Americans who didn't vote in last month's presidential election have some ideas about what could encourage them to cast a ballot next time: Make it easier.
In a USA TODAY/Ipsos poll of non-voters, 28% say being able to vote on the Internet would encourage people like them to participate in the election, the top item cited. By double digits, they endorse the idea of making voter registration easier, allowing same-day registration and permitting voting by mail.
"I'm interested if I have the time," says Lauryn Pyke, 25, of Pocatello, Idaho, a graduate student at Idaho State University and mother of two young children who was among those surveyed. But "it doesn't take precedence over everything else."
Those surveyed say they would be more likely to go to the polls if better candidates ran and the government was cleaned up, but many are convinced their vote doesn't really make a difference.
"I did not see that the system was being changed, whether the person I voted for got elected or not," says Roy Freer, 67, a cattle rancher from Leesburg, Texas, who has voted in past elections but not this time.
In the 2012 presidential election, voter turnout dipped to an estimated 57.5% of eligible citizens, according to a report last month by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate - lower than turnout in 2008 and 2004. Despite record campaign spending and increasingly sophisticated microtargeting, about 93 million Americans who could have voted in the battle between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney didn't.
The online poll of 1,170 non-voters was taken Nov. 7-19 in conjunction with research by Northwestern professor Ellen Shearer. The credibility interval, a measure of poll accuracy, is +/- 3.3 percentage points. A separate survey of 516 voters, taken for comparison, has a credibility interval of 4.9 points.
Among the findings, non-voters:
•Would have supported Obama over Romney, 44%-26%, if they had gone to the polls. Thirteen percent would have voted for some other party.
•Are younger and have lower levels of income and education than voters. Nearly a third are under 30, and nearly a quarter are Hispanic.
•Feel disenfranchised and disconnected from politics. Six in 10 say voting has little to do with how real decisions are made in the United States. Four in 10 say their one vote doesn't make a difference.
•Pay less attention to current events than voters. Voters are twice as likely to say they followed news about the campaign closely. When they do tune in, non-voters turn to TV for news and are more likely than voters to rely on friends and family to keep them informed.
"Four in 10 non-voters say something prevented them from voting, and the reasons appear real: Work, travel, illness," says Shearer, a professor at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. "But they also don't care as much or pay as much attention to politics and elections, so barriers that wouldn't deter voters do stop these folks."
For them, innovations like Internet voting might make a difference. But she cautions that the other six in 10 who simply choose not to vote "will be a tougher nut to crack."
Countries including Estonia, Great Britain, Switzerland and Canada have begun to use or experiment with Internet voting systems. But experts at a Princeton University symposium last month warned about the prospects of hacking and other potentially disastrous security problems.
Rachel Bradford, 20, of Winter Park, Fla., admits to being a bit relieved that the candidate she supported managed to win without her vote. "If it came down to it and there was that one vote that would've changed it, I would've been, like, 'Oh, man, should've voted.'"