Broken Contract? Changing Relationships between Americans and Their Government

By Stephen C. Craig | Go to book overview

6
Public Judgment and Political
Engagement in the 1992 Election

RANDOLPH C. HORN
M. MARGARET CONWAY

In 1992, a three-decade-long trend in declining voter turnout was reversed. Although turn out rates did not reach the level attained in 1960 (see Chapter 5), various estimates confirm that a greater proportion of the electorate voted in 1992 than in recent presidential elections. One possible explanation for this is that higher turnout reflected a significant increase in the public's degree of political engagement during the 1992 campaign.

By "political engagement" we mean interest in and attention to politics. Indicators of engagement might include having a general interest in governmental and political affairs, following political campaigns, discussing political issues and candidates with friends or family, and consuming the mass media's political content regardless of the format through which that content is conveyed. In this chapter we examine political engagement, comparing a variety of measures from 1992 with patterns occurring in prior presidential elections and in the 1990 midterm. Also discussed are possible explanations for the patterns of engagement observed in 1992.


MODES AND LEVELS OF POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT

Were levels of political engagement among the mass public higher in 1992 than in previous presidential election contests? Comparisons based on a number of indicators suggest that the answer is yes. Although Americans did not raise their low opinions of government officials during the campaign season (see Chapter 3), they nevertheless appear to have become more engaged in or connected to the political process. The most obvious indication of this is the substantial increase in voter turnout, with just over 55 percent of the voting-age population making it to the polls on election day (up from about 50 percent four years earlier). 1 It seems unlikely that a highly alienated public would make such an impressive showing.

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