11 Voting and Participation
Voting and Participation Americans enjoy near universal opportunities to vote. • Voting, in short, is a gateway to power, and so there are always battles over who gets access to the ballot.
The Constitution and Voting The Constitution is nearly silent on the rules about voting in elections, leaving such choices to the states. • As Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution states, “The times, place and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” • The Constitution does spell out in some detail the workings of the Electoral College, which chooses the president. • But even for the College, states were given latitude about how to choose its members.
The Hamiltonian and JeffersonianModels of Participation • Hamilton represents a perspective that sees risks in greater participation and, thus, favors a larger role for elites. • The people, they contend, are often uninformed and cannot make the best choices. • The Jeffersonian model, which holds that more participation yields a more involved and engaged public and that, in turn, produces better outcomes. • Proponents of the Jeffersonian model want to see more participation, believing that the people can be trusted and that getting more people involved will push government to be more responsive to the people’s interests.
The History of Voting in America Three stages: • 1790s to 1870 - voting rights expanded, and by 1860, universal white male suffrage had been achieved. • 15th Amendment • 1920 – Women’s suffrage • 19th Amendment • 1971 - Extended the right to vote to 18-year-olds • 26th Amendment
Expansion of Voting, 1790s–1870 The first nine presidential elections (1789–1820), popular votes were not even recorded. • Most states did not allow the public to cast ballots for the president, as state legislators chose the electors who voted in the Electoral College. • State legislators also chose U.S. senators. • The people could vote for representatives to the House of Representatives, but eligibility was limited to white males who owned a certain amount of property or paid a certain amount of taxes.
Jacksonian Democracy Not until the rise of Jacksonian democracy in the 1820s did the franchise (the right to vote) begin to expand significantly. • Jackson’s supporters pressed states to remove property requirements for voting and to allow citizens, instead of state legislatures, to vote for president. • Following the Civil War, the Fifteenth Amendment gave African American males the right to vote.
The Road to Women’s Suffrage, 1848–1920 In 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York, the first women’s rights meeting initiated a movement for women’s suffrage. • In 1869, the territory of Wyoming granted the right to women, and that right was retained when Wyoming became a state in 1890. • By 1916, eleven states, all in the West, allowed women to vote. • But the piecemeal approach of statewide campaigns came to an end on August 26, 1920, when the Tennessee legislature ratified the Nineteenth Amendment by a single vote.
The Road to Women’s Suffrage, 1848–1920 In the early 1870s suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony tried to exercise the right to vote. When Virginia Minor was blocked from registering to vote in Missouri, she sued. Her case, decided by the Supreme Court in 1875, determined that women were citizens but that the Constitution does not confer a right to vote. In this drawing Victoria ClaflinWoodhull points to the Constitution as she tries to vote in a local New York City election; her sister Tennessee Claflin stands behind her.
The Denial of African American Suffrage, 1870–1965 During Reconstruction (1865–77), the period when the federal government effectively controlled the state governments in the South, southern blacks were able to vote. • Southern state legislatures, no longer under federal authority, started to pass laws that denied African Americans basic political rights, in an era known as Jim Crow. • Literacy Tests • Poll Taxes • Grandfather Clauses • The White Primary
Joseph Rainey Joseph Rainey had been born a slave in South Carolina, but his father purchased his freedom. After the Civil War, Rainey quickly became active in Republican Party politics. He was a delegate to the South Carolina constitutional convention and a member of the South Carolina Senate before being elected, in 1870, to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served until 1879.
The Civil Rights Movement and African American Voting, 1950s–1960s In 1964, the support by the public helped give Congress the impetus to pass the Civil Rights Act, which protected voting rights and put severe restrictions on the administration of literacy tests. • To strengthen protections of voting rights, in 1965 Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. • The Twenty-Fourth Amendment, ratified in 1964, banned poll taxes.
The Vote for Eighteen-Year-Olds, 1971 Until 1971, nearly all states set the minimum age for voting at 21. • The adoption of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment that year, the federal government mandated that states could not deny the right to vote to anyone aged 18 or over. • The impetus for this extension of the franchise was the Vietnam War.
Voting by Minorities and Immigrants One must be a citizen to be able to vote. • American Indians were not extended citizenship until 1924, by act of Congress. • Chinese immigrants, by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, were denied citizenship.
Who Votes? Turnout • In 1996, about 48 percent took the time to vote in the presidential contest between Governor Bill Clinton and Senator Bob Dole. • By 2008, the rate of participation improved to over 57 percent. • In midterm congressional elections, which are low-stimulus elections, turnout is usually less than 40 percent. • For primary elections during presidential nominations, turnout ranges between 20 and 40 percent. • Often, less than 10 percent of eligible citizens vote in local school board elections.
Race, Ethnicity and Voting Whites have a slightly higher rate of participation than blacks. In the 1960s, this gap was substantial. • In 2004, 60 percent of blacks and 67 percent of whites voted. • In 2008, the gap disappeared: 66 percent of whites reported voting, whereas 65 percent of African Americans did so.
Race, Ethnicity and Voting continued In general, turnout rates among ethnic minorities tend to be below the average for the entire country. • About 47 percent of Asian Americans vote. • Native Americans appear to have the lowest rate of turnout, although precise estimates have been difficult to gather. • Latinos vote at about 50 percent. • Part of the reason for this gap is that these groups often tend to be less well off, and lower income generally means lower turnout. • Many of the individuals are not eligible to vote because they are not citizens.
Sex and Voting Women turn out at a slightly higher rate than men, by perhaps 3–5 percentage points. • The gender gap is important in American politics. But the gap focuses mostly on different political preferences, such as the greater tendency of women to identify themselves as Democrats than men.
Age and Voting Age affects rates of participation. • Turnout peaks once voters are about 45 years old and continues at that rate until advanced age sets in. • In 2004, around 70 percent of citizens over 65 years old claim to have voted. • The proportion is just 47 percent for those under 24 years of age—and it is even smaller for those 21 years old and younger. - It is worth noting, however, that participation by the very youngest citizens (18–29) climbed to over 51 percent in 2008, from 49 percent in 2004.
Income and Voting The higher one’s income, the more likely one is to vote. • The authors would have us believe that , “more income generally means that the person has more at stake and thus more reason to vote”. • Does this make sense to you? Do poor people have less to lose? • People with higher incomes are also likely to be part of environments in which politics is frequently discussed and that provide greater opportunities for learning about the political process. • Isn’t this a better explanation for higher turnout by wealthier Americans?
Income and Voting continued • In 2004, over 80 percent of those with total family incomes of more than $100,000 report that they went to the polls. • For the income range that represents the annual median family income in America, which is $40,000 to $50,000, turnout is 69 percent. • For the least well off (those earning less than $20,000), the proportion who claim to have voted is 48 percent.
Education and Voting Years of formal education seem to be the most important influence on the tendency of someone to vote. • When the youngest voting eligible citizens (18- to 24-year-olds) have a college degree, they are 14 percentage points more likely to vote than older citizens (65 and above) who do not have a high school education. • The gap between those with the least education and those with the most is 50 percentage points in 2008. • Nearly three-fourths of college-educated people vote, whereas less than a quarter of those with just a grade school education vote.
Socialization and Voting The relationship between education and voting may not be as simple as these data suggest, however. • New evidence indicates that going to college does not matter as much as childhood socialization, which imbues the values of citizenship and similarly affects the decision to attend college. • This gap in turnout between higher-educated people and those with little education has increased over the last forty or so years. • These patterns suggest that inequalities may result as government responds more effectively to those who vote than those who do not.
An Economic Model of Voting The economic model of voting starts with the assumption that all choices involve a calculation about self-interest that balances costs and benefits. • According to the economic model, citizens consider the costs and benefits of voting, and if the benefits exceed the costs, they turn out. • Anthony Downs describes rational voting as there are some costs tied to voting, such as the time it takes to become informed and to go to the polls or lost work time and the cost of gas to drive to the local precinct.
An Economic Model of Voting continued The benefits of voting are less clear. • A voter may favor a candidate (or party) because of a specific policy, such as a promise of a tax cut that would provide a big financial benefit. But a tax cut is a public good that is shared by all in society, regardless of whether one votes or not. • The chance that one vote will alter the outcome of the election is very small—so small in fact that there is a greater chance of being killed in an accident on the way to the polls than of changing the outcome of the election.
Critique of the Downs Model William Riker and Peter Ordeshook argued that it was incomplete because it did not calculate civic duty as a benefit of voting. • The notion of civic duty is important, but it is not economic in nature. Instead, civic duty describes a psychological, or civic-interest, attitude voters might have. • Thus, the act of voting remains irrational from a narrow, self-interested point of view.
A Psychological Model of Voting The psychological model views voting as a product of citizens’ attitudes about the political system. • Those who are raised in households in which voting is important are likely to think that participation matters. • Those who have a strong sense of trust in government or believe that their vote matters are more likely to participate. • Civic duty and partisanship also increase voter participation. • In 2006, for example, 88 percent of repeat voters claimed it was their “duty as a citizen to always vote.” • Those citizens who align themselves with the Democratic or the Republican parties are more likely to vote.
An Institutional Model of Voting In the institutional model, voting is understood to be shaped by the rules of the system, by political party behavior, by the ways candidates run their campaigns, and by the context of the election. • Both a very popular and a very unpopular candidate might spur turnout. • Elections that look to be close draw voters’ interest and attention, especially if they think their votes might influence the outcome. • “Get-out-the-vote” drives seem to pay big dividends, especially at the local level.
Is Voting in Your Genes? Recent evidence has suggested a genetic component to participation. • In 2007, James Fowler and his colleagues found a strong relationship between genes and turnout. • Another study in 2008 reports “that two extensively studied genes are significant predictors of voter turnout.” • Much more evidence is needed before a genetic model of participation is accepted.
Weather and Voting There has been a long-standing view that weather affects why some people vote and others do not. • Rain significantly reduces voter participation by a rate of just less than one percent per inch. • Snowfall decreases turnout by almost .5 percent. • Bad weather benefits Republicans slightly. • It discourages less well off voters from participating, giving weather a potential partisan bias.
Is Turnout Low? There is a widespread belief among political scientists, political observers, and journalists that turnout in American elections is “low.” • Compared to other democracies, turnout in the United States is near the very bottom. • The average rate of turnout in U.S. presidential elections between 1945 and 2008 was 56 percent. In Australia, turnout is 95 percent; in Malta it is 98 percent. • The only country that is significantly lower than the United States is Afghanistan, where turnout is 48 percent.
Why So Low? • Australia has compulsory voting. That is, citizens are required by law to vote. • In most of the countries of western Europe, the government is responsible for registering citizens to vote. • Most European countries lessen the costs of voting by allowing voting to take place on Sunday.
Declining Voter Turnout Even though education levels in the U.S. have increased over the last fifty years, the rate of participation in elections has not increased. • The concept of generational replacement describes a trend in which older voters who pass away and leave the electorate are replaced by less reliable young voters. • Do older voters turn out to vote because of the generation they were part of, or because they are just older and have more experience in dealing with politics, or because they want to protect their interests or expand the benefits that directly affect them, such as Medicare and low payments for prescription drugs?
Declining Voter Turnout continued A second explanation has been the decline of party organizations. • Local parties have been less able to turn out the vote on election day than they were in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. • This explanation has appeal, but parties in many ways are stronger today than they were in the past. • Some argue that negative campaigns have fueled voter apathy. - A recent comprehensive study of all research on this topic shows quite clearly that negativity is not responsible for a decline in turnout.
The Voting Eligible Population Measure Two political scientists, Samuel Popkin and Michael McDonald, offer a fourth explanation by arguing that turnout has not declined over the last thirty years. • Does not take into account increases in the numbers of convicted felons and immigrants who are ineligible to vote.
Do Turnout Rates Promote Inequality? In 2008, for instance, 76 percent of people with incomes above $50,000 participated in the 2008 elections. For those making less than $50,000, the proportion declined to 59 percent. • Focusing on the behavior of senators, Professor Larry Bartels shows that senators respond more to the rich, less to those of middle income, and not at all to the poor. • That is why it is so important that people get involved in politics.
Involvement in Political Campaigns Do Americans try to influence other citizens to vote a certain way? • Over the last few decades, about 40 percent of Americans have reported that they talk about presidential politics with their fellow citizens. • In 2008, 45 percent of Americans said they tried to influence others’ votes, a greater than 50 percent jump from 1996. • Nearly 10 percent of citizens attended a political meeting during the course of the 2008 campaign. • Willingness to give money to a campaign was a bit higher, reaching 14 percent in 2008.
Protest Politics Political protests are an important means for expressing opinion and bringing about change. • Protests over the 2009 stimulus package and 2010 health care reform have sought to recall the spirit of the “Boston Tea Party” by calling their gatherings “tea parties”. • Protests can become so controversial and stir up such strong emotions that the government takes steps to limit them. • In March 2003, only 3 percent of the public claimed to have joined any of the “recent antiwar protests.” • Overall, only about 5 percent of Americans claim to have participated in a “protest, march, or demonstration” over the last five years.
E-Participation In the past decade, many Americans have engaged in politics through e-mail and the Internet. • It is easier and cheaper to send an e-mail to a member of Congress than to write a letter, and Americans do so with increasing frequency. • In 1998, members of Congress received over 23 million e-mails; two years later, that number had doubled to 48 million. • Of those who have access to e-information, as much as 20 percent claim to participate in blogs, online discussions, or e-mail lists for political issues of interest.
E-Participation continued The Internet has also transformed fundraising and campaign involvement. • Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination was the first to tap into the power of the Internet. • Obama broke all records for fundraising during the primary, raising $32 million in January 2008, $28 million via the Internet.
Reforms to Voting Laws Both state and federal governments are committed to increasing participation by making voting as easy as possible. At the same time, both work to prevent voter fraud. • Voter Registration was an early reform aimed at targeting Graveyard Voting and other corrupt practices that violated the one person one vote provision of democratic elections. • Adoption of the Australian Ballot also known as the secret ballot.
Modern Reforms National Voter Registration Act (aka Motor Voter Law) • 1993 law which requires states to permit individuals to register at Secretary of State offices and by mail or by visiting a public assistance agency or military recruitment office. • This law also requires that states inform citizens if they are removed from the approved voter roll and limits removal to a change of address, conviction for a felony, and, of course, death. • Many states have now instituted voter identification requirements on election day.