

    • How did you first learn about the grounding of Valuejet by the FAA? (IF “TV” OR “RADIO,” PROBE TO DETERMINE IF THAT WAS A NEWS PROGRAM OR TALK SHOW)
      • 75% = TV news
      • 8% = Radio news
      • 8% = Read it in newspaper
      • 4% = Friend or relative
      • ** = News magazine
      • ** = TV talk show
      • ** = Internet news service
      • ** = Radio talk/call-in show
      • ** = From neighbor
      • 2% = Other
      • 2% = No answer

    14. How closely would you say you've followed news about an outbreak of an illness associated with strawberries—would you say you've followed it very closely, followed it but not too closely, or haven't followed it much at all?

    • 15% = Followed very closely
    • 22% = Followed, but not very closely
    • 55% = Haven't followed much at all
    • 8% = No answer
    • How did you first learn about the story? (IF “TV” OR “RADIO,” PROBE TO DETERMINE IF THAT WAS A NEWS PROGRAM OR TALK SHOW)
      • 65% = TV news
      • 17% = Read it in newspaper
      • 7% = From friend or relative
      • 5% = Radio news
      • 1% = From neighbor
      • ** = TV talk show
      • ** = News magazine
      • ** = Internet news service
      • 3% = Other
      • 1% = No answer

    15. Generally speaking, how many days each week do you read a newspaper?

    • 28% = Six or seven times a week
    • 15% = Four or five times a week
    • 23% = Two or three times a week
    • 16% = Once a week
    • 17% = Less than once a week
    • 1% = No answer

    16. Generally, how many evenings each week do you watch a TV news program?

    • 49% = Six or seven times a week
    • 19% = Four or five times a week
    • 18% = Two or three times a week
    • 6% = Once a week
    • 8% = Less than once a week
    • ** = No answer

    17. Do you listen to the news on the radio regularly, or not?

    • 35% = Regularly
    • 64% = Not regularly
    • ** = No answer

    18. How often would you say you discuss politics and public affairs with members of your family—every day, several times a week, or less than that?

    • 6% = Every day
    • 16% = Several times a week
    • 77% = Less often than that
    • 1 % = No answer

    19. How often would you say you discuss politics and public affairs with your friends—every day, several times a week, or less than that?

    • 7% = Every day
    • 19% = Several times a week
    • 74% = Less often than that
    • 1% = No answer

    20. I'd like to know how often you read certain types of publications. As I read each, please tell me if you read them regularly, sometimes, hardly ever, or never. (First,) how about…(READ AND ROTATE)

    21. I'd like to know how often you watch or listen to certain TV and radio programs. As I read each, please tell me if you watch or listen regularly, sometimes, hardly ever, or never. (First,) how about…(READ AND ROTATE)

    22. Which of the following two statements about the news media do you agree with more …

    • 34% = The news media help society solve its problems.


    • 48% = The news media get in the way of society solving its problems.
    • 18% = No answer

    23. Have you EVER called or sent a letter, telegram, fax, or e-mail message to your congressional representative or senator to express your opinion on an issue?

    • 23% = Yes
    • 77% = No
    • ** = No answer

    NOTE: ** indicates response given by less than .5% of those interviewed.

    IF “YES” IN Q23, ASK:

    • Have you done so in the past 12 months?
      • 42% = Yes
      • 58% = No
      • ** = No answer

    24. Have you EVER called or sent a letter, telegram, fax, or e-mail message to a local newspaper to express your opinion on an issue?

    • 13% = Yes
    • 87% = No
    • ** = No answer

    IF “YES” IN Q24, ASK:

    • Have you done so in the past 12 months?
      • 46% = Yes
      • 55% = No
      • 0% = No answer

    25. Have you EVER called or sent a letter, telegram, fax, or e-mail message to a state representative or state senator to express your opinion on an issue?

    • 16% = Yes
    • 83% = No
    • 1% = No answer

    IF “YES” IN Q25, ASK:

    • Have you done so in the past 12 months?
      • 44% = Yes
      • 56% = No
      • 1% = No answer

    26. Have you EVER called or sent a letter, telegram, fax, or e-mail message to a member of your local school board or a city government official to express your opinion on an issue?

    • 14% = Yes
    • 86% = No
    • ** = No answer

    IF “YES” IN Q26, ASK:

    • Have you done so in the past 12 months?
      • 61% = Yes
      • 39% = No
      • 0% = No answer

    27. Have you EVER done volunteer work for a charity or other nonprofit organization?

    • 60% = Yes
    • 40% = No
    • ** = No answer

    IF “YES” IN Q27, ASK:

    • Have you done so in the past 12 months?
      • 52% = Yes
      • 48% = No
      • ** = No answer

    28. In the past 3 or 4 years, have you attended any political meetings or rallies?

    • 11% = Yes
    • 89% = No
    • ** = No answer

    IF “YES” IN Q28, ASK:

    • Have you done so in the past 12 months?
      • 68% = Yes
      • 32% = No
      • 0% = No answer

    29. Some people say we should have a third major political party in this country in addition to the Democrats and Republicans. Do you agree or disagree?

    • 46% = Agree
    • 39% = Disagree
    • 15% = No answer

    30. Over the course of the next year, do you think the financial situation of you and your family will improve a lot, improve some, get a little worse, or get a lot worse?

    • 12% = Improve a lot
    • 53% = Improve some
    • 18% = Get a little worse
    • 6% = Get a lot worse
    • 10% = No answer

    Finally, I'd like to ask you some questions for statistical purposes only.

    31. How long have you lived at you present address?

    • 11% = Less than 6 months
    • 9% = More than 6 months but less than 1 year
    • 12% = More than 1 year but less than 2 years
    • 66% = More than 2 years
    • 1 % = No answer

    32. How would you describe your views on most political matters? Generally, do you think of yourself as liberal, moderate, or conservative?

    • 19% = Liberal
    • 39% = Moderate
    • 30% = Conservative
    • 13% = No answer

    33. In politics, do you consider yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, or an independent?

    • 17% = Republican
    • 24% = Democrat
    • 46% = Independent
    • 4% = Other (volunteered)
    • 9% = No answer

    34. What was the last grade in school you completed? (DO NOT READ RESPONSE CATEGORIES)

    • 17% = Not a high school graduate
    • 38% = High school graduate
    • 26% = Some college
    • 18% = College graduate
    • 2% = No answer

    35. Which of the following age groups are you in—18 to 29, 30 to 44, 45 to 64, or 65 or older?

    • 39% = 18 to 29
    • 34% = 30 to 44
    • 18% = 45 to 64
    • 7% = 65 or older
    • 2% = No answer

    36. Are you white, black, or some other race?

    • 68% = White
    • 13% = Black
    • 17% = Other
    • 2% = No answer

    37. Are you of Hispanic origin or descent, or not?

    • 13% = Hispanic
    • 84% = Not Hispanic
    • 3% = No answer

    38. Was your total family income in 1995 UNDER or OVER $30,000? IF UNDER $30,000, ASK: Was it under or over $15,000? IF OVER $30,000, ASK: Was it between $30,000 and $50,000, or between $50,000 and $75,000, or was it over $75,000?

    • 19% = Under $15,000
    • 27% = Between $15,000 and $29,999
    • 23% = Between $30,000 and $49,999
    • 12% = Between $50,000 and $75,000
    • 6% = Over $75,000
    • 13% = Refused

    39. Finally, would you mind if one of our reporters called you back to discuss your views further?

    • 43% = Yes, would mind
    • 57% = No, wouldn't mind


    • In case one of our reporters does need to call you back, could I get your name?


    That concludes our survey. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions.

    Appendix B: No-Show '96: Americans Who Don't Vote

    Survey Methodology

    Results of the survey are based on telephone interviews conducted July 8 through July 21, 1996, with 3,323 adults, 18 years of age and older, living in the continental United States.

    The sample of telephone exchanges called was selected by a computer from a complete list of working exchanges in the country. The exchanges were chosen to ensure that each region would be represented in proportion to its population. The last four digits in each telephone number were randomly generated by a computer and screened to limit calls to residences. This procedure provided access to both listed and unlisted residential numbers.

    The sample for each region of the country was released in replicates to ensure that the established calling procedures were followed for the entire sample. This procedure also helped ensure that the appropriate number of interviews would be obtained in each region.

    At least four attempts were made to complete interviews at every sampled telephone number. The calls were placed on different days and at different times of the day to maximize the chances of reaching a respondent. In each contacted household, interviewers first asked to speak with the “youngest male 18 years of age or older who is at home now.” If no eligible male was at home, interviewers asked to speak with the “oldest female 18 years of age or older who is at home.” This systematic respondent selection process has been shown to produce samples that closely mirror the population in terms of age and gender.

    Eligible respondents were asked whether they were registered to vote at their current address, whether they voted in the 1992 presidential election, what kept them from voting in 1992 if they did not do so, and whether they intended to vote in the 1996 presidential elections. Respondents who said they currently were registered, voted in 1992, and would “definitely vote” or “probably vote” in November 1996 were included in the pool of likely voters, as were those who said they were registered, didn't vote in 1992 because they were not old enough, and would “definitely” or “probably” vote in November 1996. Once a likely voter was identified, the interviewer collected information on the respondent's age, race, education level, and household income before terminating the interview. A total of 2,322 of these short interviews were conducted.

    Respondents who said they were not registered to vote at their current address, who cited some reason other than age for not voting in 1992, or who said they would “probably not vote” or “definitely not vote” in November 1996 were classified as likely nonvoters. These 1,001 respondents then were asked a battery of 64 questions to determine the levels and patterns of their news and information consumption; the extent of their alienation from or affinity for governmental institutions, political parties, and politicians; the extent of their participation in other forms of political behavior (such as attending political meetings or contacting their federal, state, or local representatives); and their attitudes on selected social and public policy issues. Likely nonvoters also were asked 8 demographic questions.

    To facilitate our exploration of both the similarities and differences among nonvoters, a typology was constructed by using cluster analysis, a statistical technique that classified respondents into the most homogeneous and meaningful groups possible based on their news and information consumption, the extent of their alienation from government and the political process, their feelings of political self-efficacy, the extent of their participation in other forms of quasi-political behavior, and basic demographic characteristics, including length of time at their current address.

    The results of the survey have been weighted to adjust for variations in the sample relating to race, gender, age, and education. For results based on the sample of 1,001 likely nonvoters, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. However, for results based on interviews with subgroups of respondents, the margin of error is larger. For example, the responses of the 288 nonvoters classified as Doers have a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points.

    In addition to sampling error, it should be noted that question wording, question order, and the practical difficulties of conducting any survey of public opinion can introduce error or bias into the findings.

    (The survey was conducted by Dwight Morris's Campaign Study Group and the Medill News Service and was a collaboration of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and Chicago public television station WTTW, with funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.)


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    About the Authors

    Jack C. Doppelt is Associate Professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, a faculty associate at Northwestern's Institute for Policy Research, and has served as Medill's acting and associate dean. He is coauthor of The Journalism of Outrage: Investigative Reporting and Agenda Building in America, a book on investigative reporting and its influence on public policy, and has published numerous articles on libel, the media's influence on the criminal justice system, and media coverage of the legal system. He is also the author of “Blueprint for a Comprehensive Plan for Increasing Voter Registration and Voter Participation in Cook County,” an action plan commissioned in 1991 by the Clerk of Cook County. His expertise is media law and ethics and the reporting of legal affairs. He is a graduate of Grinnell College and the University of Chicago Law School and lives in Evanston, Illinois, with his wife and two children.

    Ellen Shearer is Associate Professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and codirector of Medill's Washington Program, the Medill News Service. She also serves on the board of the Center for Religion and the News Media, a joint program between the Medill School of Journalism and the Garrett School of Theology. She writes on media issues for several magazines and is a regular contributor to The American Editor magazine, writing on topics such as readership and Washington reporting. She authored a chapter in The Changing Reader—Understanding the Forces Changing Newspapers, published by Northwestern's Newspaper Management Center. Prior to joining Medill in 1994, Shearer's career was in the news industry, where she served in senior management roles at United Press International and Newsday, among others. She is a 1975 graduate of the University of Wisconsin with a bachelor of arts degree and lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with her husband and two sons.

    Both Doppelt and Shearer vote habitually whether they know enough about the candidates or referenda on the ballot or not.

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