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Election 2000: Trend Toward Voter Apathy Expected to Continue

Aired November 2, 2000 - 2:10 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, come next Tuesday, plenty of voters will be AWOL from the voting booth. Turnout is expected to be mediocre at best. Why the apathy? We asked CNN's Garrick Utley to check into it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARRICK UTLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You want voter turnout? How about this: Citizens of Belgrade 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.

(on camera): The good news is that as many as 100 million Americans may vote on election day. The bad news is that they will constitute barely half, if that, of the eligible voters. To which the puzzling question is, of course: Why?

(voice-over): Some point to four years ago, when only 49 percent of eligible voters voted, and see that as a continuation of the decline, which began in the 1970s.

But look at this: In 1932, when the nation was deep in depression and crisis, the turnout that elected Franklin Roosevelt was only 52 1/2 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.

CURTIS GANS, CMTE. FOR THE STUDY OF THE AMER. ELECTORATE: 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 civically illiterate.

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

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE; I don't like it when the federal government tells us what to do.

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

(on camera): If the outcome of the election is uncertain, the pattern of who will vote is pretty well known. Voters will tend to be older rather than younger. The turnout will be higher among whites and African-Americans than among Latinos, and higher in some parts of the country than in others.

(voice-over): 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 Middle West, 55 percent. And the Middle West has held that lead for decades.

So how many voters will the candidates attract this time?

GANS: What I expect to see on November 7th is a turnout about the level of what it was in '96, which was 49 percent of eligibles, the lowest turnout since 1924 and the second lowest since 1824.

UTLEY: Which says so much, and so little, about the vote.

Garrick Utley, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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