The Disappearing American Voter

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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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"With great clarity and insight, Ruy Teixeira tells us why Americans don't vote,and lays waste to much conventional wisdom in the process." —Richard Morin, The Washington Post

"Ruy Teixeira has produced a well-written, thoughtful analysis of the decline in voter participation in America. The Disappearing Voter will be a valuable reference for all those who seek to address the problem." —Curtis B. Gans, Committee for the Study of the American Electorate

"A splendid new book. Teixeira has though long and deeply about the decline in turnout in American elections and what can be done to change it. The results is a masterful effort with important and sound advice to the country." —John H. Aldrich, Duke University

"This book is a fine piece of work. Its conclusions are well supported; its methodology is sound; and it is well written." —Richard A. Brody, Stanford University

"This is a very solid and professional piece of work in an area loaded with both data and interpretative minefields. It gives an excellent overview of the problem and proposals for it amelioration, and likely to rank among the best book-length treatments of the subject to appear with in the last decade." —Walter Dean Burnham, University of Texas at Austin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815783039
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1992
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 242
  • Sales rank: 1,046,514
  • Lexile: 1580L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.97 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

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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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Ch. 1 Why Is American Voter Turnout So Low? 5
How Low Is American Voter Turnout? 5
Explaining Cross-National and Historical Variation in Turnout 10
Relative Weight of Factors Explaining Low American Voter Turnout 21
Conclusion 23
Ch. 2 Why Is American Voter Turnout Going Down? 24
How Serious Is the Decline in American Voter Turnout? 24
Explaining the Decline in Turnout since 1960 28
Changes in the Voter Registration System 29
Conclusion 56
Ch. 3 A Class Bias in American Politics? 58
Who Is Not Voting? 58
Does Nonvoting Make a Difference? 86
Should We Care about Nonvoting? 101
Conclusion 104
Ch. 4 Making Voting Easier: Registration Reform and Other Possibilities 106
Registration Reform and Voter Turnout 106
Registration Reform and Current Policy 126
Political Effects of Registration Reform 137
Other Approaches to Cutting the Costs of Voting 143
Conclusion 146
Ch. 5 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
Appendix A: Data Sets Used in the Study 186
Appendix B: Modeling and Estimation Procedures 192
Appendix C: Question Wording for Variables and Coding Decisions 208
References 231
Index 239
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