With a shocking gubernatorial loss in Virginia and a razor-thin win in New Jersey, the Democratic Party had best decide how to change this disturbing trend in 2022.

The party should not underestimate the importance of marginalized voters, many of whom struggle to educate their children, pay rent and simply survive. 

Poor and low-income people accounted for more than a third of all voters in the 2020 presidential election, and their turnout was especially strong in tight battleground states, according to a Poor People’s Campaign: a National Call for Moral Revival study titled “Waking the Sleeping Giant: Low-Income Voters and the 2020 Elections.”

It shows of the 168 million people who voted in 2020, 59 million, or 35%, were poor or low-income, meaning they have an estimated annual income of less than $50,000. The 2020 presidential elections saw the highest voter turnout in U.S. election history, including among low-income voters.

“This cuts against common misperceptions that poor and low-income people are apathetic about politics or inconsequential to electoral outcomes,” the executive summary of the study reads.

A get-out-the-vote drive had a “statistically significant impact in drawing eligible low-income voters  into the active voting electorate, showing that intentional efforts to engage low-income voters  — around an agenda that includes living wages, health care, strong anti-poverty programs, voting rights and policies that fully address injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation and the war economy — can be effective across state borders and racial lines,” the report says.

In Georgia, which Joe Biden narrowly carried, marking the first presidential victory for a Democrat in that state since 1992, years-long aggressive voter outreach helped bring over 39,000 non-voters from 2016 into the 2020 elections. Those voters accounted for more than three times the final margin of victory in Georgia’s presidential tally.

There’s no proven link that the outreach decided the election, but it does show the potential impact of low-income voters, the study says.

“To turn the opportunity to vote into a reality for low-income voters will require expanded efforts to increase both their registration and turnout on election day, such as automatic voter registration, same day registration, no-excuse mail-in voting, early voting, more polling stations and extended and longer voting hours,” the study says.

The study, authored by Shailly Gupta Barnes, policy director for the PPC, also shows the importance of low-income white voters and of building a coalition of voters of various races and ethnicities.

“While the narrative that white low-income voters are voting not only against their own interests, but also the interests of other racial segments of low-income voters, persisted through the 2020 elections, our analysis suggests something significantly different,” the report says. “The findings suggest that, rather than writing white low-income voters off, it is possible to build coalitions of low-income voters across race around a political agenda that centers the issues they have in common.”

The Trump electorate is not numerically superior, but they are driven by fear and grievance, and are highly energized and active. It is important to realize that much of the animus Trump has skillfully mobilized has existed in the Republican Party long before he arrived on the national political scene. These voters have long held a deep hostility towards people of color. 

This latent anti-Black racism has long been exploited by Republicans, albeit more subtly by Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes. These voters are even more strongly drawn to Trump. He is even more appealing to this group because of his fake patriotism and unequivocal in his racist, xenophobic message and behavior.

The public conversation is often couched in talk about partisanship and polarization as if both political parties are equally extreme. This view ignores this subset of American voters, who are rabid in their opposition to the growing reality that the United States is a multi-ethnic country. 

While they are not the majority in the country, they are the driving force in the current Republican Party of Trump. 

Look no further than the Republican Party and its representatives in Missouri as well as in other like-minded Republican states across the country that have created an existential crisis around the future of democracy in the United States. 

The PPC report contained key findings on the 2020 elections:

In the 2020 elections, low-income voters exceeded 20% of the total voting population in 45 states and Washington D.C. In tight battleground states, low-income voters accounted for 34% to 45% of the voting population, including in states that flipped party outcomes from 2016 to 2020.

In battleground states where the margin of victory was near or less than 3%, low-income voters accounted for an even greater share of the total votes: Arizona (39.96%), Georgia (37.74%), Michigan (37.81%), Nevada (35.78%), North Carolina (43.67%), Pennsylvania (34.12%), and Wisconsin (39.80%).

A closer look at the racial demographics of low-income voters in nine battleground states shows that white low-income voters accounted for a higher vote share than all other racial groupings of low-income voters combined.

The knowledge that many low-income white voters aren’t buying the Republican Party’s divisive agenda and leaving them behind economically – just as with low-income Black voters – must not be overlooked by the Democratic Party.

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