Nonvoters were more likely to have lower incomes; to be young; to have lower levels of education; and to say they don’t belong to either political party, which are all traits that square with what we know about people less likely to engage with the political system.

Many of the people we spoke with described their decision to vote as very personal, boiling down to the specific candidates, their own ability to navigate the electoral system that year, or whether they thought their vote would matter. But for others, being a “nonvoter” or a “sometimes voter” wasn’t really a choice. There are clear barriers to casting a ballot that many of them experienced.

Those barriers and feelings build on each other in ways that are complicated to tease out. But that complexity actually helps us understand why so many Americans don’t consistently vote — and why they vote, when they do.