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What are the main causes of Voter Apathy in the USA?

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    Voter apathy has been a cause for concern throughout western democracies, it is often deemed the greater the participation of the electorate the more legitimate the government in place.

    This is no different in the United States of America, Bernard Berelson has criticised democracy with relation to voter apathy with the following, “there are those who consider this a serious malfunction of democracy. ”[1] Voter apathy is defined as the non-participation of eligible individuals in elections at all levels.Voter turnout throughout recent history in the USA is at an incredible low, as recent as in 1996 over half (50. %)[2] of the eligible citizens of the USA refused the opportunity to vote in the Presidential election when the incumbent Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole to the White House.

    However a contrasting argument suggests that voter apathy can be a blessing in disguise as often the un-informed are those who abstain from voting. Another weak argument to prevent compulsory voting within democracies is that several people elect not to vote, as they are content with the system in place. This essay will highlight the main causes of voter apathy whilst discussing their effect on American democracy.Several critics of the American electoral system suggest that the system in place promotes voter apathy.

    The American system is a ‘winner takes all’ system in all but two states, therefore resulting in a system that is extremely disproportional. The Electoral College system in place was established in Article II of the Constitution and amended by the 12th Amendment in 1804[3], the process is that the representative with the highest number of votes in each state will take all of the respective state’s Electoral College votes, therefore leaving the votes of all other representatives worthless.In relation to democracy whereby the people govern, there is evidently a flaw in this system. This system therefore devalues the vote of a huge portion of the nation and leads to supposed minorities being overlooked and falls in to agreement that there is a tyranny of the majority.

    Resultantly the system also lends itself to a two party system as it discourages the participation of independent politicians because the likelihood that they can gain enough support to win a popular vote in a single entire state is minimal.In retrospect to this problem a large following argue that change is necessary, the reason that this system is in place is due to the technological limitations that were in place for the Founding Brothers of the USA, however now these communication issues have been resolved yet still the US government insists on sticking to an antiquated system. The disproportionality of this system has caused controversy in these millennia as in 2000 when George W. Bush won the Electoral College vote with 271 seats yet his competitor, Al Gore, had won the popular vote.

    This evidently damages the quality of American democracy.Considering America insist on imposing their democratic values as far as they can, it is fair to say they are acting hypocritically as several other western democracies embarrass the American turnout at elections with results greater than 85% in Italy, Austria, Belgium and Australia. [4] Hence the American system today needs to adapt and evolve, as have several other nations and their electoral systems. The American electoral system has contributed to a general trend of growth in voter apathy and as a result is damaging American democracy with respect to the argument that every individual’s voice is important in a true democracy.

    A second contributor to the voter apathy that is apparent in the USA is the alienation of the electorate. This is due to the sheer variety of race, age, income and educational levels amongst the demographic of the American. With a population in the USA that surpasses 313 million[5] it is inevitable that the individual feels alienated because they cannot see what meaningful contribution their vote makes at any election, however the lack of political education is a greater cause of this alienation.Within America it is evident that the greater the education of an individual the greater the chance that they will participate in political activity.

    In relation to the Presidential elections, states with greater than the median average education levels have greater participation (59. 4%) than in states with a lower than median average educational level (54. 8%)[6] therefore concluding that a lack of interest could stem from the lack of knowledge based around the subject. With relation to income there is a similar trend that the greater the income of an individual the more likely they are to participate in political activity.

    This cannot be justified because the policies affect the rich more than the poor; because just as tax cuts or hikes can affect the rich they can the poor. As well as the fact that welfare policies often have a great impact on the lives of those who earn less. It has been concluded at previous elections upon exit polls that around 86% of people who have an income of greater than $75,000 vote whereas only 52% of people with an income of lower than $15,000 participate. [7] Similarly as for education and income levels the elder the individual the more likely they are to participate until they exceed 65.

    Finally ethnicity appears to have been a key variable in deciding the percentage of people that abstain from voting in elections within the USA. Using information from the most recent Presidential election of 2012 it is apparent that an astronomical section of African Americans and Hispanics do not vote. Only 13% of African Americans and 10% of Hispanics voted[8] in this election, emphasising that they are not having their ideals reflected in policy and that they are not being motivated by the campaigns that are running from either candidate.Furthermore this questions the true democracy of the USA, as still it appears the white male dominates political proceedings.

    Finally alienating a section of the electorate (moderates) is the apparent movement from the Republican Party (GOP) further to the right, in part as a result of the publicity that Sarah Palin and Ron Paul have been paid in the last decade. This again was evident and very publicised in the aftermath of the 2012 election as it was seen to be the downfall of Mitt Romney’s campaign.With relation to welfare the Democrat Party was able to ridicule the Republican’s views on benefits and make out that they felt people on benefits were ‘deadbeats’. On immigration the GOP party were linked to mass deportation when in reality they wished to reduce immigration but not deport current immigrants legally residing in the USA.

    Finally alienating the majority of women in the electorate was their anti-big government stance. Therefore in retrospect to the aforementioned criteria much of the US population feel alienated and as a result are not participating at a great enough level to satisfy several scholars’ criteria of a democracy.It is important to acknowledge voter apathy occurs across the USA in both midterm and local elections too. In fact the voter apathy is at a higher level here than in the Presidential elections that occur every four years.

    This is despite the fact often local elections will have a greater impact on the day-to-day lives of the electorate. Evidence to support this in the context of this essay can be taken from the 2010 midterm elections, whereby only 40. 7% of the electorate participated. 9] It is thought that the reason for the poor turnouts is that these two forms of elections do not get any substantial media attention.

    Therefore there is no enthusiasm generated amongst the public that is comparable to the hype of the 2008 Presidential election that saw Barack Obama, the first black President, take office. Furthermore this consequently implies that the midterm elections are less important hence only the most politically active (Eg. Teas Party members) participate.However the 2010 midterms were the most expensive in US history as costs exceeded $4.

    2 billion. 10] There is a correlation for the turnout at Presidential elections and midterms that has been plotted on to a graph[11], here the correlation is positive as both turnouts rise and fall simultaneously. This suggests that within the American democracy there has always been a slightly greater urge for the electorate to participate in the media hyped Presidential elections. Michael P.

    McDonald however has stressed that “voter turnout is often considered an indicator of the health of a democracy”[12] therefore it leads back to the question is voter apathy preventing democracy from occurring.It could be suggested that the lack of participation on some accounts is because several of the public are content with the manner in which the country is being run and therefore don’t feel the need to vote, whereas somebody is far more motivated to act when it is change that they are acting for. In conclusion the cause of this lack of participation, in politics below the level of the Presidential election, is the restricted campaigning of the politicians and as a result the minute amount of media attention it receives.Funding has been deemed important hence the lifting of the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act in the early 2000s that had restricted the funding allowed by individuals to parties and politicians.

    This also backs the idea that voter apathy at this level of politics is due to a lack of funding because the government had hoped the changes to this act would lead to greater participation at the Presidential elections. This could suggest that the government’s attempts to reduce voter apathy are an acknowledgement that it is harming democracy within the USA.In hindsight to the evidence collected voter apathy is certainly apparent and on every level it is due to the alienation of the electorate, whether it be through a lack of knowledge or that they feel their vote is worthless. This does damage the democracy within America, as the decisions made by the participating electorate will not reflect the entire nation.

    However in many cases it is unfair to deem it purely the responsibility of the government to motivate the electorate, as often it is through laziness that some do not participate.Hence the decision not to vote is a decision, one be ignored. Despite criteria existing for a democracy to exist that relate to participation, it is important to acknowledge there are far more essentials that must be covered. Such as for politicians to fulfil their promises that had encouraged their supporters to vote for them once they are in office.

    Finally in relation to America’s democracy on an international scale, their self-imposed responsibility to spread democracy throughout the world is flawed in the lack of its existence in their own nation.

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