Factors Affecting Voter Participation
One of the most important aspects of any democracy is participation by the citizens in it. Perhaps the most basic form of participation is the act of voting. For this reason many political scientists have chosen to study the factors that effect peoples willingness or unwillingness to vote. Two such articles are Relationships of Media Use and Political Disaffection to Political Efficacy and Voting Behavior and Registration, Turnout, and State Party Systems. The first addresses several factors (Cynicism, Efficacy, and Disaffection) as they relate to media use or the lack of it and the effect the level of media use has on voter participation. The second starts with a much more basic concept, a forerunner to voter participation, registration, and how its difficulties effect overall voter participation. These articles read separately make their own valid points however when looked at together they are much more effective in explaining how the difficulties of the registration process and the role of media affect voter participation. When looking at these articles there are three aspects of them that should be examined a little closer. The author’s both make important points in their respective articles that have relationships among them that are very significant in understanding patterns of voter participation. The type of evidence and factual material that is presented are also important in the legitimacy of the articles. Finally there are parts in each article that are very effective while others aren’t so sufficient in explaining variances in voter participation.
One of the major questions asked in Registration, Turnout, and State Party Systems is if political parties have the power to “get out the vote”. The authors state that the parties get their formalization from the values and efforts of their elite but if they don’t give mention to citizens concerns in political discussion and debates the electorate will become less likely to participate. However voters will become more likely to participate if they feel their concerns are being addressed (Brown). The article then goes on to state that “We conceptualize registration and turnout as two distinct, linked stages in the process of electoral participation – the second (turnout) that cannot be completed without overcoming the first (registration)” (Brown, Jackson, and Wright 465). The authors do a great job of linking these two main points throughout the article when it is shown that liberal party control is conducive to higher registration rates, which in turn results in higher voter turnout. In the second article Relationships of Media Use and Political Disaffection to Political Efficacy and Voting Behavior there are many important points that are very carefully interconnected. The authors of this article state that cynical citizens are more likely to feel a sense of decreased efficacy and are less likely to use media sources when in most cases the use of media would increase their participation rather than their cynical attitudes (Austin, Fortman, and, Pinkleton 36). They then go on in length to discuss the relationship between cynicism, negativity, disaffection, efficacy and voter participation fortunately for the reader they link all these points together in an easily understandable statement. “Negativism toward campaigns and mediated campaign information can reduce active media use and can affect the way media information is interpreted. Reduced media use and negativism both should associate with higher levels of cynicism, ultimately affecting citizen development of efficacy toward the political system and their likelihood of participating in the electoral process. Increased media use nevertheless should make citizens more likely to believe their participation can make a difference subsequently leading to actual participation” (Austin, Fortman, and Pinkleton 39). The authors very effectively combine a lot of complicated concepts into a form that almost anyone could understand. Overall the author of both articles are notably effective in both stating their significant points and linking them all together.
The evidence and factual information adds to the validity of the articles, in some cases however the information given actually hurts the articles validity. Both articles tend to site other similar studies that have been done that add a lot of legitimacy to the claims of what they intend to prove. The articles both give in depth explanations of the methods used for their studies and the results they achieved. While their explanations are in depth they also have a tendency to be very scientific and the language they are presented in is not easily comprehendible by a layperson. However they do go on to explain the results convincingly in plain language in the conclusion sections. In the “Relationships” article the authors are quick to admit where their validity may be adversely affected. Austin, Fortman and Pinkleton admit that there are limitations to be noted in their research because their sample consisted of people in a limited geographic region at a single point in time, and their survey had a tendency to be negative towards media and politicians (44 – 45). Overall the articles prove to be both valid and believable within the noted exception.
As with any article there are certain parts of each work that are more effective then others. Since the articles are both peer reviewed and printed in professional journals their formats are very similar. In both the somewhat lengthy introduction sections are not only effective but are necessary in understanding the purpose of the studies as well as showing the places where other studies have left off. However the sections that go into detail about the research done in a scientific manner are mainly ineffective to anyone that is not well versed in the methods of research information collection. Both sets of authors do however successfully attempt to explain all of the complicated data in terms that are easily graspable to any layperson. How ever in reading the articles you may find that they are quick to mention the results that are consistent with their expectations, while they are not quite as eager to talk about things that their research didn’t sufficiently prove. The articles are also prone to point out existing problems that the studies have turned up but stop just short of giving suggestions on how to solve those problems that are barriers to voter participation. It would be much more effective if the authors gave plans of action, based on predictions drawn from their research, which may help boost participation in the electorate.
In conclusion the authors of both articles do present relevant information that achieves the overall purpose of proving their assumptions on why people tend to participate or abstain. The articles also complement each other well when read together particularly if Registration, Turnout, and State Party Systems is read first. It explains that for participation to even begin to occur registration must be accomplished. This is a simple enough idea but it is often completely overlooked by other studies on the topic of voter participation. Once the factors that effect the likeliness of registration are examined then the next logical step is to look at what gets registered voters to the polls and more importantly what keeps them away. That is where Relationships of Media Use and Political Disaffection to Political Efficacy and Voting Behavior picks up, it goes on to discuss how a major agent in the distribution of political information can affect citizens feelings about the entire voting process. While both articles state and prove their points well their weaknesses lie in the same sections. They both get confusing and jumbled when discussing the actual methods and raw results of the research done. Further more they both prove their hypotheses and stop there. With all of the research they’ve done and information they’ve collected they should be able to make well-founded suggestions on how to improve the low voter turnout that seems to plague this country.
Austin, Erica Weintraub, Fortman, Kristine KJ, and Pinkleton, Bruce E.“Relationships of Media Use and Political Disaffection to Political Efficacy and Voting Behavior.” Journal of Broadcasting and ElectronicMedia. Winter 1998: 34 – 49. Proquest Online. (25 Oct. 2000).
Brown, Robert D, Jackson, Robert A, and Wright, Gerald C. “Registration, Turnout, and State Party Systems.” Political Research Quarterly. Sep. 1999: 463 – 479. Proquest Online. (25 Oct. 2000).