Political Parties and the Voters • Once the party nominating processes have narrowed the list of candidates, it is the voter who decides the fate of the parties and their candidates • Because modern democratic governments derive their legitimacy through free elections, parties cannot survive without substantial voter support • The electoral fate of the parties depends on which voters will actually vote on election day, how strongly partisanship determines voter choices, and which party will benefit from the influences of current issues and candidates’ images
Voter Turnout • Although free elections are critical to the functioning of the republic, only 56.2 percent of the voting-age population voted in the 2004 presidential election • Although turnout has increased in the last two elections, it is still lower than it was in the 1960s • Voter turnout often depends on whether a person thinks the benefits of voting outweighs the costs • Voter turnout also often depends upon the timing of the election and the offices being contested – voter turnout is substantially higher in presidential election years than it is in midterm elections for the House of Representatives (Figure7.1.)
70 63 62 61 60 56 56 59 55 58 54 53 53 55 51 50 49 51 51 51 50 50 48 48 47 46 45 45 45 44 40 Turnout as Percent of VAP 38 37 36 36 35 35 33 33 30 20 10 0 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 1960 1962 1964 1966 1968 1970 1972 1974 1976 1978 1980 1982 1984 1986 1988 1990 1992 1994 Presidential Elections House Elections Figure 7.1. Voter Turnout in Presidential and House Elections, 1960-2004
Voter Turnout • There are major differences in turnout rates among the states, with southern and southwestern states having the lowest levels of participation (Figure 7.2.)
Turnout as Percent of VAP More than 68% (4) 63% to 68% (12) 57% to 62% (14) 51% to 56% (14) Less than 51% (7) Figure 7.2. Turnout in the American States, 2004
Voter Turnout • There are major differences in turnout rates among the states, with southern and southwestern states having the lowest levels of participation (Figure 7.2.) • Political scientists have found that these varied turnout rates are related to both the political and the demographic characteristics of the states • Interparty competition is highly correlated with turnout – when the chances that either party may win go up, people are more likely to vote • Campaign spending can also increase turnout because as money is spent, voters are provided with more information about the candidates
Voter Turnout • The demographic characteristics most associated with higher levels of turnout are high incomes, high- status occupations, high levels of education, middle age, Jewish heritage, Catholicism, and being white • Differences in state registration requirements can also cause differential turnout rates, and since more permissive rules lower the cost of voting, turnout is likely to be higher • With passage of the so-called Motor Voter law in 1993, states are now required to make registration easier, and in states covered by the law, voter registration has indeed increased
Who Votes? • As age increases, so does turnout, reflecting the unsettled character and mobility of young people • The higher the level of educational attainment, the greater the likelihood of voting, as better-educated people tend to be better at seeing the relevance of politics in their lives • A higher proportion of whites than blacks vote, and blacks vote more frequently than Hispanics, and this pattern reflects that blacks and Hispanics tend to be younger and have lower educational levels • Non-voting is also influenced by personal attitudes, such as a lack of interest, a low sense of civic obligation, and weak feelings of partisan affiliation
Table 7.1. Participation in National Elections, 2004 Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2005, p. 263
100 94 89 88 88 88 90 81 78 80 70 62 60 53 Percent Reported Voting 50 41 40 30 20 10 0 No No No Yes Yes Yes Cares Care Does Not Interested Interested Very Not Much Interested in Care About See Differences People Have a Say Public Officials Campaign? Election Outcome? Between the in Politics Care About People Parties? Figure 7.3. Attitudes toward Voting and Politics, 2004 Source: National Election Study.
Political Parties and Turnout • Since voters are apt to be of a higher socioeconomic level than nonvoters, Republicans are slightly more likely to turn out and vote than Democrats • An important role that parties play in the political system is to mobilize voters and increase turnout, which they do in several ways: - Parties provide labels for candidates to run under - Parties provide citizens with information about candidates - Parties conduct explicit get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts • An indicator of the intensity of a campaign is the level of spending in which the parties and candidates engage to mobilize voters, and research shows that GOTV efforts indeed increase turnout
Is Nonvoting a Social Problem? • Unfavorable comparisons between turnout rates in the U.S. and other Western democracies are frequently cited as evidence of decay in the American body politic (Table 7.2.)
Table 7.2. Percentage Turnout of Registered Voters: Some International Comparisons Source: Federal Election Commission.
Is Nonvoting a Social Problem? • Unfavorable comparisons between turnout rates in the U.S. and other Western democracies are frequently cited as evidence of decay in the American body politic (Table 7.2.) • American turnout rates is usually calculated as a percentage of the voting-age population, but if it were calculated as a percentage of registered voters, like in most other countries, the turnout would be higher (72.9% in 2004) • Another argument is that Americans actually participate more than citizens of other countries, because of the frequency of elections to various offices
Is Nonvoting a Social Problem? • A study of voters’ and nonvoters’ candidate preferences and policy views shows that nonvoters generally appear well represented by those who vote • Analyses by sociologist Ruy Texeira reveal that if all the eligible citizens had actually voted in the presidential elections from 1964 to 1988, the outcomes would have remained the same (Table 7.3.) • Nonvoting in America may not be indicative of an ailing polity, yet reasons for concern still exist
Table 7.3. What If We Had an Election and Everybody Came? Self-Reported Voters and Nonvoters by Presidential Vote of Preference, 1964-1988 Note: The National Election Study did not ascertain the presidential preference of nonvoters in 1972 and 1976. Source: Ruy A. Teixeira, The Disappearing American Voter (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1992), p. 96. Reprinted by permission.
Party Identification • Voters’ electoral choices are a product of the interaction between their enduring attitudes and beliefs and more transitory factors such as current issues and candidate images • The most important long-term influence is partyidentification—a feeling of attachment to and sympathy for a political party • Unlike issues and candidate images, which vary from year to year, a voter’s party identification is quite stable • Party identification is measured either with a three- point or seven-point scale (Figure 7.4)
“Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or what?” Democrat Independent Republican “Would you call yourself a strong Democrat or a not very strong Democrat?” “Do you think of yourself as closer to the Republican or Democratic Party?” “Would you call yourself a strong Republican or a not very strong Republican?” Strong Democrat Weak Democrat Independent Democrat Independent Republican Weak Republican Strong Republican Independent Figure 7.4. Creation of Seven-Point Party Affiliation Scale Source: Based on National Election Study
Party Identification • Between 1952 and 2004, approximately three- fourths to two-thirds of the American electorate held a partisan identification, with the Democrats maintaining a consistent advantage over the GOP (Figure 7.5) • Also, the percentage of citizens identifying as independent-leaners has increased (Figure 7.5)
Figure 7.5. Party Identification in the United States, 1952-2004 Source: National Election Study
Party Identification • Between 1952 and 2004, approximately three- fourths to two-thirds of the American electorate held a partisan identification, with the Democrats maintaining a consistent advantage over the GOP (Figure 7.5) • Also, the percentage of citizens identifying as independent-leaners has increased (Figure 7.5) • Party identification tends to be acquired at an early age, and it is an informal, family-centered process • Party identification is, however, often changeable in early adulthood, as well as through other changing life circumstances and real-world events
Characteristics of Party Identifiers • Citizens who affiliate with political parties tend to be more interested in and knowledgeable about politics and more politically active than others (Figure 7.6) • Partisans are also more likely to see important differences between the parties and to care more about electoral outcomes • Strong partisans show the highest levels of political knowledge, interest, and activity • Independents, on the other hand, are only occasionally interested in politics, and are more likely to think that both parties are corrupt or out of touch with normal citizens
100 91 87 87 90 86 81 78 80 67 70 66 60 59 60 56 52 Percent 50 46 44 40 36 35 30 20 10 0 Know What Position Know Which Party Discuss Politics Tried to Influence Cheney Holds Controls House Others Strong Partisans Weak Partisans Partisan Leaners Independents Figure 7.6. Political Characteristics of Citizens Based on Their Partisanship, 2004 Source: National Election Study
Partisanship as a Political Filter • Partisans tend to seek political information from sources that share their opinions, and they are more likely to believe information from fellow partisans • Even when partisans do encounter those with opposing views, they tend to discount them to a greater extent • Partisan citizens tend to project their own beliefs to politicians they know little about, assuming that they share their view, or disagrees with them, if they belong to the opposite party • This type of selection serves to reinforce partisanship
Partisanship and Vote Choice • Strong partisans have higher rates of turnout than weak partisans, who in turn are more likely to vote than independents • In most post-World War II presidential elections, Republican voters have exhibited a higher degree of loyalty than Democrats • One of the main explanations for Democratic defections was the existence of conservative southern Democrats who often abandoned the party in presidential elections to vote for Republicans • This pattern has become less pronounced in recent elections (Table 7.4)
Table 7.4. Presidential Voting of Party Identifiers, 2000 and 2004 (percent) Source: National Election Study, 2000 and 2004
Dealignment or Polarization? • Although studies have consistently shown that party identification is the major determinant of how people vote, during previous decades its impact appeared less significant • One sign of this pattern was the increased frequency of split ticket voting, or voting for different parties’ candidates in elections for different offices • Voters have been found to increasingly change their partisanship to reflect their vote preference • Morris Fiorina has suggested that because voters’ partisanship responds to political events and conditions, party identification should be considered a sort of “running tally” of past experiences
50 45 40 35 30 Percent 25 20 15 10 5 0 1992 1996 2000 2004 1932 1936 1940 1944 1948 1952 1956 1960 1964 1968 1972 1976 1900 1904 1908 1912 1916 1920 1924 1928 1980 1984 1988 Figure 7.7. Districts with Split Outcomes (Carried by President of One Party and House Member of Another), 1900-2004 Source: Norman J. Ornstein, Thomas E. Mann, and Michael J. Malbin, Vital Statistics on Congress, 1997–1998 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1998), p. 71. Used by permission; 2000 and 2004 data from Congressional Quarterly Voting and Elections Database.
Dealignment or Polarization? • Paul Allen Beck has concluded that current electoral politics is “a tale of two electorates” - one that is partisan and ideologically polarized, resulting from the realignment, or the reshuffling of old coalitions - one that is independent and nonpartisan, resulting from the dealignment, where voters even being anti-partisan • Recent elections, however, have indicated a potential resurgence in the importance of party identification as split-ticket voting has subsided • Even though partisan dealignment seems to have been concentrated to the late 1960s and early 1970s, there is still a larger proportion of the electorate that consider themselves nonpartisans than ever
35 30 25 Percent Splitting Tickets 20 15 10 5 0 1952 1956 1960 1964 1968 1972 1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004 Year Figure 7.8. Reported Split-Ticket Voting, 1952-2004 Source: National Election Study.
Parties, Citizens, and Issues • Partisanship has been a long-term and enduring influence upon voter choices, but its impact can be modified by the short-term and changing influences of candidates and issues • Candidate images are especially important when the candidates’ personalities, political styles, backgrounds, and physical appearances are given a high level of media coverage • Sometimes a candidate gains a major advantage over an opponent because the opponent has a particularly unfavorable image with the voters
Parties, Citizens, and Issues Impact of Issues • The impact of issues on voter choice varies depending upon conditions and candidates • Although the impact of issues on vote choices was not as important in the 1980s and 1990s as earlier, in the 2004 election issues appeared to strongly determine citizens’ vote choices (Figure 7.9)
100 86 90 80 80 77 80 73 73 70 57 60 Percent Voting for Candidates 50 43 40 26 26 30 23 18 18 20 14 10 0 Iraq Taxes Terrorism Education Health Care Moral Values Economy/Jobs Most Important Issue Voted for Bush Voted for Kerry Figure 7.9. Impact of Issues on Vote Choice, 2004 Source: National Election Pool exit survey.
Parties, Citizens, and Issues Impact of Issues • The impact of issues on voter choice varies depending upon conditions and candidates • Although the impact of issues on vote choices was not as important in the 1980s and 1990s as earlier, in the 2004 election issues appeared to strongly determine citizens’ vote choices (Figure 7.9) • Several factors need to be present for issues to have an impact on voters: 1. voters must be informed and concerned about an issue 2. the candidates must be distinguishable from each other 3. the voters must perceive the candidates’ stands in relationship to their own issue position
Parties, Citizens, and Issues Impact of Issues (continued) • Generally voters are ill-informed about the candidates’ position on issues, and some voters project their own position on their favored candidate • Voters’ ability to cast their ballots based upon issues is also affected by whether the candidates engage in issue-oriented campaigns • The conditions for issue voting are most likely to be met when voters perceive a threat, such as the threat of terrorism, or a worsened economy
Parties, Citizens, and Issues Retrospective Voting • Another way of viewing issue voting is in terms of voters rendering a verdict on the past performance of the candidates and their parties, and this is especially important when incumbents run Issue Ownership • Parties also develop reputations in particular issue areas that help them win support from voters—they own certain issues • While the issue reputation of the parties are generally stable over long periods of time, citizens may update how they view the parties on some issues (Figure 7.10)
60 52 52 51 50 50 46 44 44 41 38 40 36 33 Percent Trusting Party on Issue 30 30 20 10 0 2002 2006 2002 2006 2002 2006 Iraq Terrorism Taxes Democrats Republicans Figure 7.10. Percent of Public Trusting Parties on Iraq, Terrorism, and Taxes, 2002 and 2006 Source: ABC News/Washington Post Surveys (September 26, 2002 and May 15, 2006).
Social and Economic Bases of Partisanship and Voting • In the United States, lines of partisan conflict tend to cross-cut social and economic cleavages in society, and the parties tend to be broad coalitions embracing a wide variety of interests • Thus both parties draw significant levels of electoral support from virtually every major socioeconomic group, with one exception: black voters support the Democratic Party in overwhelming proportions • Although both parties draw some support from all groups, they do not gain equal support from each group—the Republicans and Democrats have different bases of support
Table 7.5. Presidential Voting Patterns of Political and Socioeconomic Groups, 2004 (percent of vote) Note: Percentages may not add to 100 because of rounding or votes for Nader. Source: National Election Pool exit polls.
Social and Economic Bases of Partisanship and Voting Economic and Class Differences • As income, education, and occupational status go up, the likelihood of voting Republican increases • Lower-income persons, blue-collar workers, and people from labor union households have constituted a traditional base of Democratic support • Due to American cultural values of freedom and individualism, social class has a much weaker impact on voting in the U.S. than elsewhere • However, class-based voting is still stronger in the South than anywhere else in the United States
Social and Economic Bases of Partisanship and Voting Religious Differences • Since the New Deal period Catholics tended to be Democrats, and white Protestants tended to be Republican, and this pattern is still present • Contemporary religious politics revolves more around the importance of religion in one’s life than it does in the Catholic-Protestant conflict • Indeed, a relationship exists between the frequency of church attendance and voting (Figure 7.11) • Jewish voters have been overwhelmingly Democratic since the New Deal era
70 64 62 58 60 54 50 49 50 45 41 40 36 Percent Voting for Candidate 35 30 20 10 0 Never Few Times a Year Monthly Weekly More than Weekly Frequency of Attendance Voted for Bush Voted for Kerry Figure 7.11. Presidential Vote and Frequency of Church Attendance, 2004 Source: National Election Poll exit survey.
Social and Economic Bases of Partisanship and Voting Gender Differences • For long, women’s voting patters tended to be quite similar to those of men, but since 1980 women have become less likely to vote Republican than men • This so called “gender gap” is a result of women have encountered new types of problems as they have entered the workforce and as the number of single-parent, female-headed household increased • The others side of the gender gap—the movement of men toward the Republicans—has largely occurred in the South
Social and Economic Bases of Partisanship and Voting Regional Differences • Periodically, major issues have emerged in American political history that have pitted one part of the country against another • In the 1960s, as the Democratic Party rejected southern autonomy on matters of race policy, conservative white southerners began to desert the party (Figure 7.12) • The Plains states and the Mountain states have also shown distinctive partisan orientation, tending to be core Republican areas
80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 1972 1974 1976 1978 1980 1982 1984 1986 1988 1990 1956 1958 1960 1962 1964 1966 1968 1970 1992 1994 Democrats Republicans Figure 7.12. Percent of Southerners Affiliating with Democratic and Republican Parties (including Independents leaning toward Either Party), 1956-2004 Source: National Election Studies.
Social and Economic Bases of Partisanship and Voting Racial Differences • Since the 1964 election, when the images of the parties became sharply differentiated on civil rights issues, blacks have voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats • Hispanic voters also show a strong but less pronounced support for Democratic candidates, and they are likely to become an important group, as it is the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the U.S. • Also, Hispanics turn out to vote at a much lower extent than other groups, and is thus a valuable target for mobilization efforts by both parties
Social and Economic Bases of Partisanship and Voting The Socioeconomic Composition of the Parties • In the late 1950s, Democratic voters were northern union members, white southerners, and Catholics, while Republican voters were white Protestants living outside the South • By the late 1970s, the Democrats had become less southern and more black, and by 2000, the Republicans had become a party based on a growing Southern constituency • The changes in the profiles of the Republican and Democratic parties since the 1950s, based upon people’s party identification, is summarized in Table 7.6.
Table 7.6. Profiles of Democratic and Republican Party Coalitions, 1950s-2000 *Does not add up to 100 due to rounding. Source: John R. Petrocik, “Issues and Agendas: Electoral Coalitions in the 1988 Election,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Aug. 31–Sept. 3, 1989; 1992, 1996, and 2000 data provided by Petrocik. Used by permission.
Partisanship and Polarization at the Turn of the Century • Many journalists, pundits, and academics see twenty-first-century America as being highly polarized along partisan lines • However, political scientist Morris Fiorina argues that the partisan polarization is an elite phenomenon that does not translate to the masses • Fiorina argues that American citizens are mostly moderates, caught somewhere in between polarized parties • Others argue that although a majority of citizens take moderate positions, the most politically active citizens take very polarizing positions, so the electorate is more polarized than the people