Voting Behavior Term Paper

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Voting Behavior

Suffrage is an integral component of every American citizen's democratic rights and the law has given it top priority. But realities such as the difficulties encountered from the registration phase to the voting phase, emphasis on registration as a bureaucratic task, predispositions, election-specific forces and other determinants of participation have resulted in unclear and inconsistent pattern of voting behavior and inconclusive turnout and voting choices. Political scientists and thinkers have tried to sort the situation out through the use of models. Some argue that the electorate makes decisions either as a banker or a farmer, that aggregate forecasts are stronger than individual forecasts, that economic considerations always decide/d the outcome of an election or impacted it, that governments cannot predict the actions of consumers and firms under them despite these governments' dominance, and that economic intelligence guides lead voters to adopt the retrospective, rather than the prospective, view of the future in making their choices.

Voters Turnout and Electoral Forces in the U.S.

Studies have acknowledged that registration and administrative forces have created barriers to electorate participation, when both single and hybrid models of voter turnout have been used. The theory advanced by Rusk and Converse extends the hybrid approach and suggests that the legal-institutions properties of the electoral system -- ballot and registration, voting systems, suffrage requirements and suchlike -- have influenced and shaped voting behavior (Timpone 1998). From the registration phase alone, competing objectives coexist, such as preventing electoral fraud, making sure that all eligible voters are included in the list, supporting functions of the system, and providing credibility and legitimacy to the election exercise. The U.S. has traditionally given higher priority to minimizing or controlling corruption than to insuring fuller registration. On the part of the voters, this practice has merged with their individualism and distrust towards an intrusive government and resulted in their acceptance of a two-step process of electoral participation. They have come to accept that the individual has the responsibility to register and only then can he or she go to the polls and vote (Timpone).

While registering and voting have been linked acts and registering has become far less burdensome than in the past, these two have remained distinct (Timpone 1998). Registering has become more difficult than voting itself, as it requires a longer journey at a less convenient time just to complete a complicated procedure. The institutional requirement of first registering and then voting leads to a process wherein these two stages differ in place, time and kind. Voters cast their ballots at a polling place in their home precinct, which is seldom the same place where they previously registered. Before the passage of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, many States allowed mail registration and deputized registrars. While the requirement for a difficult journey has been eased in time, registering for or obtaining mail registration requires a separate trip or trips in several States under election-day registration systems. This condition has substantially affected voter turnout (Timpone).

The span of time between registering and voting has proved to be the strongest obstacle to registration (Timpone 1998). Presidential period has been viewed as a moment of national crisis (Tocqueville [1850] 1969 as qtd in Timpone), characterized by fervent efforts to enlist support, general campaigning and increased media emphasis that peak on election day. In order to prevent fraud and make administrative tasks easier, most States close registration records weeks before the opening of the pools, such as three weeks in advance.

In addition, filling out a registration form becomes more of an administrative and bureaucratic task than a political decision of which some people felt uncomfortable (Timpone 1998). Former President Clinton recognized this distinction in his remarks when signing the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 when he said that voting should be about discerning the will of the majority, not about testing the administrative capacity of a citizen. This difference in the nature of the two tasks and the temporal period during which they must be performed have been psychological determinants of each, since "registration does not usually provide the emotional gratification that voting does (Glass, Squire, and Wolfinger 1984 as qtd in Timpone).

Political attitudes linked to longer-term predispositions appear different from those specific to the election at hand (Timpone 1998). The more lasting attitudes found to be responsive to short-term factors are less likely to be more stable those linked to election-specific decisions and choices. These long-term predispositions are external efficacy, internal efficacy, party differential, the strength of party identification, and the level of trust in government. They are more closely related to registration, while election-specific attitudes are seen to have stronger influence on the decision to vote among those who registered. Paraphrasing, those with long-term predisposition are likelier to register than turnout. Those with little general attachment to politics in the U.S. are less likely to overcome the hurdle of registration. The length of time of a voter's residence draws substantial influence on registration. Other factors, such as marital status, dictate or determine how individual attributes interact with structural factors more than has been thought of. Some have argued that gender and racial differences in turnout could disappear when factors, like socioeconomic statues, were controlled. African-Americans, for example, were more inclined to register and less likely to go to the polls for the 1980 election probably because of fewer options among the candidates. Women are also more generally hindered from registering than men but those women who overcome this barrier are also more likely to vote, on account of resources like finances, civic skills, and time, which in turn, appear to differ among men and women.

Election-specific forces exerted substantial influence on electoral participation in the U.S., indicating the importance of politics in the act of political participation (Timpone 1998). Studies showed that the greater the perceived difference between the candidates, the greater the benefits of participation. The short-term mobilization effect of candidate differences was seen as the primary force that drove recent movers to register. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 made possible the registration of millions of new voters for the 1996 elections, which could fundamentally change registration trends in the U.S. Key determinants of participation, particularly long-term political attitudes and education, have played a much stronger role in registration than in actually going to the polls to vote. But disinterested chronic non-participants are still not likely to go to the polls just because barriers to registration have decreased.

How does the American voter behave or think when he makes political judgments on the handling of the economy? Findings show that the electorate decides with the sophistication of the banker in evaluating the president on its informed view of the nation's economic prospects, rather than its current standard of living (Mackuen et al. 1992). The traditional model in measuring presidential approval would be respond to current economic shocks and affect voter approval immediately, but the effects would deteriorate over time. But a second model would accumulate past and current economic shocks while considering the effects of past events, with the effects taking time before they decay. The difference between the traditional and the second models lies in the nature of the economic shock they intercept. The traditional model translates or perceives that economic shock as the realization of an economic change, while the second views it as the anticipation, at least partly. Under the latter, the electorate is foresighted and retrospective. When citizens are retrospective, their politics become grounded in reality, whether personally experienced or observed in others. When citizens decide or act based on expectations, they rely on an informed imagination. This shift or transformation from reality to imagination points to the role that information plays in politics. Under the new model, the potential of politicians' manipulating economic and political outcomes can be counteracted by checking these out with ensuing data, such as leading indicators. Secondly, the electorate could modify its approval according to a forecast that later proves wrong. Rational expectations can incorporate self-correction. And because the electorate is other than myopic, it cannot be easily fooled by short-term budgetary strategies since it is equipped with the necessary sophistication whereby it can consider and evaluate the motivations of political leaders (Mackuen et al.).

Although there is evidence of impressive economic intelligence of the U.S. electorate, this depends on the powers of aggregation among individual voters (Mackuen 1992). Individually, they exhibit no strong talent for economic forecasting or massive biases and random errors blot out whatever accuracy they have individually. But when these weak forecasts are merged or aggregated, however, the noise is ferreted out. The aggregated information evolves into something similar to the information acquired and processed by a large jury in reaching an accurate verdict in situations not achieved by many individual jurors. This choice of economic signal by the electorate guides it in its political decisions and judgments. Instead of judging retrospectively, based on economic conditions as they occur, voters react prospectively to economic probabilities. When politicians know that…[continue]

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