The Washington Post

Obama’s silent, non-voting majority

If everyone in America voted, President Obama would be on his way to a second term.

That's the finding of a new poll from Suffolk University and USA Today. Obama leads Mitt Romney by 43 percent to 14 percent among the nearly 2 in 5 Americans who are likely to sit out the 2012 election. More of these people -- 23 percent -- say they would vote for a third party candidate rather than vote for Romney. Another 19 percent are either undecided or refused to say whom they would support.

(Darren Hauck/Reuters)

The poll surveyed Americans who said either that they were not likely to vote or that there was a 50-50 chance that they would vote. (Many of them were not registered to vote, and even among those who said they were 50-50, some tend to over-estimate their likelihood of voting.)

This group, despite being largely disengaged with the presidential campaign, has a generally positive view of Obama (55 percent favorable to 37 percent unfavorable) and a starkly negative view of Romney (25 percent favorable to 51 percent unfavorable).

At the same time, it's not terribly unusual for this universe of unlikely or unmotivated voters to favor the Democrats. They also said they voted for Obama 44 percent to 20 percent in the 2008 election.

Most polls survey only registered voters, and as the election gets closer, pollsters will focus in on likely voters. As the sample size shrinks, the polls generally become friendlier to Republicans (and will do so again this year when samples shift from registered to likely voters).

All of this, of course, is rather academic. If people don't vote, their candidate preferences won't have an impact. And these Americans clearly aren't paying much attention to politics; only 39 percent can identify Joe Biden as the current vice president.

But it does show room for growth in the Democratic Party if it can mobilize unmotivated voters to actually turn out at the polls. This is why the Obama campaign has spent years building its ground game and focused so intently on getting Hispanic voters to cast their ballots.

For Obama, the potential voters are out there. It's a matter of getting them to the polls.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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