MAPPING THE ELECTORAL POWER OF LOW INCOME VOTERS

Published

It seems a little risky in retrospect, but since launching three years ago, the Poor People’s Campaign has been executing its political strategy on a dearly held hunch: namely, that increasing the volume of poor and low income voters will make for more democratic elections and more equitable social policy. Putting their intuition to the test, the national advocacy group, which garnered 3 million attendees at its virtual Moral March on Washington in June, commissioned a study to learn if their best guess, which Poor People’s Campaign policy director Shailly Gupta Barnes calls more of “a motivating belief,” was even in the ballpark.

What they learned made them glad they’d followed their political instincts. According to Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, a co-director of the Poor People’s Campaign, the data empirically prove what the organizers themselves have long understood—“poor and low income people can become a transformative new electorate.” Especially in the South, where they’ve already made a difference in competitive gubernatorial races in Kentucky and North Carolina, unseating incumbents even in the face of extreme voter suppression.

As the national conventions of the two major U.S. political parties approach, the Democrats on August 17-20, followed by the Republicans on August 24-27, the Poor People’s Campaign has released a white paper written by Robert Paul Hartley, an economist with the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University. Entitled Unleashing the Power of Poor and Low-Income Americans: Changing the Political Landscape, the 22-page analysis crunches numbers from the MIT Election Data and Science Lab’s 2017 reports on presidential and U.S. Senate elections and the Current Population Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.