The Disappearing American Voter

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Brookings Institution Press, Oct 1, 2011 - Political Science - 262 pages

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.

 

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Contents

Why Is American Voter Turnout So Low?
5
Explaining CrossNational and Historical Variation in Turnout
10
Relative Weight of Factors Explaining Low American Voter Turnout
21
Conclusion
23
Why is American Voter Turnout Going Down?
24
Explaining the Decline in Turnout since 1960
28
Changes in the Voter Registration System
29
Conclusion
57
Political Effects of Registration Reform
137
Other Approaches to Cutting the Costs of Voting
143
Conclusion
146
Conclusion The Problem of Voter Motivation
148
General Approaches to Increasing Voter Motivation
150
Possible Methods for Reconnecting Americans to Politics
156
Political Reform and the Future of American Voter Turnout
182
Data Sets Used in Study
186

A Class Bias in American Politics?
58
Does Nonvoting Make a Difference?
86
Should We Care about Nonvoting?
101
Conclusion
104
Making Voting Easier Registration Reform and Other Possibilities
106
Registration Reform and Current Policy
126
Modeling and Estimation Procedures
192
Question Wording for Variables and Coding Decisions
208
References
231
Index
239
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About the author (2011)

Ruy A Teixeira is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress, as well as a fellow of the New Politics Institute. He is the coauthor, with John B. Judis, of The Emerging Democratic Majority, selected by the Economist as one of the best books of 1992. He is also the coauthor, with Joel Rogers, of America's Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters (Brookings, 2001).

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