Explain the low turnout in U.S. elections. Essay

This essay has a total of 1787 words and 8 pages.

Explain the low turnout in U.S. elections.

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
do have a political identity turnout in greater numbers to vote than those whom consider
them selves independent or with little or no allegiance to a party. Those citizens who
consider themselves to have a political identity have decreased in the last two or three
decades, thus increasing voters with little or no allegiance who tend not to vote as much.


Voting in the U.S. is a two-step process; potential voters first have to put his or her
name on the list of registered voters before they are eligible to cast a ballot. This is
dissimilar to many other industrialized democracies where it is either; compulsory to
register, as is the case in New Zealand where those who fail to register get fined, or as
is the case in most of Europe, where by citizens are automatically registered at voting
age. Most of these nations have had consistently better turnouts than the U.S. In South
Korea's 1997 presidential election there was a turnout of 92%. Their government plays an
active role in registering voters. Closer to home, Canada's government play a proactive
role in registering voters, in doing so they consistently have more than a 60% turnout.


In all but seven states of the U.S., registration has to occur before the thirty day
"closing date" after which citizens are no longer allowed to register thus excluding them
from voting (Massachusetts is twenty days). These seven states ranked among the top
fifteen in the 1996 for voting age population turnout. In six of the seven states that
don't have a closing date (Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming)
voters can turn up on election day, register and then cast their vote. The closest state
that comes to automatic registration is North Dakota, as citizens do not have to register
at all. Voters can just turn up on election day and cast their vote. Since 1980 these
states have, on average, had a turnout 10 points higher than that of those with long
closing dates. As presidential elections tend to increase in intensity and publicity in
the last thirty days or so, they are restricting potential voters, by having long "closing
dates", from getting to the voting booth. In this period of intense campaigning when a
majority of people start to take more notice of the parties they might decide which way to
vote, however they can't because of this restriction on registration. This is what causes
a reductive effect on voter turnout.

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