A Carbon county voter casts his ballot during a past election. Now most ballots are cast on machines. Will the voter turnout on Nov. 2 be as high as it was in the last election? Previous experience with off year elections says no.
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 2004 presidential election had one of the heaviest turnouts in years, due largely to the race between George W. Bush and John Kerry.
In Utah at the time there were 1,661,350 people of voting age. Of that group 942,010 voted, which meant that 61.39 percent of the people that could have voted, did register and vote.
Off year elections (those not containing presidential voting) usually do not fare so well, except in localized areas where a hot issue or a race between two controversial candidates brings out the voters.
It's easy to tell the difference. Just two years before Bush and Kerry ran against each other (2002) President Bush was in control of the White House and at the time there were 1,504,529 people that could have voted in Utah. Of that only 557,153 voted for a percentage of 37.03 percent. And that percentage probably would have been lower if it hadn't been for a hot race in the third congressional district and some initiatives on the ballots in some countys that were controversial.
One has to wonder about the lack of interest in any election, but particularly off year elections. This 2010 version of final election voting on Nov. 2 may go either way. Most of the voting is for local officials, such as town councils, mayors and special service district board personnel. But the school voucher issue could send the numbers much higher that is normal too.
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 1940's 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.
What has not changed is how many people see themselves as liberals. In 1972 only one percent of the respondents saw themselves as extremely liberal; in 2002 it was only two percent. In fact the numbers of those that see themselves as liberal at all has changed only slightly since the early 1970's.
But on the conservative side, things have changed dramatically. In 1972, 27 percent of respondents saw themselves as middle of the roaders; by 2002 that group had dropped to 22 percent. Most of those that left the middle of the road did not become more liberal, they moved to a more conservative bent, with the group calling themselves solidly conservative doubling in the last 35 years from 10 percent of the respondents to 21 percent.
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.
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 state and local elections coming in November have only a little to do with national politics (other than the senate and house seats). They mostly have to do with what is known as grass roots America. While elections often waiver in strength during off election years, it is a well-known fact that the people who regulate the water and power, fix the streets, provide the recreation, make decisions on school operations and make the traffic laws in an area are the ones that affect people the most.
Putting ballots in the box (or punching it into a machine) is what it is all about, regardless of party affiliation, race, age or political stance.
The state and local elections are important for towns to thrive and survive.
Citizens should all work to get the ballots in the box.