A project of

Stanford: Reaching the “Invisible” Americans

August 27, 2015

At least 11 percent of adult American citizens are “unlisted” and do not appear on voter registration lists or consumer data lists, according to a new study (PDF) by the Stanford University political science department. The study reports that about 20 percent of African Americans and Hispanics are unlisted, compared to just 8 percent of whites. “A sizable proportion of the U.S. citizen population does not appear on these lists, making them invisible to list-based campaigns and research,” the study finds.

The consequence? The absence of these unlisted voters leads to a whiter, older, more conservative electorate that does not reflect the true America. “We find that if unregistered and unlisted people voted at comparable rates to registered people with the same level of interest in politics, both the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections would have been won by Democrats,” authors Simon Jackman and Bradley Spahn write. “The unlisted earn less income and are less likely to have health insurance or own their own home than the listed population [and] have markedly lower levels of political engagement.”

For the past decade, the Voter Participation Center has been dedicated to identifying and registering members of the Rising American Electorate—many of the same “unlisted” Americans identified in the survey. While we have been successful in helping more than 2.6 million Americans register to vote, the study makes clear that we need to continue to embrace novel techniques to reach these “invisible” Americans. 

VPC has been a pioneer in the use of sophisticated research and tools to increase the participation of unmarried women and other historically underrepresented groups. We will continue to locate these unlisted Americans, using address-based outreach to people whom we cannot individually target and other unique tools, to make sure that no one is left standing on the sidelines of our democracy.

To read the full study, please click here (PDF).