‘Low-income’ voters could determine the 2020 Presidential Election

New study champions ‘poor and low-income’ people, urges them to vote on Nov. 3

by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer

In the 2016 Presidential Election, Republican Donald Trump, the eventual winner, also defeated his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, here in Pennsylvania by roughly 40,000 votes.

But according to a newly-released report by Columbia University School of Social Work Assistant Professor Robert Paul Hartley, if just four percent more of the 1.2 million Pennsylvanians classified as low-income had voted in the election and voted for, say, Clinton, Trump would have lost Pennsylvania.

The same could be said in a state like Michigan, where Trump won by only 10,000 votes. If just two percent more of the 980,000 Michigan residents classified as low-income would have voted in the election and voted for Clinton, she would have won the state.

While it should be noted that not everyone in the U.S. who is classified as low-income will vote for  Democratic presidential candidate such as this year’s presumptive nominee, Joe Biden, Hartley’s findings indicate that overall, the voting potential of low-income Americans is very impactful.

And the vote of low-income Americans could determine the presidential election this November 3.

But generally, lower-income Americans of any ethnicity turn out less to vote in elections than wealthier Americans. Hartley’s study found that there’s a 20-percent age-point gap on average between low-income Americans (classified for this report as those with incomes below twice the federal poverty line) who vote (46 percent) and wealthier Americans (those with incomes above twice the federal poverty line) who vote (67 percent).

The primary reasons for low-income Americans not voting, the report said, are a lack of interest in the issues or feeling their vote will not matter.

“A large proportion of the electorate is not participating in elections because they are not motivated by a particular candidate who might make a difference on issues that matter to economically vulnerable families,” the report, obtained by the New Pittsburgh Courier on Aug. 12, read.

The report also said many low-income Americans have transportation problems or illness/disability concerns that can prevent them from voting.

Many in the political world were shocked when Trump, who had never held public office, defeated veteran politician Hillary Clinton in the November 2016 election. Trump had 306 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win the presidential election.

The Columbia University report, titled, “Unleashing The Power of Poor and Low-Income Americans; Changing The Political Landscape,” found that in the 2016 Presidential Election, out of 225 million eligible voters, 138 million people voted. Out of the 138 million who voted, 29 million were poor or low-income. But there were 34 million poor or low-income people who were eligible to vote, but did not vote in the election.
Thus, if more low-income people turned out to vote in the 2016 election, could Hillary Clinton currently be the U.S. president, instead of Trump? According to the report, “there are 15 states total that would potentially flip if at least 71 percent (on average) of the newly voting low-income population voted for the party that lost in that state in 2016: 10 states could flip from red (Trump) to blue (Clinton), and five states from blue (Clinton) to red (Trump).

Those 10 states that probably would have flipped from Trump to Clinton were Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida.
Most of those states, with the exception of Wisconsin and Arizona, have significant African American populations.

Thus, when Hartley’s report outlines the impact that low-income Americans could have on an election if their rate of voting increased, it speaks largely to the country’s Black population. Blacks comprise the highest percentage of any ethnic group living in poverty. The most recent Census information revealed nearly one in four Black households (22 percent) are living in poverty, while the poverty rate for Whites is just nine percent. The poverty rate for Asian-Americans is 10 percent and 19 percent for Hispanics.

But for the Columbia University report, the researchers classified “poor and low-income” as those whose incomes are less than twice the federal poverty line. For example, a family consisting of two parents and two children are considered in poverty if the household income is no more than $27,085 (the supplemental poverty measure). When the $27,085 is doubled, it equals $54,170. Still, for the purposes of the Columbia University report, the family is considered “low-income.” A person or family would have to earn more than twice the federal poverty line not to be classified as “poor” or “low-income” for this report.

Taking this into account, report researchers classified 140 million Americans (40 percent) as “poor” or “low-income,” including 23.7 million of the 41.4 million African Americans (60 percent) in the U.S.


DEMOCRATIC VICE-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE SEN. KAMALA HARRIS hopes to use her influence with Black and suburban voters to win the presidential election for Joe Biden.

And Biden, without admitting it, knew that choosing a Black woman (Kamala Harris) as his running mate, and the first-ever Black woman VP candidate in U.S. history, could only boost his chances to bring more Black voters to the polls in his favor on Election Day.

After Barack Obama, the country’s first Black president, comfortably won re-election in 2012 over Mitt Romney with 332 electoral votes, there was a significant drop-off in the number of African Americans (about 765,000 less) who voted in the 2016 presidential election.

And leave it to Trump to mock some African Americans’ lack of voting in the 2016 election, as he did during a post-election rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Dec. 9, 2016, a month after he won the election.

“The African American community was great to us,” Trump said. “If they had any doubt, they didn’t vote…and that was almost as good.”

Simply put, the higher the participation of Black voters on Nov. 3, the better the chances that Biden will defeat Trump, and Harris will be the first African American (and first woman) vice president in American history.

Most polls show that only eight percent of African Americans favor Trump—most of the rest (83 percent) are in Biden’s corner.


IN U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS, the overall popular vote (total actual votes) is not what wins an election. A candidate must win the popular vote in a particular state; they are then awarded all of the state’s electoral votes (with the exception of Nebraska and Maine).

In Pennsylvania, Trump enjoyed a 43,000-vote victory over Clinton in 2016. And it was instrumental in Trump’s overall presidential win, because Pennsylvania, while sometimes called a battleground state, had gone to the Democratic presidential hopeful in the six previous presidential elections. Prior to 2016, Pennsylvania hadn’t gone to the Republican presidential candidate since 1988, when George H.W. Bush prevailed. Pennsylvania also went to Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.

Pennsylvania usually has a Democratic stronghold in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions, and Republicans rule the middle of the state. The Erie area leans Democratic.

The question for the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions isn’t if Allegheny (or Philadelphia) County will go to Biden, but if the two regions can garner enough Democratic votes to offset the expected Republican surge of votes in the middle of the state.

If that happens, Pennsylvania would flip back to blue (Democrat), and it would be that much harder for Trump to garner the necessary 270 electoral votes to be re-elected. Pennsylvania, along with Illinois, has the fifth-highest number of electoral votes of any state (20).

When Hillary Clinton was the Democratic candidate in 2016, she was expected to win over many White working women and suburbanites, along with the Black community. In the Pittsburgh region, a Courier analysis of the popular vote data from 2012 and 2016 revealed that while Democrats picked up 19,000 additional votes in Allegheny County between 2012 and 2016, Democrats lost valuable votes in many surrounding counties, thereby diluting Clinton’s advantage. The Courier found that between 2012 to 2016, Democrats lost 4,000 votes in Beaver County, 4,000 in Fayette County, 4,000 in Westmoreland County, 3,000 in Lawrence County, 2,000 in Washington County, and roughly 1,000 in Greene County (18,000 total).
Numerous organizations, namely the Black Political Empowerment Project in Pittsburgh, consistently hammer to local African Americans the importance of voting in all elections. But this upcoming election may be the most important election yet. Many African Americans view President Trump as a person with racist views, using language and rhetoric that seems to further divide the country rather than bring it together. However, Trump hails that he’s done “more for the African American community” than any other president in U.S. history, “with the exception of (Abraham) Lincoln.”


OVER THE NEXT FEW MONTHS, this country will be inundated by political spats between the presidential and vice presidential hopefuls. You’ll see endless TV ads, numerous debates, and cable news channels like CNN and Fox News going wire-to-wire with political talk.

But for African Americans, of whom a disproportionate number are classified as “low-income,” the latest report authored by Hartley shows that it’s the low-income Americans that could determine the outcome on Election Day.

“Campaign policy proposals are typically targeted toward the middle class, and political debates spend a minority of the time on issues directly relevant to most lower-income voters,” Hartley wrote in his conclusion in his report. “…Ultimately, it is true that low-income Americans are less likely to vote, yet it does not have to be that way. For a more representative democratic election, and a large potential gain for those who speak to this population, the low-income electorate may offer a new focus for organization, mobilization, and campaign debate in the years going forward.”

THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE 2020 is the New Pittsburgh Courier’s special series of reports pertaining to the upcoming Presidential Election. More reports will appear in the coming weeks in our print edition and online at www.newpittsburghcourier.com.



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