why do we count people who never vote as voters?

Estimated reading time is 6 minutes.

A LOCAL COUNTRY CLUB gives you a free lifetime membership with full access to its gorgeous 18-hole golf course. Nice, right? But what if you have never hit a golf ball outside of a miniature golf course. What if you have absolutely no interest in ever playing golf—how much would such a gift count to you and would you count as a genuine golfer? 

And what if you never ever intend to even learn how to play golf?

Are you then “a golfer” because you have that membership?

No, of course you’re not!


If you’ve never played golf, you’re not a golfer, right? Apparently not necessarily.


But what if the golf club gave you the membership to boost their membership enrollment for advertising purposes? They would continue to count you as a golfer.

In fact, your name could be on a national golf registry and whenever a sports magazine or golf equipment company does a survey of golfers in the US, you’re counted. Then two things would be true:

1. You have never played golf and therefore are not a golfer.
2. You are one of millions of registered golfers in this country.


Count: photo of a golfer on a gorgeous green.

Therefore you are a golfer

If one statement is true, can the other be, too?

Is one statement ‘truer’ than the other?

It depends. If we place our emphasis on titles and appearances—as many people and institutions do—then the second statement is the truer: You are ‘officially’ listed as a golfer, therefore you are a golfer.

If we place our emphasis on the actual action that the word golfer intends to describe—as many people and institutions do—then the first statement is the truer: you don’t play golf, therefore you are not a golfer.

Personally, I prefer my words to reflect a real reality, not a bookkeeping reality or a fictional alternative, so I go with the first one.

And from there we proceed to what seems more like an alternative reality every day: politics and the 2016 election . . .


Count: cartoon poking fun at the stupidity of cynical non-voters.

Cartoon by Nick Anderson for The Houston Chronicle.

How many Americans never vote?

What I want to address here is the normal number of voters who turn up at the polls every four years for the presidential election? How many are there? I don’t care who they are, just how many they are.

In turn, I will also address those of our fellow Americans who are eligible to vote but who don’t.


How many Americans who are eligible to vote but do not ever vote and therefore won’t vote on the next Election Day. What I want is a number that represents the percentage of citizens who can vote and those who did vote.

The figures are readily available: I used statistics from the American Presidency Project. There are other sources, but the numbers are essentially the same. 1

The 130,000,000 who vote regularly

The American Presidency Project website has a chart of the election years for the presidency going back to the early 19th century. Based on the last two elections, the number of American who voted is approximately 130,000,000.

From their figures, I have made a very simple list below that shows each election year since 1960 with the percentage of the voting age population (VAP) that actually voted.

The VAP figure includes citizens who are of age but are ineligible to vote, such as convicted felons. The number of Americans who can legally vote is the VAP minus the ineligible citizens.

Rather than overwhelm the reader with data and initials, to compensate for the citizens who are ineligible to vote I simply added two (2) points to each percentage below. So here is the percentage of eligible voters who turned out on Election Day and voted over the past fifty-six years:

1960    65%
1964    64%
1968    63%
1972    57%
1976    56%
1980    55%
1984    55%
1988    52%
1992    57%
1996    51%
2000   53%
2004   59%
2008   60%
2012    57%

The drop in 1972 is due to the voting age being lowered from 21 to 18. And as we have found out since then, eligible voters 18-20 have better things to do than vote. 2

I included the elections from the ’60s to show what turnout was like with the higher voting age. Since those days are gone, I only used the numbers from 1972 through 2012 in my list above. With these figures I will establish two base numbers. 3

The 100,000,000 who never vote regularly

The average turnout of VAP in the last forty-four years has been 54%. Due to the low numbers for 1988, 1996, and 2000, I am using 50% as the percentage of VAP who always vote, no matter what.

Given the numbers for 2004 and 2008, I am using 40% as the percentage of VAP who never vote, regardless of the circumstances, the issues, or the candidates.


Count: poster for the Rock the Vote radio campaign to register voters.

Why do we count people who never vote?

Like the ‘golfer’ who never golfs but who gets counted over and over again as a golfer, we have ‘voters’ who never vote but who gets counted over and over again as voters. So the question is: Why do we count ‘voters’ who never vote as voters?

For the sake of this article, let’s call the first base people Voters Who Count (VWC). Based on the last two elections, that is approximately 130,000,000 people.

And that is the number that we should be using in conversations about national elections. 4

This train of thought inspired by a comment posted after Frischling’s article. The commenter seems to be taking the author to task for using certain numbers, as he opened with this statement: “Your math assumes without stating that 45% don’t show up on Election Day.”

Well, yeah! That’s not Frischling’s assumption: as we have seen, them’s the facts!

The comment continues with “Clinton and Trump get about 50% [each] of the votes of the 55% of voters that do show up on Election Day. That’s under 30% of the total American voters.”


Never vote: Photo of Martin Sheen as President Bartlet in THE WEST WING television series.

Everybody’s favorite television president: Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) in The West Wing. The series was an interesting and reasonably accurate look at the daily doings of a White House staff. (We just started binge-watching it so I thought I’d throw this in.)

A real mandate to govern

And that’s what kicked this article off: the 30% figure. These low numbers are often used by one side to show that the other side’s President doesn’t have a real mandate from the majority of voters let alone the people to govern.

But there really is no practical and logical reason to count people who never vote as voters. They may be eligible voters but they’re not even potential voters!

If we use the VWC numbers, then the average President of the United States is elected by the votes of the majority of Americans who take their civic responsibilities and duties seriously.

I like the sound of that . . .


Never vote: photo of golfer teeing off on beautiful greens in Jamaica.

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of the page is of the Beaches Ocho Rios golf course in Jamaica. (That’s local, right?) I found it at the Beaches website where they brag, “Some of the most challenging golf in the Caribbean on our very own championship course in Jamaica. Anyway you slice it, a Beaches golf vacation in the Caribbean includes more than any other destination for family resort vacations.”



1   The non-profit, non-partisan American Presidency Project is the leading source of presidential documents on the internet. Their archives contain more than 100,000 documents. Hosted at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the APP is one of the world’s most widely used sources for information about the role of the presidency in American democracy. All of the rounded figures above can be seen as exact figures on the APP website. Their chart on the link above also gives total population, total VAP, total registered voters, and voter turnout back to 1828.

2   Whatever did they do on Election Day before there were video games and the internet?

3   Numbers and percentages are rounded up or down using the most basic form of rounding: half a point of more rounds up, less than half rounds down.

4   The term Voters Who Count (VWC) is makeshift and clumsy. You are welcome to coin a more suitable term.


1 thought on “why do we count people who never vote as voters?”

  1. DUE TO A TECHNICAL GLITCH, I had to replace (repost? republish?) the original version of this article with this nearly identical version. The original version had one comment:



    I have interpreted those mournful statistics with exactly the opposite effect: No president has ever received a majority of votes in the 50 years. None of them have a majority mandate. In parliamentary terms, every one was a minority president. Some protest that Hillary was accorded more than 50% of the popular vote, but she was not: 

    She had about 25% of the popular vote. The rest of the population spoke their opinion that not a single candidate was suitable for the office.

    The true winner of all the presidential elections tells the story of America more than anything else. He has never been acknowledged and his face appears in no major publications. And his name is None of the Above.

    If this were a true democracy and we installed the popularly elected president for every election, the White House would have sat empty for the last 50 years.

    [email protected]


    This was my response:

    If a reasonable percentage of those 70,000,000+ non-participants bothered to fill out their ballots and write “None of the above” or “I hate them both” or “All politicians are evil,” I might agree with you.

    If a reasonable percentage formed a “League of Turned-Off, Disaffected, Could-Be Voters” and handed out literature making their argument, I might agree with you.

    They do none of the above.

    They simply don’t vote.


    Ergo, they’re not voters.


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