Political Participation and American Democracy

Political Participation and American Democracy

Political Participation and American Democracy

Political Participation and American Democracy

Synopsis

This volume addresses a recurring and seemingly intractable problem of the U.S. political system: the nonparticipation of significant numbers of citizens in the political process. Eight chapters examine specific issues surrounding voter turnout levels including the influence of registration practices, the role of the Supreme Court, the impact of election timing and specific electoral arrangements, the policy consequences of non-voting, and the weak participation of under-represented groups.

Excerpt

The present era could be said to be the most promising of times for democratic nations. The signs are everywhere: nations worldwide are joining a growing community of interest in democracy, instituting democratic forms of government and employing standards of democratic performance to judge their own and others' actions. The U.S.S.R., most dramatically, as well as other countries in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa--many long noted for their authoritarian or, in some cases, totalitarian governments--are adopting, even if only grudgingly, universally accepted democratic norms of behavior.

All of this is to be welcomed. Yet the world's major democracies have problems of their own that international shifts in political climate should not mask. These problems range from social inequality and poor economic performance to decline in the quality of people's lives. The United States clearly is not immune to such trends and, to an extent, personifies the difficulties being encountered by advanced industrial nations. The country faces many challenges.

One area that is beginning to receive increasing attention is the quality of public life. In this context, no concern can be greater than the political involvement of citizens in self-government. The questions raised are fundamental to the operation and preservation of democratic governance. What is, or should be, the role of the citizen in a democracy's political life? What is, or should be, the impact of the individual on the conduct of the affairs of a representative government? How democratic can a society be in which one-half of its citizenry does not vote, which is participation at the most basic level? What kind of future can such a society anticipate? How is its political life likely to develop?

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