Enabling democracy: Disability and voter turnout

Lisa Schur, Todd Shields, Douglas Kruse, Kay Schriner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


How likely are the millions of Americans with disabilities to participate in politics? What insights do their experiences provide into overall participation levels and determinants? This article reports the results of a nationally representative household telephone survey of 1,240 people - stratified to include 700 people with disabilities - following the November 1998 elections. Voter turnout is found to be 20 percentage points lower among people with disabilities than among people without disabilities who have otherwise-similar demographic characteristics. Other standard predictors of turnout such as political efficacy and mobilization explain only a small portion of this gap. There is great variation within the disability sample: the lower turnout is concentrated among people with disabilities who are not employed or who are age 65 or older, who have had recent onset of a disabling condition, and who have difficulty going outside alone (despite the availability of absentee ballots). The findings suggest that disability, apart from imposing resource constraints, often has social and psychological effects that decrease voter turnout through decreased social capital and identification with mainstream society, particularly among senior citizens. The findings also support the idea that general mobility and major life transitions can be important influences on voter turnout in general, and raise questions on the causal relations among age, employment, efficacy, and voter turnout that should be a focus of future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-190
Number of pages24
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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