Voting: A right everyone can live with
It's such an ingrained attribute of American government that many citizens just fail to do it.
It is the right to vote.
Do Americans take voting for granted?
By all accounts they probably do, particularly in off year elections when as some put it no one "really important" is running.
For instance the 2008 presidential election had one of the heaviest turnouts in years with Barack Obama running against John McCain. In that election there were 231,229,580 Americans of voting age in the country. Of that 56.8 percent (132,618,580) voted.
In Utah at the time there had 1.79 million adults age 18 or older who are citizens. Fewer than a third of them turned out to vote.
Off year elections (those not containing presidential voting) usually do not usually even fare this well except in localized areas where a hot issue or a race between two controversial candidates brings out the voters.
One has to wonder about the lack of interest in any election, but particularly off year elections like what will be going on Nov. 8. This 2011 version of final election voting may go either way. Most of the voting is for local officials, such as town councils, mayors and special service district board personnel.
Why are Americans prone not to vote at all and particularly in off year elections, when the offices closest to them, the ones that affect their daily lives the most are at stake.
These questions have been analyzed and studied for years by many different groups, but none as active as the American National Election Studies, an organization that has done statistical questioning since the late 1940s concerning American voters attitudes about everything from party choice to how much trust people have in the government.
NES conducts national surveys of the American electorate in presidential and midterm election years and carries out research and development work through pilot studies in odd-numbered years. In presidential election years, the study is conducted both before and after the election (that is, a pre/post-election study), while in congressional election years the study is conducted only after the election (a post-election study). Each election study addresses a wide range of substantive themes including: expectations about the election outcome; perceptions and evaluations of the major parties and their candidates; interest in the campaign; information about politics; partisanship; assessments of the relative importance of major problems facing the country; attention to campaign coverage in the mass media; feelings of political efficacy; political values; conservatism vs. liberalism; trust in government; political participation; vote choice; economic well being; positions on social welfare, economic, social, and civil rights issues; evaluations of a wide range of political figures and groups; detailed demographic information; and measures of religious affiliation and religiosity. Many of the interesting facts they have uncovered over the years are fascinating.
While the diversity of the American scene has grown over the years, groups like Hispanics, Asians and African Americans have always existed. Yet in the earliest years of the voter surveys over 90 percent of the respondents said they were white and the few that were different called themselves black.
By the time the civil rights movement was in full swing (early 1970's) the percentage of white respondents had dropped and other races were starting to note their ethnic background.. In the 1990's whites only made up 75 percent of the respondents.
The demographic of race has changed dramatically.
These days there seems to also be more emphasis on whether someone is liberal, moderate or conservative. It is often said that moderates make up the biggest ideological group in America, but according to a 2009 Gallup poll Conservatives apparently answered the call. That poll showed that 40 percent of Americans considered themselves either extremely conservative or conservative. Moderates came in with 36 percent while the liberals rang up only 21 percent of those responding.
Probably one of the most telling signs about the generally weak turnout in many elections concerns studies the NES has done on how responsive the government and elected officials are to the voters desires and wills. Americans as a whole have become a lot more cynical about whether voting one person or one party in will change things as far as responsiveness.
In 1964 surveys show that 65 percent of Americans believed elections changed whether officials listened to them or not. By 2002 this percentage had dropped to 51 percent.
Moreover the trust in government has also sagged, a direct correllation to those that are elected to run it. In an April 2010 Pew Poll, only 22 percent of citizens said they could "almost always or most of the time" trust the government to do the right thing or to tell them the truth about something.
In the same area the question was posed about if the government even listens to the people at all. In 1964, 32 percent of those surveyed thought that it did; by 2000 that percentage was down to 16 percent.
In both categories, the shifts in public sentiments about caring and listening had moved down the scale and while only around 20 percent thought the government responded to their views poorly, it is obvious that a credibility gap exists.
The elections coming in November have little to do with national politics. They have to do with what is known as grass roots America. While elections often waiver in strength during local elections, it is a well-known fact that the people who regulate the water and power, fix the streets, provide the recreation and make the traffic laws in a town are the ones that affect people the most.
Putting ballots in the box is what it is all about, regardless of party affiliation, race, age or political stance.
The local elections are important for towns to thrive and survive.
Citizens should all work to get the ballots in the box.