This chapter reviews the much-discussed low voter turnout and the poor percentage of other forms of political participation in the United States. After reading and reviewing the material in this chapter, the student should be able to do each of the following:
Explain why the text believes that the description, the analysis, and many of the proposed remedies for low voter-turnout rates in the United States are generally off base.
Compare the ways that turnout statistics are tabulated for the United States and for other countries, and explain the significance of these differences.
Describe how control of the elections has shifted from the states to the federal government, and explain what effect this shift has had on blacks, women, and youth.
State both sides of the debate over whether voter turnout has declined over the past century, and describe those factors that tend to hold down voter turnout in the United States.
Discuss those factors that appear to be associated with high or low political participation.
The popular view that Americans do not vote because of apathy is not quite right. It would be much closer to the truth to state that Americans don’t register to vote—but once registered, Americans vote at about the same rate as citizens in other nations. Many other factors—having nothing to do with apathy—also shape participation rates. These include age, race, party organization, barriers to registration, and popular views about the significance of elections.
The most powerful determinants of participation are schooling and information, and the next most powerful is age. Race makes a difference, but black participation rates approximate white rates when controls are in place for socio-economic status.
Compared with citizens of other nations, Americans vote at lower rates, but more frequently and for many more offices. For these reasons, elections make a bigger difference in the conduct of public affairs in the United States than elsewhere. Americans also engage somewhat more frequently in various nonelectoral forms of participation, such as writing letters to officeholders, attending meetings, and other political activities.
Chapter Outline with Keyed-in Resources
A closer look at nonvoting
Alleged problem: low turnout of voters in the United States compared with Europe 1.
Since 1996, 60 percent of citizens aged 18 and older who are eligible to vote actually registered to vote during mid-term congressional elections with this percentage rising to 66 percent during presidential elections. 2.
Only 43.6 percent of those registered to vote actually voted in the 2006 midterm
3. Comparing the percentage of registered voters who voted to the total percentage of the population eligible to vote, we see that 70.7 percent of registered voters voted.
4. Cross-national comparisons of voting turnout rates between the United States and Europe reveal three factors:
a) Ranked in terms of average voter turnout as a percentage of voting-age population during the period 1945 to 2007, the United States ranks last behind democracies such as Germany (81 percent) and India (61 percent).
b) Ranked in terms of voter turnout among registered voters, the United States is in the middle of the pack, with France at 67 percent and the United Kingdom at 75 percent.
c) Ranked in terms of voter turnout during presidential elections, the United States would be in the top half of the pack at 70 percent, ahead of Japan (68 percent) and Canada (69 percent).
5. Apathy on national election days is not the source of the problem. A majority of those registered to vote actually participate. The problem is the low percentage of eligible person who actually register. How do Americans stimulate registration? How do they get registered voters...
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