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Vol. 107, Issue 4


Voter Data, Democratic Inequality, and the Risk of Political Violence

Bertrall L. Ross II, Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Virginia & Douglas M. Spencer, Associate Professor of Law, University of Colorado, Boulder


14 Aug 2022

Campaigns’ increasing reliance on data-driven canvassing has coincided with a disquieting trend in American politics: a stark gap in voter turnout between the rich and poor. Turnout among the poor has remained low in modern elections despite legal changes that have dramatically decreased the cost of voting. In this Article, we present evidence that the combined availability of voter history data and modern microtargeting strategies have contributed to the rich-poor turnout gap. That is the case despite the promises of big data to lower the transaction costs of voter outreach, as well as additional reforms that have lowered the barriers to voting in other ways. Because the poor are less likely to have voted in prior elections, they are also less likely to appear in the mobilization models employed by data-savvy campaigns.

In this Article, we draw on a novel data set of voter data laws in every state and show that turnout rates among the poor are lower in states that disclose voter history data to campaigns. We also find that after states change their laws to provide voter history to campaigns, these campaigns are far less likely to contact the poor.

To read this Article, please click here: Voter Data, Democratic Inequality, and the Risk of Political Violence.