How renters could be a silent electoral majority in midterms, 2020 elections: Apartment List study

  • Renters are underrepresented in U.S. elections, and may emerge as a potent political block, according to data from Apartment List.
  • The firm's study estimates if renter voter turnout matched homeowner turnout in 2016, Hilary Clinton would have lead the electoral college 307-231 and won the election.
A voter casts her ballot as another voter departs at a Masonic Lodge in Los Angeles.
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A voter casts her ballot as another voter departs at a Masonic Lodge in Los Angeles.

U.S. voters who rent instead of own property represent a potentially potent voting block, a recent study suggests, and in theory could swing election results — if they turned out en masse at the polls.

With pivotal Congressional races set to be decided on Tuesday, Apartment List released new data last week showing renters as an underrepresented voting block that's less likely than homeowners to be a force at the ballot box. Only 49 percent of eligible renters cast a vote in the 2016 election, compared to 67 percent of property owners, the firm said, and renters with active registrations are less likely to vote.

Renters are not conventionally considered a distinct voting coalition, yet they represent almost one in three voters, or 30.2 percent of the eligible voting population, and they face a distinct set of economic challenges," Apartment List's chief economist, Chris Salviati, said this week.

"Small changes in turnout amongst renters can have a profound impact on national politics," he added.

At the polls, homeowners who show up to vote outweigh renters at the ballot box, with some 74 percent registered when compared to 61 percent of renters, according to statistic cited by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. But given key characteristics of renters — many households include children under 18 and non-citizen immigrants, the firm found — Apartment List suggested that they could sway the results of elections.

"If renter voter turnout had matched homeowner turnout in the 2016 presidential election, Hilary Clinton would have won four key swing states - Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - which would have secured her the presidency," Salviati wrote.

To be sure, a host of trends dissuade many renters from voting. Evidence suggests that some move frequently and may not keep voter registrations current; others are younger and less politically engaged, while still others work hourly jobs that don't give paid time off to vote.

Meanwhile, many homeowners enjoy paid time off to vote, and are often roused to vote by local initiatives that may affect taxes and property values. Renters may not be as motivated by those concerns.

Apartment List suggested another hurdle could be demographics. The study mentions how renters are more likely than homeowners to be "a member of a minority group that may be subject to voter suppression tactics" — a complaint that has surfaced in some competitive races.

In the hotly contested governor's race in Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams has accused her Republican rival, Brian Kemp, of suppressing minority and women voters in his role as secretary of state.

Salviati believes that renters are underrepresented in American politics in a way that has "serious implications on the local and national stages," and "thinking of them as a voting coalition would represent a significant shift in thinking that could help shape the platforms of the nation's major political parties," he said.

--The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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