Voting patterns in America are keenly analysed statistics by party officials. In 1996 the turn out at the general election was 49% which was the lowest turn out since 1924. This was despite a record of 13 million new voters registering to vote in1992. This could simply have been because so many potential voters considered the result a forgone conclusion rather than America developing a sudden apathy towards politics. However, if the latter is true then the consequences for America in the future could be dire if only a certain section of society involves itself in politics and the rest feel that it is an area they should not concern themselves with. The election result of 2000 replicated the 1996 election in terms of voter participation with only about 50% of registered voters participating and this was in a campaign where there was no foregone conclusion regarding the candidates – Al Gore and George W Bush. The 2000 election was considered to be one of the most open elections in recent years.

Certainly the heady days of 1960 seem somewhat distant now. In 1960 there was a 62.8% turn out at the general election. This was considered high but may have a been a result of what is known as the “Kennedy factor” which could have encouraged voters to use their vote. It is not necessarily true that in 1960 the American public suddenly became more politically aware.

Historically, certain groups that have been given the right to vote have taken their time to take up this right. The 19th Amendment of 1920 allowed women the right to vote but their impact on elections took some while to filter in.

The 26th Amendment reduced the voting age to eighteen but traditionally less than 50% have turned out at general elections and even less for other elections. Does this signify that the young potential voters of America feel excluded from the political process hence they do not feel inclined to vote ?

If this apathy does exist then it is leaving the hard core of voters as the ones who have a vested interest in voting and maintaining the current political set-up – i.e. the educated white middle/upper class voter. This obviously brings into question the political representation of those groups in America.

One problem that has made worse the issue of voter representation is the fact that an individual must initiate voter registration well before election day. It cannot be done immediately before an election  and the evidence shows that this is a policy that favours those who wish to involve themselves in the political set-up but acts against those who are less politically motivated. The opposite happens in Britain whereby local government offices initiate the voter registration procedure by sending out a registration form to those who are allowed to vote and then ‘chase-up’ those who fail to register. If in America a person has a legal right to vote (is an American citizen, over age etc.) if he/she has not registered they cannot do so.

Another quirk of American politics is that those who are registered to vote sometimes do not do so. Having gone to the effort of registering, come a general election they simply fail to vote (as would be their democratic right). In 1988, of those who actually registered only 70% voted so that nearly one third of all registered voters did not vote come the election.

In 1993 the ‘Motor Voter’ Act was passed in an effort to make more easy the procedures someone goes through to register for a vote. It came into operation in 1995. The act simply allows someone to register when applying for a driving licence.

The registration procedure has also been altered to enable the disabled to register with greater ease and the law now states that facilities must be in place to make voting easier for the disabled.

Combined, both the above lead to an extra 5 million people registering by the time of the 1996 general election. BUT there was a drop of 10 million voters in the 1996 general election compared with the 1992 election. For the 2000 election, just about 105 million people voted – similar to the 1996 figure but still only about 50% of registered voters.

However, the 1996 election saw an increase in Black Americans voting. In 1992, the Black vote was 8% of the total electorate. In 1996 it was 10% of the total.

In the 1984 election 92.6 million voted but 84 million potential voters did not. As a result of this, the first major study of voting patterns occurred. There were three main findings to this study :

about 20% of the American population is mobile each year and moves about. If you move out of your state you have to re-register within the state you now live in. How many can be bothered to do so ? those groups who have traditionally mobilised voters – such as the trade unions – are in decline. the input of the media (especially tv) has diluted grass-roots face-to-face politics and removed the ‘human touch’.

Other reasons have been put forward to explain the apparent lack of enthusiasm to express your political voice within America.

The 1972, 1984 and 1996 elections were seen as forgone conclusions and many may have felt ‘why vote ?’ However, there could have been no such label attached to the 2000 election which was considered the most open in decades. Yet, voter turnout was 50% of what it could have been.

The 1996 election was criticised for its negative campaigning which at times bordered on the nasty and this may have put off voters as well. The 2000 election featured one candidate nicknamed “Al Bore” by the media and the other, G W Bush, was considered to be less than academically gifted.

At times when there are no major national issues, voter turn out seems to drop. Can it be assumed that a low turn out at the polls is a sign of contentment with the incumbent president ?

1992 saw a large turn out. Why ?

new methods of presentation by the media may have stimulated interest. the input of an independent (Ross Perot) may have given the electorate something more to think about rather than the traditional two-way race between the Democrats and Republicans. there was a national recession which was a national issue. by 1992, many states had eased voter registration which may have encouraged more to vote.

How important is education to voting patterns ?

In 1980, 80% of college educated adults voted, 59% of those with four years high school education voted43% of those with a grade school education voted.

Though it is a generalisation, you are far more likely to vote if you have a middle to large income, are educated to college level and have an occupation that is linked to your education. If this is true even as a generalisation, these voters have an intrinsic reason to keep the system as it is and hence have a good reason to make sure that they vote. Whether this is an acceptable situation is one that is frequently aired by political analysts.

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