June 1, 2017

Dislike of candidates or campaign issues was most common reason for not voting in 2016

Tens of millions of registered voters did not cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election, and the share who cited a “dislike of the candidates or campaign issues” as their main reason for not participating reached a new high of 25%, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of new Census Bureau data.

In other recent presidential elections, the share of registered voters who said they didn’t participate because they disliked the candidates or campaign issues was considerably lower. In 2012, for example, 13% cited this as their primary reason. In pre-election polling last year, registered voters expressed far lower levels of satisfaction with their choices of candidates than in prior elections over the past several decades.

While a dislike of the candidates or issues was the most frequently cited reason for not voting, other top reasons included a lack of interest or a feeling that their vote wouldn’t make a difference (15%), being too busy or having a conflicting schedule (14%), having an illness or disability (12%) and being out of town or away from home (8%). Another 11% gave other reasons. 

The share who said they were too busy or had a conflicting schedule in 2016 – the most common reason given in previous elections – was down from 19% in 2012 to 14%. The share saying they did not vote because they were not interested or felt their vote would not make a difference (15% in 2016) changed little from the last presidential election.

The surge in nonvoters who cited not liking the candidates or campaign issues as their reason for not voting in 2016 extended across all major demographic subgroups. For every major racial or ethnic group, the share of nonvoters who cited a dislike of the candidates or issues as the main reason for not voting rose sharply from 2012.

Among black nonvoters, 19% said they did not vote because they did not like the candidates or campaign issues, up from just 3% in 2012 (when then-President Barack Obama was on the ballot). That share was equal to the share of black nonvoters who cited not being interested or feeling that their vote would not make a difference. Among Hispanic registered voters who did not vote last year, one-quarter cited not liking the candidates or campaign issues as the reason for not voting, up from 9% in 2012. Similarly, higher shares of nonvoting white and Asian registered voters gave this reason in 2016 than in 2012.

When looking at generational differences, nonvoters in all generations were more likely to cite dislike of candidates than in past years. About three-in-ten of both Generation X (27%) and Baby Boom (27%) registered voters who did not vote in 2016 cited “not liking the candidates or campaign issues” as their main reason for not participating in the election. About two-in-ten Millennials (24%) and those in the Silent/Greatest generation (19%) said the same.

For nonvoters who are foreign-born U.S. citizens, the share that was dissatisfied with the candidates or campaign issues in 2016 nearly tripled, from 8% in 2012 to 22%. Among U.S.-born nonvoters, this share increased by 12 points – from 13% in 2012 to 25% last year.

The 2016 election stood out because the racial and ethnic diversity of voters did not grow for the first time since the ’90s, despite the fact that the overall eligible voting population was the most racially and ethnically diverse ever. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other racial minorities accounted for 27% of voters in 2016, a share essentially unchanged from 2012, according to the Census Bureau. At the same time, minorities made up a larger share of nonvoters in the 2016 election. In 2016, minorities made up a third (34%) of all nonvoters, up from a quarter in 2012.

Topics: Voting Issues, Voter Participation, Voter Demographics, 2016 Election

  1. Photo of Gustavo López

    is a research analyst focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Antonio Flores

    is a research assistant focusing on Hispanic research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Packard Day3 months ago

    Do not dismiss utter voter apathy and ignorance about anything to do with the electoral process in this discussion. Which then begs the question; do any of us really wish to encourage such types of people to vote? Better to just leave them undisturbed to play their video games, watch the latest TV Bachelor show, smoke & drink their recreational adult subtances of choice, and talk on their smart phones.

    1. Anonymous3 months ago

      but what if the thing you don’t want us to dismiss is actually STATISTICALLY ANALYZED IN THE ARTICLE and your take is NOT ACTUALLY and is DIRECTLY CONTRADICTED BY THE POLLING EVIDENCE.

  2. Em. J.3 months ago

    I am horrified to see Democrat leaders dismiss this last point here, which is obviously incredibly important. Analyzing an anomaly of that magnitude could lead to a gold mine of insight. If non-white eligible voters are growing rapidly in number while their overall election participation rates inexplicably stall out, that’s a game-changer. That could be the key to 2020.

    Instead, congress members are so desperate for a public “win” that they’re attributing the entire situation in vital areas like Wisconsin to the much-contested voter I.D. laws. At best, that’s a potent combination of confirmation bias and intellectual dishonesty. At worst, it’s a form of narcissism and the inability to reexamine their own flawed assumptions.

    Meanwhile, the New Yorker thoroughly studied the situation in Wisconsin, and asked many people who are part of poor black communities in Milwaukee whether they vtod, and why. The overwhelming response was that they succumbed to apathy and felt neither candidate would make an positive impact; many of them said they liked Trump better than Clinton and likely would have voted for him, if they had decided to vote. The sooner that sinks in, the better our chances are in future elections.

  3. Anonymous3 months ago

    I guess we can always find an excuse to do nothing!

  4. Anonymous3 months ago

    We tried to encourage numerous friends & neighbors to vote for the candidate they disliked the least. It didn’t work. As much as anything I blame apathy.

  5. Anonymous3 months ago

    What reasons did Republican and Demograts give for not voting?

    1. Anonymous2 months ago

      I reread article to make sure I didn’t miss that static, but it wasn’t there. Why was this variable now t included I wonder?