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A Survey on Why People with Disabilities and their Supporters Voted the Way They Did for President in 2004

This survey and report were developed, analyzed and written by Alan Toy, Associate Director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, with the assistance of Ali Valenzuela and Atif Moon. The UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge is a research center in the School of Public Affairs that specializes in the use of internet mapping technologies to empower disenfranchised communities.

URL for this survey:

April 27, 2005

"Thank god it was GW!" "We're doomed."
A Survey on Why People with Disabilities and their Supporters Voted the Way They Did for President in 2004

Shortly after the 2004 elections, the National Organization on Disability released the results of a Harris Poll taken just before the election. It showed that a majority of Americans with disabilities were going to vote for George Bush and Dick Cheney, in contradiction to many other theories and indications put forth by disability community activists. In the face of these results, some wondered why people with disabilities would apparently vote against their interests and whether the Independent Living movement had a "problem" getting its messages out.

A team of researchers at the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge decided to look into these questions more deeply to try to identify any significant trends in the choices made by voters with disabilities and those closely associated by family or profession in the U.S. Presidential contest.

Unlike the Harris Poll, this survey was conducted online, by anonymous self-selection, through the LILA (Living Independently in Los Angeles - Website. The survey was publicized through emails sent to several thousand people identified as belonging to or working within the disability community. It was further made known on several listservs, in electronic newsletters and by other means utilized by the email recipients. Judging from the zip codes of the respondents, the survey reached most regions of the country and was open for self-selected, voluntary participation from November 30, 2004 until December 31, 2004.

LILA is a Website for people with disabilities and is thus quite accessible to users with differing adaptive technologies. The survey was similarly accessible, although there were a couple of initial complaints from a few blind users utilizing specific screen reader devices. One or two others expressed the desire to respond via email, but that would have compromised their anonymity. Overall, we were pleased with the responses The participants had a wide variety of disabilities and came from most regions of the country.


Who Responded?

483 persons participated in the poll. Like many self-selected surveys, the respondents tend to weigh heavily on one side or the other of the universal spectrum of potential respondents. Taking these weighted responses into account, we conducted further analysis to compare voting patterns and choices among those who answered certain ways to the 34 different questions on the survey. Those trends will be discussed further on in the report.

But first let's look at the raw numbers:

Party Affiliation - The vast majority of the participants stated that they are Democrats (260 to 90 Republicans and 71 "Others").

Actual Vote for President - Similarly, the actual vote tally was heavily for Kerry-Edwards (326) over Bush-Cheney (99). 6 voted for Nader-Camejo and 13 for "Someone else."

Age - About half of the respondents (239) were middle aged (35-54), while 85 were between 18-34 participated and 151 were over 55 years of age.

Race - The vast majority were Caucasian (over 89%), with slightly less than 4% each being African Americans or Latinos/Hispanics. Fewer than 2% each were Asian, American Indian or Pacific Islanders.

Education - Most of those who participated were quite well educated. 22 finished high school or less. 120 had some college. 153 had bachelor degrees and 176 had completed post-graduate studies.

Income - Despite the high education levels (and somewhat indicative of the lower employment figures for pwd), the income levels across the economic scale were surprisingly equal for each level. 87 had household incomes of $16,000 or less; 85 had $16-30,000; 105 had between $30-50,000; 75 had $50-75,000; 51 had $75-100,000 and 55 had total household incomes over $100,000.

Religion - People with a wide variety of religious faiths participated in the survey, except, notably no Muslims responded. 314 considered themselves "very" or "somewhat" religious and 157 answered "not really" or "not at all."

Disability Types - The survey offered a lot of choices for type of disability, including "other." Many who answered "other" actually had a type listed specifically, so we included them in the appropriate categories. Since respondents were allowed to pick all that applied, many listed multiple disabilities. The disabilities listed are as follows:

Physical Mobility - 241;
Leg and/or Arm Amputee - 15;
Visual Impairment - 31;
Blind - 38;
Hard of Hearing - 39;
Deaf - 21;
Speech Impaired - 21;
Intellectual/Developmental/Traumatic Brain Injury - 24;
Learning Disability - 18;
Psychiatric - 43;
Other (than above) - 13;
No Disability - 78;

Length of Disability - Again, the response was heavily weighted with people who have long-term disabilities. 322 answered that they have been either disabled since birth or for longer than 11 years. 73 have had their disabilities for 11 years or less.

Those who had NO disabilities had:
Parents with disabilities - 11;
Siblings with disabilities - 11;
Children with disabilities - 35;
Other relatives with disabilities - 27;
Friends with disabilities - 44;
Or work in a disability related profession - 79.

Political Viewpoint - These answers were also reflective of the self-selection factor. Most respondents are either "Very Progressive" (104) or "Liberal" (161). 135 people said they are "Moderate" and 49 are "Conservative." Only 12 answered that they are "Very Conservative."

Military Service - 33 veterans responded, of whom 9 have service related disabilities.

Employment Status - Fewer than half of the respondents have full time jobs (215), but if part time (69) and self-employment (32) are added, most of the survey participants have jobs. 75 are unemployed, 25 are students and 39 are retired.

Public and Private Benefits Recipients - All but 137 respondents are receiving benefits of some kind. These include SSI/SSDI (163), Medicare/Medicaid (120), in-home services (42), food stamps, (17), housing subsidies (22), private health insurance (86) and pension or retirement benefits (47).

Disability Activism - Most survey respondents (352) are "Very" or "Somewhat" politically active in disability community issues. 106 answered that they are "Not Really" or "Not at all" active.

Actual Voters - Only nine people said they didn't vote in the Presidential contest. Of those, only one said the reason was difficulty in getting to the polls.

Awareness of Candidates Disability Platform Positions - The responses to these questions suggest that, in fact, the disability community did a pretty good job of getting its message out to the campaigns and they, in turn, got their messages back to the community. 327 respondents were aware of the disability platform positions of each candidate and 127 were not. In other words, this fairly was a well-informed voter group.

And they knew the positions of both major candidates almost equally well, with 319 knowing of Kerry's positions and 302 aware of Bush's. Only 81 people said they were aware of Nader's disability platform.

Did the Disability Platforms Influence the Vote? - By a majority they did, but not by much. 103 answered "yes, a lot," 157 answered that they did "a little." But 125 were "not really" influenced by the candidates' disability platforms and 62 were "not at all."

Issues of Importance - The survey asked for people's most important, second most important and third most important issues in determining their vote for president. We wanted to see if disability issues were most important to people with disabilities, or if other national issues took precedence. 86 people answered that the war in Iraq was their primary concern when they voted. 73 mentioned the economy and 55 answered that disability issues were most important. 52 mentioned healthcare and 45 responded that moral values were their preeminent deciding issue. The Supreme Court was sixth with 35 nods, right above homeland security, which was most important to 35 people. Almost half of those who answered "other" specifically mentioned getting rid of George Bush was their first priority.

For their second most important factor in deciding their vote, 110 answered healthcare. The economy was second, with 79 checks, followed by the war in Iraq with 66. Disability issues were next, with 52 people choosing them, as their second most important reasons for their vote. The Supreme Court make-up was next (42) followed by moral values (26) and homeland security (23). Again, almost half of the "others" responded that they wanted to defeat Bush.

The third most critical factor was led by healthcare (79), with the war in Iraq (69) and the economy (68) both getting about the same number of responses. Disability issues were third most important to 60 people. Moral values were the third choice for 36 people. The Supreme Court was next with 3o votes, followed closely by homeland security (29)

The Supreme Court - Although apparently not one of the three top choices for many people, the vast majority answered the next question about the importance of a likely change in the make-up of the Supreme Court with "very" (229) or "somewhat" (122) important. Only 46 said it was "not very" important and 26 answered that it was at all important. 26 didn't know if it was or was not important to them.

Will Disability Rights be Strengthened or Weakened over the Next Four Years? - The outlook for the status of disability rights in the U.S. during the second Bush administration is viewed pretty pessimistically by those who responded to the poll. Only 64 thought things will get better over the next four years. 283 think disability rights will get worse and 105 don't know one way or the other.


Analysis of the Responses

In order to better understand what motivated classes of respondents in their voting choices, we ran comparisons of participants' various responses against the way they also answered other questions. For example, if they voted for Bush-Cheney, how did they feel about the Supreme Court makeup and so on.

Education Levels and Candidate Preference - Democrat respondents were better educated, with 62% having a bachelors degree or higher. By comparison, only 19% of the Republican respondents had bachelor degrees. Not surprisingly, the Democratic respondents had higher income levels as well. Regardless of party affiliation, however, the more highly educated respondents leaned more heavily toward Kerry / Edwards in their voting preferences too. (With a BA or higher - 75% to 21% for Kerry, without a BA - 68% to 27% for Kerry.)

The relevance of key issues also was influenced by educational attainment. Those with less education were more concerned about "moral values" (15% to 9%) and "disability issues" (18% to 12%) as their first concerns. But the more highly educated respondents identified the "Supreme Court" as their primary issue of concern (11% to 4%).

Income and Preferences - At the same time, the wealthiest respondents (income over $100,000)were least likely to have voted for Kerry / Edwards though they still remained a sizable majority in this poll (66% to 30%). The poorest respondents (income under $16,000) supported the Kerry ticket by 75% to 18% for Bush.

The lowest income respondents also were 4 times more likely to be concerned about "disability issues" compared to the wealthiest (25% to 6%), whereas the higher income respondents were far more concerned about "homeland security" (14% to 5%) and the "war in Iraq" (27% to 8%) as their foremost issue when voting. Whether the respondents' concerns were for or against the war and the measures taken for homeland security were not determined by this poll, only whether they were important issues in making their presidential voting choices.

Political Ideology and Religion - Respondents were asked if they were religious or not and whether they would describe themselves as liberal, moderate or conservative. It wasn't a surprise that 73% of the "not religious" respondents identified themselves as "liberal" compared to the "religious" participants (49%). 2% of the non-religious respondents consider themselves to be conservative, compared to 20% of the religious survey participants. 31% of the religious respondents voted for George Bush, while only 7% of those who are not religious did. Similarly, there were fewer religious Kerry supporters (65%) than not religious (89%) among respondents.

People who are not religious were far more interested in the war in Iraq as an issue than those who are religious (26% to 15%), while the religious respondents listed "disability issues" as a concern far more than non-religious people (17% to 3%).

Political Ideology and Other Issues - Liberals were more than twice as concerned about the war in Iraq, as their primary issue, than conservatives (23% to 10%). Conservatives listed "moral values" their primary concern almost six times more often than liberals (35% to 6%). Self-identified liberals were more interested in disability issues (13% to 5%) and they were "very" concerned about the make up of the Supreme Court (60%) compared to the 35% of conservatives who were "very" concerned. And the "liberals" were "a lot" or "a little" influenced by the disability platforms of the candidates (67% cumulatively), while the "conservatives" answered that they were "not really" or "not at all" influenced by the presidential disability platforms (71% cumulatively).

Veteran Status and Candidate Preference - Not very many veterans answered the poll, but those who did were almost evenly divided in their vote (48% for Kerry and 45% for Bush), whereas the non-veterans overwhelmingly supported Kerry (75% to 22%). Of the few veterans whose disabilities were service related, %50 voted for Bush and 38% for Kerry.

Length of Disability, Activism and Issue Concerns - The longer the respondents have had their disabilities, the more active they are in disability issues and the more Democratic they are. But the shorter term disabled respondents answered that their primary concerns were about "healthcare."

Employment Status and Issue Concerns - The most significant findings relating to employment were that unemployed respondents were the most concerned about "disability issues" as their primary issue (17%) and retired people were the least interested in that (3%) as their first worry. Retired respondents were, conversely, the most concerned about the Supreme Court (22%) and unemployed people were the least interested (3%). To our surprise, those who answered with the highest percentage of interest in the issue of "moral values" were students (15%) and those least concerned with that were retired (6%).

Disability Activism and Voter Preference - As expected, those active in disability politics were far more aware of disability issues. But, in perhaps the most interesting finding for the community, the disability activists voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry (74% to 22%) while those not active in disability issues voted in the majority for George Bush (52% to 27%). Nader got almost as many votes (20%) as Kerry from the not active respondents. The activists also responded far more proactively to the disability platforms of the major candidates (68% to 30%). It seems from this poll that the message of the disability rights activists would have made more of a difference if it had been communicated more effectively.


Open Ended Responses

Finally, we asked survey participants if they had anything else to tell us about their vote for President. This open-ended question produced some very interesting – and often quite amusing, or bitter – responses. In no particular order, and with no political slant other than the respondents’ own voices, these are excerpts from the hundreds of replies.



Like so many other interest groups in America, people with disabilities primarily vote for interests other than those which most directly affect them, in this case disability issues. The majority of voters with disabilities who responded to this survey were more interested in issues that also concerned the rest of America, homeland security, the war in Iraq and the economy. Assumptions that even activist members of the disability community will think and vote as a bloc is erroneous, although they tended to be more Democratic and more responsive to disability specific campaign platform positions. Nevertheless, issues of generally shared national importance contributed more to their voting choices, rather than personal or interest group issues.

Regardless of party affiliation, political ideology or their actual vote, most respondents were not optimistic about the outlook for rights of Americans with disabilities in the near future. That in itself, while not exactly earth shattering news, is a sad legacy of the recent presidential elections.