Voting Trends Among People with Disabilities

There are at least 37 million people of voting age with disabilities in the United States, representing 15.3% of all eligible voters. This number is likely to grow with the aging population.

The Disability Gap

People with disabilities have lower voter turnout than people without disabilities. Data from 2012 found that registered citizens with disabilities voted at a rate of 5.7% below eligible citizens without disabilities. If the rates were the same, there would have been 3 million more votes cast by people with disabilities.

Results from the Census Bureau’s Voting and Registration Supplement show disability turnout gaps of 7.2% in 2008, 3.1% in 2010 and 5.7% in 2012, based on new disability measures starting in 2008. The smaller gap in 2010 reflects especially low turnout in midterm elections by younger voters, who are generally less likely to have disabilities.

When demographic characteristics (age, gender, race/ethnicity and marital status) are held constant, the adjusted disability gap is close to 12% in each year.

What Affects Turnout

The 2012 United States Census Voting and Registration report revealed that people with cognitive, self-care or independent living difficulties were less likely to vote. People with disabilities who are 65 and older continue to represent a growing population.

Broken down by “major type of disability,” the turnout was lower in 2012 among people with visual, mobility and cognitive or brain impairments, but people with hearing loss were as likely to vote as people without disabilities.

Turnout was also low among those who reported difficulty going outside alone, or difficulty with daily activities inside the home.

Translation into Representation

The disability voting gap is due in part to lower voter registration, but also to a lower likelihood of voting if registered.

In 2012, among people with disabilities: 69.2% reported being registered to vote, only 2.3% lower than the rate for people without disabilities.

Among those who were registered: 82.1% voted, which was 5.4 points lower than the 87.5% of registered citizens without disabilities who voted.

While increased turnout among people with disabilities would make elections more representative, this would not appear to change the partisan landscape. People with disabilities have no significant differences from people without disabilities in their party identification.