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Low voter turnout expected on Election Day

NEW YORK (CNN) -- You want voter turnout? How about citizens of Belgrade recently storming their parliament building to throw out the government of Slobodan Milosevic, which had tried to steal the recent election. No voter apathy there.

 

But what about here in the United States? The get-out-the-
vote effort is in full swing. Political parties and other special interest groups are all trying to get people to do what they should want to do.

The good news is that as many as 100 million Americans are expected to vote on Election Day. The bad news is that they will constitute barely half, if that, of all eligible voters.

Some point to four years ago, when only 49 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, as part of a trend of declining participation that began in the 1970s.

 VIDEO
CNN's Jeff Flock reports on one man's attempt to get back the right to vote

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But history shows an uneven trend: In 1932, when the nation was deep in the Depression, the turnout that elected Franklin Roosevelt was only 52 percent. It was during the Cold War years, when a president's finger on the nuclear trigger got people's attention, that voter participation increased.

From 1952 through 1968 the turnout hovered around 60 percent or better. So why has it declined since then?

We hear many theories of how we as a nation have changed.

"Young people no longer study current events or get tested on them. A majority of young people are growing up in homes both of whose parents don't vote. A large majority don't discuss politics and a large minority are civicly illiterate," said Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.

If there is less civic education in schools and at home, there is also something else at work.

"Government plays less of a central role in the lives of Americans than it does in other countries where voter turnout is higher," Gans said. "So, there may be less of a sense of urgency to vote for a president among those who feel 'distanced' from their government."

If the outcome of the election is uncertain, the pattern of who will vote is a familiar one. Voters will tend to be older rather than younger, and the turnout will be higher among whites and African-Americans than Latinos.

In 1996, the turnout in the presidential race in the Northeast was 50 percent. In the South and West, it was 48 percent. In the Midwest -- which has held lead for decades -- turnout was 55 percent. So how many total voters will the candidates attract this time?

"What I expect to see on November is a turnout about the level of what it was in 1996, which was 49 percent of eligibles -- the lowest turnout since 1924 and the second lowest since 1824," said Gans.

Which says so much -- and so little -- about the vote.

 



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Thursday, November 2, 2000


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