Explain why voter turnout has been declining in the past half of the century and why voter turnout in presidential years is higher than that in midterm elections.

Essay by hobbCollege, UndergraduateA+, January 2004

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Voter Turnout in Federal Elections

In the past half of the twentieth century, researchers observed a decline in the voter turnout in federal elections. It has also been observed that the voter turnout has been higher in presidential elections than in midterm elections. The main factors of the declines are the citizens' negative public attitudes and the widespread political "apathy". On the other hand, the difference between presidential and midterm election voter turnout was caused by what I call the "media effect", which is explained in the essay, and also Kernell's theory. One of the main factors of federal vote turnout decline is the negative public attitudes toward the performance of the politicians and political institutions involved in federal politics. The objects of perceived public displeasure run the complete gamut of personnel and institutions, but when asked, people most prominently mention "politicians" and "the government", general terms which indicate the broad nature of the attitudes people ascribe to others.

These negative attitudes are not necessarily personally held by respondents who voted in the election. However, it is likely that these feelings are fairly widespread. The lodestones of discontent are politicians and the government. There is a widespread perception that politicians are untrustworthy, selfish, unaccountable, lack credibility, are not true to their word, etc. Similarly, the government, sometimes imagined with a capital "G" and sometimes without, betrays the people's trust, and accomplishes little. Candidates are also mentioned frequently, because as one might expect, they are perceived to have the same faults as "politicians". Political parties are singled out as well, because some attributed the lowered voting rate to the difficulties people might have in finding any good choices, or in distinguishing between the parties that do exist. Potential voters have difficulty in relating to the issues brought forward by the parties...