Explain the Low Turnout in U.S. Elections.

Topics: Voter turnout, Elections, Election Pages: 5 (1778 words) Published: January 5, 2002
Explain the low turnout in U.S. elections.

"Miller light and bud light…either way you end up with a mighty weak beer!" This is how Jim Hightower (a Texan populist speaker) described the choices that the U.S. electorate had in the 2000 elections. This insinuates that there is a clear lack of distinction between the parties. Along with numerous others, this is one of the reasons why the turnout is so low in the U.S. elections. In trying to explain the low figures at the U.S. elections, analysts have called American voters apathetic to indifferent to downright lazy. I disagree that the 50% (in recent elections) of voters that fail to turnout to vote are lazy and that they have just reason not too. I will also show that the problem lies within the system itself in that the institutional arrangements, electoral and governmental, do not create an environment that is conducive to mass participation. I will address these main issues and several others that have an effect on voter participation. In doing so I will compare America to other established democracies.

Some registration laws in the past had clearly been designed to abstain certain races and types of people from registering, these restricted rather than assisted voter turnout. In the South they made provisions to stop African-Americans voting and the North implemented obstacles such as the poll tax and literacy tests. These were blatant attempts to stop people who were not of the typical voter, an educated white male landowner from casting a ballot. Typically in the South turnout historically tends to be lower than that of the North. An example of this is the contest between Kennedy and Nixon when only 40% of the south turned out to vote compared with 70% of the rest of the nation. These southern states tend to be the ones who were part of the old Confederacy. They still seem to have similar political ideologies, as in the most recent election George W. Bush took all these states in defeating Al Gore. It seems that the stigma connected to the civil war that ended over 130 years ago still seems to loom over American politics. However due to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, procedures for registration have become much more user friendly in allowing a much wider scope of American citizens to register. Because of this Act I am going to concentrate on the more recent elections and explanations for the low turnout.

The lack of substantive difference between the two major parties in the U.S. seems to be a consistent factor why citizens are not going to the polls. People essentially go to vote to hopefully gain a voice in government and to gain that voice they do not want to waste their one vote on a losing candidate from a minor party. Therefore, on election day American citizens have a choice between two central parties and if they want to "gain a voice" they have to pick either one or the other, even if it is a different side of the same coin. This is a reason why other nations get a better turnout; in contrast to the U.S. they tend to have a greater choice of parties that have a legitimate chance of gaining seats in the political body. Citizens from these nations feel that they can vote for a party that better represents their ideological preferences and thus improve their chances of getting a more representative voice in their government. In the U.S. if a citizens ideological preferences lie with neither of the two parties they must either, find the one that lies closest to their preferences or decide to keep from voting altogether.

In the current system parties have "safe seats" where by that state has a far greater number of democrats than republicans or vice versa. So why are people going to bother voting when they are greatly out numbered? They don't, so political parties usually make very little effort where they stand little chance of winning. This identifying, or lack of identifying, with parties seems to be a factor of whether citizens vote or not. Those who...

Bibliography: Abramson, Paul R / Aldrich, John H / Rohde, David W. Change and Continuity in the 1996 Elections. Washington Congressional Quarterly, 1998.
Conway, Margaret M. Political participation in the United States, third edition. Washington D.C. CQ Press, 2000.
Dreyer, Edward c. Political opinion and electoral behaviour Essays and studies. Belmont, California, Wadsworth, 1966.
Flanigan, William H / Zingale, Nancy H. Political behaviour of the American electorate, ninth edition. Boston, Mass Allyn and B, 1975.
Mckay, David. American politics and society. Blackwell publishers, UK, 2001.
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