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The Vanishing Voter: Public Involvement in an Age of Uncertaintyby Thomas E Patterson
Synopses & Reviews
How can a country that preaches the importance of democracy to the world have such a perpetually low voter turnout? The Vanishing Voter is Thomas Patterson's authoritative, exhaustively researched answer to this complex question.
Patterson focuses on the disputed 2000 Bush-Gore election, in which only 51 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, and bases his conclusions on some 80,000 interviews with eligible voters from across the political and social spectrums. He explains — and takes issue with — accepted notions: that low voter turnout signals a citizenry satisfied with the state of the nation; that starting campaigns earlier would encourage voting; and that the electoral college provides proportionally correct voting power. He analyzes declining voter turnout against a backdrop of lower participation in all aspects of party politics, of shrinking audiences for political debate, and of often-discounted demographic shifts in the nation's population. He reveals the roles political parties, the media, and the candidates themselves have played in keeping people away from the polls and, finally, offers concrete, results-based suggestions for reversing the disturbing trends in our habits of voting.
Lucidly written and thought-provoking, The Vanishing Voter is certain to have a significant impact on the political consciousness of the country.
The disputed presidential election of 2000 highlighted a range of flaws in the American voting system, from ballot procedures to alleged voter intimidation to questions about the fairness of the Electoral College. But as Harvard University political scientist Thomas E. Patterson shows, one problem dwarfs all of these, a predicament that has been increasing since the 1960s and threatens the very foundations of our democracy: fewer and fewer Americans participate in elections. They are less likely to vote, less likely to contribute money to campaigns, and less likely to talk about candidates. They even are less likely to tune in the televised presidential debates.
In 1960, 63 percent of Americans voted in the presidential election; in 2000, only 51 percent did. In 1996, more Americans abstained than voted. This decline is surprising not only in itself-America, as our politicians never tire of telling us, is a standard-bearer for democracy-but also because it contradicts the received wisdom about voting patterns: the number of college graduates has risen, racial bars to voting have fallen, and registration laws have been simplified. Yet, even as the United States has made balloting easier and has produced more citizens who, judged by their educational achievements, should vote, the percentage of voters has decreased.
Patterson, whose landmark study "Out of Order examined the effects of media saturation on the democratic process, takes a clear-eyed look at this situation. Based on more than 80,000 interviews conducted during the 2000 presidential campaign, The Vanishing Voter reveals the political sources of voter discontent. Patterson explains the parts that changes in partisanpolitics, media coverage, candidate strategy, and electoral reform have played in discouraging voters from going to the polls. And he suggests specific remedies for repairing the process.
Thoughtful and timely, The Vanishing Voter contains a crucial message for all who care about democracy.
From the award-winning author of Out of Order—named the best political science book of the last decade by the American Political Science Association—comes this landmark book about why Americans dont vote.
Based on more than 80,000 interviews, The Vanishing Voter investigates why—despite a better educated citizenry, the end of racial barriers to voting, and simplified voter registration procedures—the percentage of voters has steadily decreased to the point that the United States now has nearly the lowest voting rate in the world. Patterson cites the blurring of differences between the political parties, the news medias negative bias, and flaws in the election system to explain this disturbing trend while suggesting specific reforms intended to bring Americans back to the polls. Astute, far-reaching, and impeccably researched, The Vanishing Voter engages the very meaning of our relationship to our government.
About the Author
Thomas E. Patterson is the Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard Universitys John F. Kennedy School of Government. For many years he taught at Syracuse University. He is the author of several other books on politics and the media, including Out of Order, which won the American Political Science Associations 2002 Doris Graber Award for the best book in the field of political communication, and The Unseeing Eye, which was named one of the fifty most influential books of the past half century in the field of public opinion by the American Association for Public Opinion Research. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.
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