Amid Primary Hype, N.H.'s Low-Income Voters Feel Marginalized

Feb 3, 2016

Sometimes it can seem like everyone’s talking about the primary, especially now that it’s a week away.

But history shows there are certain groups of people who aren’t as likely to head out to the polls on Tuesday.

One of those pockets of the population is low-income people.

  That’s a big issue for cities like Nashua, which has one of the higher poverty rates in the state.

The city also has some areas that have historically the lowest voter turnout in New Hampshire.

The Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter is in the heart of one of the poorest sections of the city, which means many people walk here from their homes.

“Hi, I’m Linda. Welcome to the Soup Kitchen.”

Linda Nightingale greets two women who’ve come to the shelter’s food pantry, which opens every day at 11.

They’re both here for the first time.

“You can either get a box today or you can get fruits and vegetables and with fruits and vegetables, you do get one or two pieces of meat," Nightingale explains. 

Nightingale works at the soup kitchen 18 hours a week, and volunteers the rest of her time.

She feels like the people she meets every day are not on the minds of the presidential candidates.

“Politicians don’t look at poor people. Everything is middle class, that’s all you hear; middle class, middle class. Nobody says anything about low-income people. I’m one of those low-income people.”

"I think people running for president should come here, come to the soup kitchen," she adds.

They probably don’t because when you look at election data, people with lower incomes are less likely to vote.

In the 2012 presidential election, nationally, fewer than half of people making less than $10,000 a year voted.

Turnout gets progressively higher based on household income, topping out at 80 percent among those earning more than $150,000.

“A lot of people I think feel it’s for other people and not for them; that they are not really valued as a voter," says Eileen Brady, a social worker at the soup kitchen.

She says there are many ways voting can be a challenge for low-income people, whether it’s multiple jobs or childcare issues.

Just physically getting there can be a problem.

“Because buses don’t go directly there, they don’t run that often. And that’s the places that have public transportation. There’s lot of low-income people in Hudson and Merrimack where it’s much more difficult to get to the polls.”

Brady says another issue is the constant misinformation about voting laws that floats around each time an election nears.

“Some people think that if you have served time that you can’t vote, but in New Hampshire, you can. And some people think that if I don’t have a permanent address, I can’t vote, or if I just became a citizen.”

But all of that isn’t to say there aren’t engaged voters here with strong political opinions.

Here are thoughts from a few of the people I spoke with:

“I kind of like Bernie Sanders. I want someone who thinks of the American people who are hard workers and low income," says a woman named Marcia.

“Donald Trump is not going to win," says a man named Dave. "The reason why he’s got this far is because he’s got the money, he’s got the power, and he’s got the people to back him up.”

“At this stage, I am very strongly supporting Donald Trump because he is bringing up some of the issues which are foremost in my mind.”

That last speaker is Bob from Nashua. He doesn’t want to use his last name. He says he comes to the food pantry for the fresh fruits and vegetables.

And when it comes to the New Hampshire primary, he rivals even the biggest political junkies.

“I try to go to as many of the political events in the Nashua area as I can and I’ve seen 14 different presidential candidates. Mostly Republican, but I also saw Hillary when she was here in Nashua.”

We’re in a waiting room with about 50 people for their numbers to be called to get in to the food pantry. In one part of the room, city health workers are holding a vaccination clinic.

Bob thinks many of the people here aren’t paying attention to local media reports.

“I had to drop my subscription to the Nashua Telegraph. They used to publish voter guides. I would say that in this room here now there’s not a single person who subscribes to a daily newspaper anymore.”

As for Eileen Brady, the social worker here, she’s planning on spending the days before the primary reminding people to vote on Tuesday and working on getting people rides to the polls.

“And we have people who have offered to come here to offer people services for Election Day.”

The city has in the past offered specialized routes to polling locations on voting day, but officials say there are no plans for that kind of service during next week’s primary.