Cleveland residents need to be engaged all year round, not just at election time, and shown that their involvement can make a real difference in improving their communities. That’s one key takeaway of a poll released this week by Policy Matters Ohio, Cleveland Votes and other organizations ahead of the Tues., Nov. 2 election.
On a call with reporters, Roshni Nedungadi with HIT Strategies, the agency that conducted the poll, said the poll surveyed 600 low-propensity voters who either never vote or rarely vote in a general election and don’t vote in municipal elections. The company also conducted six focus groups with residents and one focus group with community leaders.
They found that low-propensity voters are not apathetic or unengaged – the typical wisdom – but that they lack the information to get involved and often don’t make the connection between voting and improving their communities.
“They’re very informed and ready to talk about things that are happening in their communities, they just aren’t making the connection to voting,” said Nedungadi. “They believe voting is an important tool for change, but they aren’t sure when and where it’s happening or how to take the next steps.”
For example, 36% of respondents thought Frank Jackson was running for mayor again and only 21% were able to select their correct city council member from a drop-down menu. Most also don’t trust local elected officials to make change in their communities. But they’re very concerned about issues ranging from health care to policing and public safety, public education, and access to healthy food.
“They don’t see progress and that leads to them withdrawing from the electoral process,” said Nedungadi. “They can’t tie voting to progress on these issues.”
Additionally, the poll found that low-propensity voters tend to be frustrated with the state of their community, and they’re experiencing a lot of hardship. They don’t have enough information about the candidates, don’t feel like they don’t have enough time to vote, and also don’t like the candidates.
The pollsters concluded that these barriers, however steep, can be overcome with “an informational campaign that explains when and how to vote and gives relevant information on all the candidates running for local office.” Additionally, it argued, “Emphasizing collective power and showcasing the ability to make real change are key elements to persuading low-propensity voters to get engaged and to vote.”
One group already taking action on this front is Greater Cleveland Congregations (GCC), which has knocked on thousands of doors in east side communities in Cleveland over the past year, and recently held a public meeting on Zoom with mayoral candidates Justin Bibb and Kevin Kelley. Through its neighborhood captains, GCC plans to contact as many as 5,000 people encouraging them to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
“Voting needs to be talked about every year,” said Khalilah Worley, an organizer with GCC. “We talk about the issue of voter suppression. But when we knocked on doors during the Covid-19 pandemic, this felt more like voter depression. People just weren’t seeing the results of their vote. So, we wanted to engage people at the local level, so they can see the difference.”
GCC plans to continue that organizing work after the election, and Kelley and Bibb have pledged to meet with neighborhood leaders in Cleveland by March 1, 2022 if they are elected mayor.
For information about the Tues. Nov. 2 general election, visit boe.cuyahogacounty.gov.
Lee Chilcote is editor of The Land.