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Political Participation

Instructional Objectives

1. Explain why the text believes that the description, the analysis, and the proposed remedy for low voter turnout rates in this country are off base.

2. Compare the way turnout statistics are tabulated for this country and for other countries, and explain the significance of these differences.

3. Describe how control of elections has shifted from the states to the federal government, and explain what effects this shift has had on blacks, women, and youth.

4. State both sides of the debate over whether voter turnout has declined over the past century, and describe those factors that tend to hold down voter turnout in this country.

5. Discuss those factors that appear to be associated with high or low political participation.

 Text Outline

I. A closer look at nonvoting

A. Alleged problem: low turnout compared to Europeans
1. But this compares registered voters to eligible adult populations.

B. Common explanation: voter apathy on election day

1. But the real problem is low registration rates

C. Proposed solution: get-out-the-vote drives

1. But this will not help those who are not registered

D. Apathy not the only cause of nonregistration

1. Costs here versus no costs in European countries where registration automatic

2. Motor-voter law of 1993 took effect in 1995-increased registration throughout the country

E. Voting is not the only way of participating

F. Important question is how different kinds of participation affect government

II. The rise of the American electorate

A. From state to federal control
1. Initially, states decided who could vote for which offices

2. This led to wide variation in federal elections

3. Congress has since reduced state prerogatives

a . 1842 law: House members elected by district

b. Suffrage to women

c. Suffrage to blacks

d. Suffrage to eighteen- to twenty-year-olds

e. Direct popular election of U.S. senators

4. Black voting rights

a. Fifteenth Amendment gutted by Supreme Court as not conferring a right to vote

b. Southern states then used evasive stratagems

(1) Literacy test

(2) Poll tax

(3) White primaries

(4) Grandfather clauses

(5) Intimidation of black voters

c. Most of these stratagems ruled out by Supreme Court

d. Major change with 1965 Voting Rights Act; black vote increases

5. Women's voting rights

a. Several western states permitted women to vote by 1915

b. Nineteenth Amendment ratified 1920

c. No dramatic changes in outcomes

6. Youth vote

a. Voting Rights Act of 1970

b. Twenty-sixth Amendment ratified 1971

c. Lower turnout; no particular party

7. National standards now govern most aspects of voter eligibility

8. Twenty-third Amendment ratified 1961, gave District of Columbia residents the right to vote in presidential elections

B. Voting turnout

1. Debate of declining percentages: two theories
a . Real decline as popular interest and party competition decreases

b. Apparent decline, induced in part by more honest ballot counts of today

(1) Parties once printed ballots

(2) Ballots cast in public

(3) Parties controlled counting

(4) Australian ballot began to be adopted in 1910

c. Most scholars see some real decline due to several causes:

(1) Registration more difficult-longer residency; educational qualifications; discrimination

(2) Continuing drop after 1960 cannot be explained according to Wilson but clearly political efficacy plays a role. Watergate, Vietnam, etc...

III. Who participates in politics?

A. Forms of participation
1 . Voting the commonest form of particpation, but 8 to 10 percent misreport it

2. Verba and Nie's six forms of participation

a. Inactives - People who rarely vote, do not get involved in organizations, and do not even talk much about politics. They account for about 22 percent of the population.

b. Voting specialists - People who vote but participate in little else politically. They tend not to have much schooling or income, and to be substantially older than the average person.

c. Campaigners - People who not only vote but like to get involved in campaign activities as well. The are better educated than the average voter, but what distinguishes them most is their interest in the conflicts of politics, their clear party identification, and their willingness to take strong positions.

d. Communalists - people who tend to reserve their energies for community activities of a nonpartisan kind. Their education and income are similar to those of campaigners.

e. Parochial participants - People who do not vote and stay out of election campaigns and civic associations, but who are willing to contact local officials about specific, often personal, problems.

f. Complete activists - An individual, usually outside government, who actively promotes a political party, philosophy, or issue he or she cares personally about.

B. The causes of participation

1. Those with schooling, or political information, more likely to vote

2. Churchgoers vote more

3. Men and women vote same rate

4. Race

a. Black participation lower than that of whites overall

b. But controlling for socioeconomic status higher than whites

5. Level of trust in government?

a. Studies show no correlation between distrust and not voting

6. Difficulty of registering?

a. As turnout has declined, registration barriers have been lowered

7. Several small factors decrease turnout

a . More youths, blacks, and other minorities in population, pushing down percent registered

b. Decreasing effectiveness of parties in mobilizing voters

c. Remaining impediments to registration

d. Voting compulsory in other nations

e. Possible feeling that elections do not matter

8. Democrats, Republicans fight over solutions

a . No one really knows who would be helped by increased turnout

b. Nonvoters tend to be poor, minority, or uneducated

c. But an increasing percentage of college graduates are also not voting

d. Hard to be sure that turnout efforts produce gains for either party: Jesse Jackson in 1984 increased registration of southern whites even more than southern blacks

C. The meaning of participation rates

1 . Americans vote less, but participate more
a. Other forms of activity becoming more common

b. Some forms more common here than in other countries

2. Americans elect more officials and have more elections

3. U.S. turnout rates heavily skewed to higher status persons

Important Terms

activist An individual, usually outside government, who actively promotes a political party, philosophy, or issue he or she cares personally about.

Australian ballot An election ballot of uniform size printed by the government and cast in secret.

campaigners According to Sidney Verba and Norman Nie, people who not only vote but like to get involved in campaign activities as well. The are better educated than the average voter, but what distinguishes them most is their interest in the conflicts of politics, their clear party identification, and their willingness to take strong positions.

communalists According to Sidney Verba and Norman Nie, people who tend to reserve their energies for community activities of a nonpartisan kind. Their education and income are similar to those of campaigners.

complete activists According to Sidney Verba and Norman Nie, people who are highly educated, have high incomes, and tend to be middle-aged rather than young or old. These people participate in all forms of politics and account for 11 percent of the population.

Fifteenth Amendment The constitutional amendment that guaranteed the right to vote regardless of race, color, or pervious condition of slavery.

grandfather clause A state law allowing people to vote, even if they did not meet legal requirements, if an ancestor had voted before 1867. The clause was used as a vehicle to enable poor and illiterate whites to vote while excluding blacks (who had no ancestor voting prior to 1867). Such clauses were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

inactives According to Sidney Verba and Norman Nie, people who rarely vote, do not get involved in organizations, and do not even talk much about politics. They account for about 22 percent of the population.

literacy test A state law requiring potential voters to demonstrate reading skills. The laws were frequently implemented in a discriminatory fashion to prevent otherwise qualified blacks from voting. These tests were suspended by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

motor-voter bill A law passed by Congress in 1993 that requires states to allow people to register to vote when applying for a driver's license and to provide registration through the mail and at some state offices that serve the disabled and provide public assistance. The law took effect in 1995.

Nineteenth Amendment An amendment to the Constitution allowing women the right to vote.

parochial participants According to Sidney Verba and Norman Nie, people who do not vote and stay out of election campaigns and civic associations, but who are willing to contact local officials about specific, often personal, problems.

poll tax A state tax paid prior to voting. The tax was designed to prevent blacks from voting since poor whites were usually exempted through a grandfather clause. Poll taxes have been made illegal.

registered voters People who are eligible to vote in an election and who have signed up with the government to vote.

Twenty-sixth Amendment The 1971 constitutional amendment that lowered the voting age in both state and federal elections to eighteen. Congress had attempted to achieve this goal through legislation, but the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had no authority to do so with respect to state elections.

Twenty-third Amendment The 1961 constitutional amendment permitting residents of Washington, D.C., to vote in presidential elections.

Voting Rights Act of 1965 The federal law that suspended the use of literacy tests in elections and authorized federal examiners to order the registration of blacks in states and counties where fewer than 50 percent of the voting-age population were registered or had voted in the last presidential election.

voting-age population The percentage of people in a country who are eligible to vote because they satisfy the minimum age requirement.

voting specialists According to Sidney Verba and Norman Nie, people who vote but participate in little else politically. They tend not to have much schooling or income, and to be substantially older than the average person.

white primary The exclusion of blacks from voting in the primary elections of political parties. Such primaries were employed largely in the South where the Democratic party won almost all general elections. In effect, winning the Democratic primary meant winning the election. The Supreme Court voided the use of white primaries.


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