Bernie Sanders said something he wasn’t supposed to say: that poor people don’t vote. Although it’s true that voter turnout is inversely correlated with income, all anyone wanted to comment on was that Sanders looked defensive and deflated on Meet the Press, where he made the statement on Sunday. Lost was the fact that this is a truth we should be struck by, ashamed of even, and should do more about. The impolitic remark came in response to a question about why the candidate had been losing so much in the places he should have been winning (he’s lost 16 of the 17 states with the highest levels of income inequality). The most straightforward thing for him to say would be to acknowledge that he hasn’t performed well with minority voters who tend to be less affluent. But he didn’t want to say that on television. Instead, he decided to talk about something else that’s actually more important than where he, personally, is up or down. He said: “Poor people don’t vote. I mean, that’s just a fact. That’s a sad reality of American society”. He also noted that “80% of poor people did not vote” in the 2014 election. On the airwaves he was chided for acting like an analyst rather than a candidate and for bringing his campaign down to reality in all the wrong ways. Fact-checkers immediately aimed to set the record straight only to discover that Sanders claim was “mostly true” or even, looked at comprehensively, totally correct.
What Politifact found was this: “In 2014, about 75% of people who made under $10,000 and about 69% of those who made under $30,000 didn’t vote. If we look at financial insecurity, however, Sanders is right on the money.”
Of course, financial insecurity should not, in fact, be excluded from an analysis of whether poor people voted in 2014. Sanders’ observation is as valid as it is disturbing.
Only 36.4% of eligible voters voted in 2014. Turnout was historically low, the lowest our country’s seen in 72 years. Typically nonvoters are overwhelmingly the less educated, the less affluent, the racially and ethnically diverse and the young, according to an analysis by Pew.