Age, income, and education: a portrait of the average non-voter

Non-voters are older, poor and less educated: this is the profile that emerges from an analysis of socio-economic data from Italian municipalities with abstention levels over 60 percent in 2019 and 2022.

Published On: June 13th, 2024
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Compared to national averages, the most fertile territories for the “non-voter party” – which also affected the recent European elections – are characterized by a lower proportion of college graduates, higher unemployment, a higher proportion of workers in the primary sector (agriculture and mining), lower average income, and, finally, a more pronounced old-age index.

The identity of non-voters emerges from an analysis of demographic and socio-economic data related to abstentionism. A snapshot of Italian municipalities where 60 percent of eligible voters did not go to the polls in the last two major elections (the 2019 European elections, and the 2022 general election) highlights where the phenomenon is most likely to take root.

This analysis of Italian territories with the lowest voter turnout was made possible thanks to the data collection carried out by Sole 24 Ore, as part of the data-driven investigation “The non-voter time bomb”, conducted by the Portuguese digital magazine Divergente in collaboration with the European Data Journalism Network. The investigation was conducted with the aim of profiling non-voters in the 27 member states, in order to understand where abstentionism tends to lurk, and which socio-economic phenomena tend to go along with it. Comparison between nations indicates that non-voting is more pronounced in countries with more people employed in the industrial sector, and where the average income is lower.

The analysis of Italian municipalities

It was then decided to to focus specifically on indicators related to Italian municipalities where, during the last elections, abstention was over 60 percent. Low turnout is on the rise in Italy: in the 2019 European elections, only 54.5 percent of Italians voted, compared to 85.7 percent in 1979; in the 2022 general elections, 63.9 percent of eligible voters cast a vote, compared to 90.6 percent in 1979. Historically, fewer voters vote in European elections than in general elections. However, differences between the two elections are blurred when we look at the characteristics of the territories most affected by abstention: in both cases, the municipalities where only three out of five voters went to the polls are most often small, in the South, or in the most disadvantaged inland areas, including in the hinterlands of Piedmont and Liguria.

The statistics speak for themselves. On average, municipalities with more non-voters have a higher old-age index than the national average: more than 240 residents over 65 for every 100 in the pediatric age group (between 0 and 14), compared to 209 for every 100 on average. There is also significant parity in these municipalities between citizens of non-working age and those of working age (what analysts call the structural dependency ratio), while the national average only reaches 44 for every 100. The incidence of college graduates is also lower (below 30 percent, compared with the average of 36 percent), and illiteracy is twice as high (from 0.6 to 1.2 percent). Above all, however, the roots of abstentionism are revealed by economic comparisons. While the national average unemployment rate is 8.8 percent, the municipalities most affected by non-voting have a rate exceeding 13 percent; declared income is lower (23 percent lower than the national average in the territories with the most non-voters in the 2019 European elections). Finally, in contrast with other European states, the Italian territories with the lowest turnout are those with fewer people employed in the industrial sector (22.5 percent compared to the national average of 31 percent), while the service sector is in line with national averages, and there is a higher proportion of people working in the primary sector (16 percent compared to 9.3 percent).

Once again, the data provides a substantive demonstration of how the social and economic conditions of citizens are the key ingredients of democracy.

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