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Benjamin Blankenship


Comparing Partisan Voters and Non-Voters in the 2016 and 2018 Elections and Beyond

Benjamin T. Blankenship, Assistant Professor, James Madison University 

As I began writing this article for Forward about what I had hoped to present at SPSSI’s 2020 Conference in Denver, CO, I could not help but reflect on the great loss I felt in not being able to come to what I consider as my “academic home” in SPSSI, during an especially high stakes time for social issues, especially with it being an important election year. As psychologists who are interested in analyzing and advancing social justice issues through our research, service endeavors, and teaching, it is no surprise that many of us care deeply about the political mechanisms, such as voting, that enable individuals to engage and create the social change we need. The research that I hoped to present touches on one such area. 

The research I was planning to present at SPSSI is part of a larger, ongoing project I started in 2016 with my graduate school advisor, Abby Stewart, at the University of Michigan, along with other fellow SPSSI members (see Blankenship et al., 2018 for more details). The presentation I was planning to give this year at SPSSI included examining predictors of non-voting versus partisan voting in the 2016 and 2018 elections, using this longitudinal sample.  

I found that different individual difference factors were predictive in comparisons of Democratic voters and non-voters, compared to those that were predictive in differentiating Republican voters and non-voters. For instance, higher levels of distrust in the media were associated with a greater likelihood to vote Republican, compared to not voting. However, this variable was not associated with a reciprocal likelihood of voting Democratic over being a non-voter, as was expected based on previous research (see Blankenship & Stewart, 2018).  

This is in opposition to alternative hypotheses, which would predict that the same individual difference factors are driving people away from not voting and toward voting for one party or the other, depending on their scores on those particular individual difference factors.  Similar results using other individual difference variables indicated that different factors are likely associated with political engagement on the right than on the left.  

This research helps expand upon previous political psychology studies, which have primarily focused on making comparisons between partisan voters, in terms of important individual differences. These kinds of predictors are important to examine in future studies comparing voters and non-voters, since most of the necessary political work needed to get particular candidates elected involves turning potential non-voters into voters, rather than trying to flip partisans from supporting one side of the aisle to the other. Furthermore, since a substantial proportion of the electorate consistently does not vote, it makes it even more important to understand predictors of voting versus not voting. My collaborators and I look forward to testing these and other research questions, as we continue our work with this longitudinal sample, going into the 2020 election. I look forward to sharing our future findings using this sample at future (hopefully in-person) SPSSI meetings!

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