When Donald Trump mocked a disabled New York Times reporter last year, he ignited a firestorm in the disability community. Hillary Clinton responded with a television ad featuring a well-known disability rights advocate, and she recently introduced a plan to increase job opportunities for people with disabilities. Rutgers Today asked Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations Professors Douglas Kruse and Lisa Schur about their latest research on the political participation of people with disabilities and how the candidates’ actions could influence voter turnout.
Have you ever seen a presidential election with so much focus on the disability community?
Schur: People with disabilities are definitely receiving more attention in this election. Disability has long been a bipartisan issue in the U.S., as shown by the strong support from both Republicans and Democrats for the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the 2008 ADA Amendments Act, which expanded the definition of disability to cover more people. So disability has not been a significant partisan issue in past elections, but that changed this year with the controversy created by Trump’s behavior and the focus by Clinton on policies to expand employment for people with disabilities.
You’ve analyzed mountains of federal data to project the total number of eligible voters with disabilities, nationwide and on a state-by-state basis. What are your significant findings?
Kruse: Based on Census data, we project that 35.4 million people with disabilities will be eligible to vote on Nov. 8, representing about one-sixth of the electorate. Perhaps more importantly, we project 62.7 million eligible voters who either have disabilities or household members with disabilities, representing over one-fourth of the electorate. This is important because family members of people with disabilities are often very motivated to take action on disability issues, so disability can motivate the whole family. We find large numbers of people with disabilities in every age, racial, and ethnic group. In addition, there are large numbers of people with disabilities in every state, ranging from 12.7 percent of the electorate in Nebraska to 24.1 percent in West Virginia.
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