American democracy has received acclaim over the years and over time spreading and becoming the most recognized form of governance. American democracy has however enjoyed mixed fortunes. While proponents have argued that it still remains the best system of governance in this age, critics have continued to question whether American democracy really works as it is supposed to with many highlighting the shortcomings that have plagued the nation’s model of governance. Among the many issues that have consistently founded debate on American democracy is the issue of voter turnout. The fact that United States has lower turnout than many other democracies globally is a factor that has contributed to the strong criticism against democracy as seen in United States. Such critics have included some of America’s foremost thinkers on political and social issues. In commenting on the American democracy for instance, Alan Wolfe in his book “Does American Democracy Still Work” captures the issue of voter turnout as one of the reasons that he faults the working of American democracy. Wolfe cites the fact that over the years, the American populace has continued to show reduced voter turnout bringing into sharp focus the actual significance of the meaning of democracy in American context. This has led to some critics questioning the extent of election providing effective representation as envisaged in the American democracy model considering the basic definition of a democracy as a form of governance where individuals freely participate in elections to determine who governs them through selection of representatives by the majority. The basic assumption in a democracy is that the majority’s decision represents the wishes of the nation. However, with the failure by Americans who are legible to vote voting in elections, recent laws such as Georgia laws that require persons to posse’s driver’s license or equivalent in order to participate in voting and failure by many Americans to exercise their voting rights being some of the issues that Wolf posits are major factors undermining American democracy. An analysis of presidential elections in 1988, 1996 and 2004 offer a glimpse into the voter’s behaviors and trends that shape American democracy.
Voter turnout in the United States in 1988 presidential elections represented an aggregate of merely 50.1% of eligible voters. This turnout was lower even by standards of American presidential elections. The voter turnout was marked by voter abstinence that markedly influenced the results of the elections. The 1998 elections pitted presidential contenders in the two party system that included Republicans George bush and Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis. The effect of the absenteeism effectively affected the outcome of the elections with George bush benefiting from the outcome and Dukakis losing in the election. The election was a pointer to the challenges of democracy where such a factor as a dismal turnout in election results to an outcome that is far from being representative of the average citizen’s preferences. The preferences of abstainers in this case were mostly democratic and therefore dissimilar to the winning Republican Party and thus resulting to the common assertion that a higher turnout would have resulted to Dukakis win. The fact that democrats were more likely to abstain from voting than republicans further augment the assertion and points out the effect of abstinence on preference of elected officials. Among the sociological factors that have been attributed to lower voter turnout is socio-economic status which has been found to be related to propensity to vote and education levels. The fact that Democratic Party has often been associated with individuals of lower socio economic status such as black Americans, Hispanics and minority groups who are often more significantly represented among the poor populations lend to the wide believe that the 1988 democratic supporters represented the larger portion of the population that abstained from voting. Education attainment for instance has been found to have a positive correlation with voter turnout with individuals with higher levels of education abstaining from voting far much less. Demographic factors such as age and sex have also been found to be factors that are crucial in determiningg whether a citizenry engages in voting or not. Younger persons often are less engaged politically and further considering previous voting patterns, this might have affected Dukakis chances of winning. Psychological reasons such as expectations of individuals based on opinion polls also had a bearing on the election turnout. In this regard persons who believed that the elections reults may be lopsided were more likely to have abstained from voting compared to persons who thought that the election outcome would be close. Political factors that were crucial in affecting turnout include policy based effects in the 1988 elections thereby affecting voter turnout. Legal reasons were also major factors in determining turnout. For instance, nearly fifty two percent of the Latino population failed to vote in the 1988 elections since they were in the United States illegally. The voting model that best exemplifies the 1988 elections is the retrospective model, which asserts that voters use retrospective assessments to determine future candidates. While both Bush and Dukaki were both not incumbents for the seats, the strong performance by the former republican president Reagan played a larger role in enhancing the performance of George bush in the elections. For instance, voters were more likely support the incumbent party asking why they would wish to change the Republican Party while the larger population overwhelmingly found Reagan’s party to have been successful in running the country’s affairs considering the prosperity and general peace during his reign. Still, demographic factors and especially the non-participation of large populations of black Americans and Hispanics possibly had a bearing in shaping the outcome of the elections.
In the 1996 elections voter turnout was 49.1% of the voting age population, which while it was lower than in 1988 and subsequent elections in 1992. The average turnout was also lower than normal election turnout in most democracies. Among factors that influenced the outcome of the elections include psychological, sociological and political factors. Various models of voting behavior that have identified how individuals form voting decisions including the sociological model, rational choice model and social psychological model are crucial in explain the behavior of voters and this may also aid in explaining peoples reasons for participation in elections and selecting certain leaders. Sociological model theory is especially valuable in explain the election results in 1996. The model identifies group-level characteristics as crucial in determining voting patterns. Such issues as religion, socio-economic status, place of residence among other factors play a large role in and determining the outcome of elections. These factors were present as demographic factors and socio economic factors in the re-election of Bill Clinton as president of the United States. Based on the outcome of the election, the voting model that best explains the voting is the retrospective model since Clinton benefited mostly from the economy which had rebounded from recession and the stability in the world stage. The results from the election saw Bill Clinton winning in both Electoral College and popular vote by substantial margins. The model was also supported by voters concentrating on the past performance and less on complex issues as certainly occurs in retrospective model pattern of voting.. Demographic factors evidently played a major role in the elections. For instance, the three candidate’s supporters differed demographically. Statistics from the elections indicate that men and women voting patterns differed across the three candidates. While the republican candidate Dole secured 45% of men’s vote and only 38% of women’s vote, Clinton managed nearly similar votes at 45% among men and scored higher among women by securing 55% of the women’s votes cast. Perot managed 10 and 7 per cent of men and women’s votes respectively. Racial grouping was also a crucial factor with the democratic candidate securing more votes amongst blacks and Hispanics at 84 and 73 percent respectively compared to 12 and 21 per cent of the votes for the republican candidate. Age further played a role in the election outcome with the Clinton securing wider support from younger adults while closely outscoring Dole by lesser percentages among middle aged electorate. Income, political philosophies, ideologies among other factors contributed to Clinton’s successful outcome in the elections.
The 2004 voter turnout was marked by an increase in the aggregate voter turnout to an average of 55.3. This was seen as a rebound of the participation in elections by the electorate. The 2004 elections pitted bush against AlGore with certain issues such as environmental issues among others taking a central role. The 2004 voter turnout was marked with high turnout occasioned by electoral competition model where each party aimed at taking the most popular positions with voters expected to vote based on issues. The competitive nature of the elections was attributed to the many issues that were elicited during the campaigns. The risk that occasion electoral competencies especially in raising campaign funds through use if special groups were a factor that endangers democracy and this was evident in the 2004 elections.
In the three case studies, certain features remained pervasive in the voting patterns. For instance, voting patterns among different demographics such as black Americans and minority ethnic groups supported Democratic Party in all the elections. Voter turnout also was consistent in regard to socio economic status with lower socio-economic status being associated with apathy for voting. However, the increase in voter turnout over the years has suggested that efforts at informing the electorate about the need to participate in elections may be bearing results. Over this period various interest groups have attempted to increase voter’s awareness about the need for participation although this may not entirely be regarded as the main reason for the increased voter turnout. The possibility that other factor such as competitiveness and risk of candidate losing have played a role in spurring voter turnout is a reality. Differences in voter turnout between the three years highlighted include an increased turnout especially among the minority groups and persons who have been considered to largely represent the larger populations of persons in lower social economic status such as Hispanics and black Americans over the years. The effect of lower turn out cannot certainly be underestimated. The risk that a population may get representatives who are not the least reflective of the will of the popular majority is a factor that has continued to dodge the legitimacy of presidents elected by a smaller part of the population especially with lower voter turnouts over the years. Still, the fact that the electorate is becoming dillusioned with governments management over the years continue to place a risk in future increase in voter turnout thereby denting the possibility of increasing voter turnout. Further evident lack of clear ideological differences among parties over many issues may contribute to a citizenry that is less serious in seeking to elect their own representatives especially with economic factors becoming the main issues that the electorate finds to be of concern.