Voting behaviour in America

Voting behaviour in America

Voting behaviour has absorbed a great deal of the time of both political parties in America. Much effort has been put into analysing voting behaviour and patterns in previous elections - be they national, state or local elections etc. - in an effort to predict their own voter base and those social groups they could concentrate their efforts on and those groups that would appear to be a lost cause and therefore a waste of time in terms of money spent and time invested in targeting as potential voters. 

Any comment about a social, religious or minority group can only be generalised when referring to its voting habits and so the following comments can only be taken as a generalisation. Logic dictates that not all African Americans or women vote Democrat. But the trends indicate that a large proportion of each group does. Another issue which has to be addressed by both parties was the large degree of absenteeism at the voting booths in 1996 and 2000. Is the explanation for 1996 that it was a ‘forgone conclusion’ sufficient to explain why half of all registered voters did not vote ? Did any social group vote less than their registered voting number would indicate? The 2000 election could not have been considered a foregone conclusion, and yet just about 50% of registered voters took part in that election.

Are those groups traditionally associated with either party still safe bets after the showing of both parties during the Lewinsky scandal of 1996 when both parties have displayed serious errors of judgement and where a neutral observer might identify that partisan party politics seems to be a priority above what is best for the country as a whole? The Democrats appeared to have won over those middle/upper class people who did very well out of the economic boom seen in the eight years of the Democrat Clinton's presidency. Yet, this group did not turn out in overwhelming numbers for the Democrat presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000.

Another area that party analysts might have to study is what V Key called "realignment" - those who have traditionally been loyal to one party but for whatever reason realign their political allegiance. In 1970, W Burnham identified six factors which he found in "critical realignments".

realignment that is short-lived but very disruptive
party disunity displayed at conventions, policy etc. which causes realignment
times when either one or both of the parties polarise their ideological standing so that they present to the public "this is what we stand for and there is no flexibility………". Burnham states that combined with times of social and economic problems this causes realignment.
higher than normal voter participation seems to be linked to realignment
a major realignment of voters seems to occur every 36 years.
elections which experience realigning are often preceded by a third party input.

Other factors which analysts have to take note of include those who call themselves "independents". At the 1996 election, 8% of all votes were for Perot. If these voters (nearly 8 million) had voted for Dole, the final result could have been in doubt for Clinton. However, those who had claimed to be independent was nearly 30%. The logical assumption would be that those who are truly independent do not wish to involve themselves in elections, or that when it came to the election they voted for one of the traditional parties or that their original claim was simply not accurate. Predicting the future voting intentions of this group is very important as in the last two elections they did constitute a combined total of nearly 28 million voters. If this force is lost to one party then the impact on the other party could be considerable.

No "Independent" candidate stood in the 2000 election though Ralph Nadar of the Green Party got 2.8 million votes while Pat Buchanan got 448,000 votes. Out of a total of nearly 105 million votes, these votes counted for little. It would appear that the voters put little faith in independent or minority candidates in 2000

African Americans have firmly linked themselves to the Democrat Party. 86% of this group voted for Dukakis in the 1988 election, and 84% in the1996 election for Clinton. 90% voted for Gore in 2000. Why is this ? 

It would appear that the answer is historical as the Democrats have been associated with advancing the civil rights cause (especially the government of Lyndon Johnson in the 1960’s) while the Republicans have not (even if the Republican Eisenhower started the ball rolling with the 1957 Civil Rights Act). This trend started in the era of F D Roosevelt who was seen to be helping those who could not help themselves in the time of the New Deal. Johnson himself supported three civil rights acts through Congress. Though the number of African Americans who vote is small compared to the numerically much larger white population, a large proportion of them live in the regions which are considered election targets for both parties - California, Florida and New York State. Data suggests that African Americans vote for the Democrats regardless of their success and/or education.

For the above reason, the white voters in the southern states are more inclined to support the Republican Party because it is not associated with the civil rights movement. Ronald Reagan was seen as a God-fearing, anti communist who would get America back on to its feet once again with strong leadership. He showed no liking for liberalism or communism. His view that you should stand up for yourself and not ‘sponge’ off of the state was in line with the beliefs of white southern voters. Though the African Americans had had the right to vote since the passing of the 15th Amendment, very few did in the southern states as it was simply too dangerous to do so even in to the 1950’s. Therefore their political clout was all but zero and their support for the Democrats may have been there in essence but it was not there when the votes were counted. 

It was the insult of a literacy test (that allowed, or not, the African Americans the right to vote in the southern states) that Lyndon Johnson, a Texan, confronted head on. In 1932, Roosevelt won all the southern states. He was a Democrat but at this time it was unclear in what direction his New Deal would take. That it went against those ideals held by the southern states (standing up for yourself etc.) probably explains why Democrat showing in the south on a general level has been weak since. In the 1968 election (after the rush of civil rights acts of Johnson) the Democrats won only Texas which was an irony as Johnson himself was Texan and had been branded a ‘traitor’ to his kind. However, whether there was still some sympathy for a Texan who had made it all the way to the top and this was a sympathy vote in his home state………might explain this quirk. In 1980, the Democrats under Carter won only his home state of Georgia but lost the rest to the Republican Reagan. In the 1992 election, Virginia, North + South Carolina, Georgia, Atlanta, Mississippi and Texas all supported the Republican George Bush. Clinton won 5 southern states to break up the trend - Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. The southern states all but reverted to George W Bush in 2000.

Hispanic Americans are also becoming a more influential group when elections occur as they usually have large families and logically as naturalised Americans their voting power will increase accordingly as time progresses. They are also a group that is difficult to predict with regards to its political allegiance. There is support for the Democrats but in recent years the Republican Party has done a great deal to attract the support of the Hispanics. In Florida (considered a key state) they have experienced some success. The failed fiasco of the Bay of Pigs episode in 1961 was carried out on the Democrats Kennedy’s orders. This disaster is still referred to today by the Republicans and their approach when Clinton was president was to question the intentions of the Democrats towards the government of Castro in Cuba (which has remained isolated since the missile crisis). 

The veiled hints that Clinton was preparing to relax the sanctions on Cuba (USA imposed not UN) were countered by Clinton who  adopted a more hostile stance towards the Cuban government presumably in an attempt to show the exiled Cubans within Florida that he could be trusted and that the opposition of America towards Cuba would continue. In the 1992 presidential election the Democrats won 61% of the Hispanic vote and the Republicans 25%. The Independent Perot won 14%. In the 1996 election the Democrats increased their vote to 72% therefore indicating that Clinton had done more than just enough to counter the Republicans. The Republican vote fell to 21% of the Hispanics while Perot polled just 6% of their vote. In the 2000 election, Bush increased the votes won by the Republicans to 31% while the Democrats fell to 67%.

As the century ended it would appear that the Hispanics traditional support for the Democrats remained solid. However, as a traditionally very religious group (the impact of Catholicism is great) they may well have swayed their votes away from Gore in 2000 who may well have been on the receiving end of their dislike of seeing a family unit (the Clinton's) disrupted by adultery and dishonesty. The family unit remains one of the most cherished issues of Hispanic culture - be it in southern American countries or in the USA - and Florida was to go to the Republican Bush after a Supreme Court ruling. That it went to Bush, gave the Republican presidential candidate the necessary Electoral College votes he needed for the presidency. 

The same issues above can be associated with the Catholics of America. As a group it is difficult to associate them with one party. The role of the priest within America is such that he is unlikely to sway Catholics to vote for a certain party. Issues in the recent past that have proved controversial include the development of women’s rights, contraception and abortion. On all of these there has not been a unified Catholic response. Even if a presidential candidate was associated with a woman's right to an abortion (which has been condemned by the pope) there would be no guarantee that the Catholics in America would rebel against this and vote against that politician. There was a belief that the social conservatism of Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party would attract the conservative Catholics. However this did not prove to be the case. One thing has become clear - that the way the Catholic Church in America expresses its views does not affect, for the most part, the way Catholics vote. In the 1992 general election, 44% of Catholics voted for Clinton, 35% voted for Bush and 20% for Perot. In the 1996 general election, 53% voted for Clinton, 37% for Dole and 9% for Perot. In the 2000 election, there was a near even split with Bush gaining 47% of the Catholic's vote and Gore 49%. As this group does not have a clear cut loyalty to either party and as their votes can be relatively close they are a group that both parties have to study carefully. 

The Jews of America have usually been associated with the Democrats. In the 1992 general election Clinton received 80% of Jewish votes and Bush only 11%. In the 1996 general election, Clinton received 78% of their votes and Dole 16%. In 2000, Gore continued this theme gaining 79% of the Jewish vote with George W Bush only gaining 19%. The link between the Democrats and the Jews of America is almost certainly similar to the reasons the African Americans support them. The party has been associated with civil rights and moving forward the standard of living for minority groups.

The same explanation can also be given for women who are now more associated with the Democrats than the Republicans. In the 1992 general election, Clinton received 45% of women’s votes while Bush got 37%. Perot polled 18% of female votes. In the 1996 election, Clinton got 54% of the women’s vote, Dole got 38% while Perot polled 8%. Gore, in 2000, received 54% of women's votes and Bush 43%.

The image of the Republicans as being conservative and associated with the rich middle and upper Protestant classes of America, has also been responsible for them failing to gain the support of the unions in America. In particular, Reagan was seen as being anti-union. In the two general elections in the 1990's, the Democrats have benefited from this as their support from union members has out-numbered that support for the Republicans by two to one (1992, 55% to 24% and in 1996, 59% to 30%). However, union membership is not really part of America's culture and proportionate to the number working, union membership is relatively low.

In non-unionised households, the situation is much nearer. In the 1992 election the Democrats received 41% of the non-unionised votes and the Republicans 40%. In 1996, the difference was identical - 46% Democrats and 45% Republican.  Why a non-unionised voter chooses to vote for one party and not the other is difficult to ascertain and the reasons are likely to differ greatly from one voter to the next.

Though it is a generalisation, there is some truth in the equation that middling to upper rich, white, Protestant conservatives vote for the Republicans. Minority groups, Jews, families with an annual income of <$30,000, African Americans and those who consider themselves "liberal" vote for the Democrats.


MLA Citation/Reference

"Voting behaviour in America". HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. 2005. Web.






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