The Overlooked Electoral Power of Voters with Disabilities

The Overlooked Electoral Power of Voters with Disabilities

A new national poll of voters with disabilities released this week spotlights a dramatic shift in their political leanings toward Democrats. Numbering in the tens of millions, voters in the disability community boast a huge political and electoral power that could prove decisive in this year’s midterms. Yet for a group with such potentially significant electoral strength, remarkably little attention has been devoted toward learning more about their political behavior.

The poll, conducted by Greenberg Research for the nonprofit RespectAbility, reveals that more than half of registered voters identify as being a part of the disability community, whether they have a disability themselves, or they have family or close friends with disabilities. And signs point to this sizable population’s support shifting to the Democrats.

People with disabilities have on average a more negative opinion of President Donald Trump, and by a 16-point margin favor the Democratic candidate in a generic 2018 congressional ballot. “The biggest negative feelings toward the Republican Congress is among people with disabilities,” said pollster Stan Greenberg during a teleconference briefing on Tuesday. This hasn’t always been the case—in 2014, they broke for the Republicans by 11 points, and were split in 2016. “Something is happening that’s affecting the kind of even split, the swing-voter status of people with disabilities,” Greenberg added.

While their swing toward the Democrats reflects a similar nationwide anti-Trump shift, recent events—such as disability rights groups’ highly publicized protests in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office over threats to the Affordable Care Act last summer—could be pushing these voters to the left. And in the weeks since the poll was conducted in January, lawmakers have done even more to alienate disabled voters. On February 12, the White House released its 2019 budget, which cuts funding for federal disability programs. That same week, the House voted to pass the ADA Education and Reform Act, which would gut key protections in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The 16-point Democratic advantage is especially notable when considering that voters with disabilities are, according to the poll, heavily working class and five times as likely to be unemployed and looking for work—and more likely to be “extremely interested” in the 2018 midterm elections. “There’s all kinds of reasons why these views and needs should be important to all political leaders and opinion informers, but some of that is self-interest,” said Greenberg.

The poll also measured the views of voters with disabilities on the GOP tax cut (half strongly oppose) and the ACA (they view it more favorably than people outside the disability community). But because of sample-size limitations, the poll was not broken up by race or gender, nor were certain historical comparisons available (for instance, how those voters with disabilities felt about the ACA in 2014).

Lauren Appelbaum, the communications director at RespectAbility, which works to get disability included in major national polls the same way race and gender is, says that the stigmatization of disability is a major reason that community is largely ignored by policymakers and strategists. Considering the political opinions of people with disabilities “is definitely something that pollsters should be doing,” Appelbaum told the Prospect. “This poll really shows that people should be paying attention.”