The Disappearing American Voter

The Disappearing American Voter

The Disappearing American Voter

The Disappearing American Voter


The right to vote is the cornerstone of democracy. To millions around the world who have fought for that right, it is considered a privilege. Yet the magnitude of nonvoting in America is staggering. More than 91 million Americans did not vote in 1988, putting voter turnout at barely half of the voting-age population. This situation has stirred much comment and debate across the political spectrum, raising several questions: Why is voter turnout generally so low? Why has it declined steadily over the past three decades? Does low and declining turnout significantly bias the nature of contemporary U. S. politics? And what, if anything, can be done to increase voter participation?In this book, Ruy Teixeira addresses each of these question in detail in an effort to provide policymakers and the general public with a clearer view of the problem and possible solutions. The author's interpretations and recommendations are both provocative and firmly based on currently available data. Teixeira includes an assessment of current registration reform legislation and shows why a combination of registration reform and political reform is necessary to fully reverse the nonvoting trend and move to substantially higher turnout levels. He points out that while it is unlikely U. S. voter turnout will ever approach levels in Sweden, Australia, and Belgium -which are about 90 percent -with a thorough reform program, levels of around 70 percent, such as those in Japan and Canada, may be attainable.


The rate of voter turnout in U.S. national elections has been falling almost uninterruptedly for thirty years. in the 1988 election half the voting-age population--more than 91 million Americans--did not bother to go to the polls. What are the consequences for American democracy of this low and declining rate of voter participation? and what, if anything, can be done to reverse this disturbing trend?

Ruy A. Teixeira, visiting fellow in the Brookings Governmental Studies program, starts from the premise that Americans must have a clear, empirically based understanding of the problem before they can develop effective means of solving it. He analyzes the phenomenon of low and declining turnout and assesses the likely impact of various cures. Along the way he dispells a number of myths about who is voting and who is not and how low turnout might bias American politics. the analysis concludes with practical suggestions for increasing turnout by making registering and voting easier and improving people's motivation to go to the polls.

Support for this project was partly provided by grants from the Joyce Foundation and the Deer Creek Foundation.

National Election Study and Bureau of the Census data were provided by the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research. Other data were provided by Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Christopher Wlezien of the University of Florida, Henry Brady of the University of California, Berkeley, People for the American Way, the Republican National Committee, Times-Mirror Center for the People, Press and Politics, and the Markle Foundation.

The manuscript benefited from the comments of anonymous reviewers and of Steven Bennet, Curtis Gans, Thomas Mann, Warren Miller, and Raymond Wolfinger. Elizabeth Greenberg provided excellent research assistance. Eric Messick, an intern on the project, helped with . . .

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