THE PRECEDING SECTIONS have synthesized recent research identifying some historical barriers and ongoing threats to achieving an electorate that truly represents the country. This research brings forward evidence of structures and processes that stoke division and deter political participation, making clear that chronic turnout gaps are about much more than individual choices. On one hand, this makes problems of disengagement and disaffection appear much more daunting and entrenched. On the other, it spotlights them as issues of social—and in many cases, racial— justice. Such issues always involve deep historical and structural components, but this has never been a reason to run from them.
From the research profiled in this brief, a number of recommendations emerge. These recommendations speak not only to public officials and policymakers, but also to researchers, analysts, advocates, donors, and philanthropists—especially those committed to raising voter participation levels among the most under-represented voter groups.
For researchers, pollsters, journalists, and other public knowledge-makers
+Carry out regular and concerted efforts to collect and disseminate information on the views and dispositions of inconsistent or “drop-off” voters, as well as non-voters.
+Make changes to public opinion polling methodology to (1) catch up with the degree of demographic changes that have taken place in the country, and (2) correct for race, gender, and consistent-voter biases.
+Design research and dissemination strategies to lift up examples of civic-engagement programs and practices that have been successful in activating the most hard-to-reach voter groups.
+Exercise critical discretion in the adoption and reproduction of social identity categories. Review in particular any use of identity terms where said terms were not a part of data collection, such as labeling those who reported not having attained a Bachelor’s degree as “working class.”
+Design and carry out studies to understand what impact the changes to the 2020 Census’s race question have on identity and self-identification patterns.
+Practice greater discretion, and provide necessary caveats and contextualization, when using demographic forecasts and projections in relation to the future electorate.
+Design and carry out research on the social and political effects of racial and xenophobic “bullhorn” messages, and on how these messages function in relation to decades-old dog-whistle tactics.
For donors and philanthropists
+Invest in organizational capacity and infrastructure of groups doing relational, yearround organizing and civic engagement with communities of color and young people.
+Redirect giving from one-off Get-Out-the-Vote canvasses to longer-term projects that make multiple contacts with target voters.
+Invest in projects that train and cultivate local leaders who will remain in their communities as skilled resources, organizers, and possible future elected representatives.
+Partner with projects that are developing and testing narrative frames that bridge across existing social identities and formulate an inclusive civic identity.
+Support arts and cultural strategists working to engage hard-to-reach populations in civic life.
+Examine the ways funded projects, including research, might be strengthening identity categories that are imposed or contested, or that foment social exclusion or exclusionary forms of self-identification.
For policymakers and public officials
+Evaluate, as through commissioned studies, how existing public policies impact voter participation. This evaluation should not be limited to electoral policies alone, but also the wider panoply of policies related to social inclusion or exclusion, civic engagement or alienation.
+Do not ignore, but instead effectively counter, divisive racial or other exclusionary narratives emanating from public figures. Failure to speak to questions of identity— both the differentiating and the unifying “we” components in our society—is alienating to those who have long been excluded, and bad for social trust and confidence in public officials in general.
+Commit to expose and denounce coded racist messaging, even when it comes from fellow members of one’s own party or agency.
+Abstain from adding or altering official ethnoracial identity categories where the changes have not been broadly advocated by civic groups, studied by impartial researchers, and field tested across multiple sites.
+Abstain from, and commit to countering, efforts to delegitimize nonpartisan news media. Criticism of media outlets’ coverage of events is constructive; discrediting and vilifying news media in general is harmful.