Some people in America don’t take part in politics, mainly because they are not able to, they didn’t care to do so, or they were never informed (Brady et al. 1995, 271). Each of these aspects takes into consideration the limitations people have for not participating in political activities. For unavailability, there are resources needed to take part in political activities: civic skills, time, and money. These resources, developed in non-political institutions, affect political action and will have a substantial justification of the origin of differences in involvement within different groups.
Brady (2015) and his colleagues move away from the SES model and include the role of resources to find out the role of political activity. The SES (Socioeconomic Status) model explains politic activity based on education, income, and population. This model follows the stratification theory, which proposes that “class and status hierarchies are fundamental features of modern industrial societies that often determine their politics (Brady et al. 1995, 271). It also predicts political participation, but it fails to identify the connection social and political activity.
Civic skills are those communications and organization capacities that are so essential to political activities. To acquire civic skills, a person needs to learn them early, especially during the school-formation age. Although every one can gain these skills, people with higher socioeconomic status are at more advantage. People with better education tend to have better writing and public speaking skills and are better organizing with other people. Employment and involvement in organizations, such as church, can help further exercise their civic skills. Even though all people are likely to obtain employment during their adulthood, those who receive a higher education are more likely to use their civic skills in their workplace. They are also more likely to join organizations, reinforcing the notion that they are better equipped to follow political activity. However, a church involvement setting can potentially diminish the need to consider education as a factor to develop civic skills. Like employment, all people can join a religious organization no matter their salary or educational level. Anyone can potentially become a church leader, helping those who are unable to further their civic skills in their employment gain them with their church.
People can use their time to participate in politics by working in campaigns, attend public meetings and calling their representatives advocating for an important issue. The absence of political interest has to when they do not care whether they contribute to the political process and feel they do not make an impact by participating. An individual has to have the political awareness to commit to political activities. The degree of civic skills an individual has gained can benefit when they choose to get involved in time-based activities– such as campaign work– and to vote. Better educated people are exposed to political activities during their classes or school clubs from a young age. Therefore, they develop the interest and are the involved in time-based activities. Free time is also a crucial element because socioeconomic status does not induce the amount. If people do become involved with politics, it would be during their free time, after they finish their job, school, household among other activities. It will also matter if they have children and other constrictions because it would diminish the amount of free time available in their daily routines.
As for money can be used to support candidates, or a specific cause or group. However, time can often be more limited because it is not as flexible as money. There is a limit of hours during the day, whereas money, which can also be a hardship, could be acquired and saved for a later time. There is the assumption that the ones who can contribute monetary donations for political activities must have money to do so, implying that the wealthy are the only ones capable of doing so. In other to have money, education is a crucial factor. Those who have better educational opportunities are more likely to obtain better-paid jobs. Consequently, they are more prone to donate whereas someone who has lower socioeconomic status cannot do so.
There are gaps in political participation among many ethnic groups in the U.S. Although they have limitations, they choose to participate in politics when they feel their contribution could have an impact in politics. By prioritizing empowerment, minorities use it as a central element for voter turnout. The empowerment theory “sees individual-level response to political representation and/or influence as the mechanism linking co-ethnic politicians or jurisdiction composition to participation” (Fraga 2015, 3). It then prioritizes empowerment as a critical determinant of voter turnout for minorities. The elite mobilization theory refers to election seeking politicians playing a vital position in the process of influencing individual involvement. Their response to the demographic structure of their constituents could encourage a change in voter turnout. As a result, they might be successful in increasing voter-turnout for their co-ethnic voters.
There could be a mixture of the empowerment and the elite-mobilization theories that can help to clarify how race impacts voter turnout. Race is likely to be a salient factor when distinguishing candidates and studies have shown that voters often prefer to vote for co-ethnic candidates. Voters are more likely to turn out when their ethnic group is the majority demographic in their constituencies, as well as when a co-ethnic candidate is running for office. Black and Latino voters are more likely to vote when there is a majority of their ethnic groups in their districts (9). An increase in turnout of Black and Latino populations can be associated with the proportion of their population, though no co-ethnic candidates are running for office. It does not matter if a co-ethnic candidate is on the ballot because the size of the ethnic population will result from the potential turnout rate.
André Blais presents different methods that ultimately help understand voter turnout rates in other institutional models. They can include compulsory voting, electoral systems, party systems, among others (Blais). With compulsory voting, the turnout rate does increase, but there is no way to determine with exactitude to what degree the law needs strict. There are questions regarding what other factors, such as punishments, can motivate voters to go to the polls on their own. Some countries do include penalties such as small fines or prison sentences, yet there is no measure to find out how harsh it needs to be to create an overall change. By taking into account rational choice, the motivation behind voting should change as there is a potential risk of being fined if the voter does not abide by the law.
Systems with nationally competitive districts have higher turnout because of places with larger districts. Therefore, political parties have a motivation to mobilize for votes (114). Several studies done in established democracies have confirmed turnout is higher in proportional representation districts, except in the case of Latin America, where no connections were recognized. Others research mixed well-known and non-established democratic countries. They concluded that a country’s electoral system has a small outcome. Blais states there are two possible explanations based on the research’s different results. On the positive side, proportional representation does increases turnout, except Latin America. He instead favors that there is no connection between an electoral system and participation when considering countries outside Europe.
The findings of the impact of unicameralism for turnout is divided. Blais explains that there are studies showing turnout is higher in countries where power is concentrated in one legislature. When there are two chambers, there is a share of power between each house and then when the constituents are voting it would matter if there was a stronger unified chamber instead of one weak and one strong. However, there are other findings which suggest there is no effect, or that turnout is lower in places where the presidents are directly chosen (114). He suggests the that there needs to be a study focused on the amount of power of the lower houses because the existing research has not done enough to prove the relationship between turnout and the type of institutional government.
Two institutional factors that affect turnout are voting age and the facilitation of voting. We would expect that there would be more people voting as they turn older. Nevertheless, research shows that in places where the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18, the turnout rate has decreased three percent (115). Other voting methods, such as voting by mail or having the election on a weekend or holiday, increases the chance of a higher turnout rate. Because people will have a more accessible time voting, they will not have as many excuses not to vote. However, while it’s known for its impact on voter activity, there needs to be more research as to where are these methods implemented. It is more likely that they are applied in places where voter turnout is declining or in low proportions. There is the importance to determine which of these methods work, yet there is not enough data to verify their use can foresee an alteration in voter dynamics over time.
Socioeconomic status can produce a substantial impact on voting activity. Countries with a higher economic status tend to have higher voter turnout. A change in a country’s economy could also foretell whether turnout will increase or decrease. Economic adversity could affect turnout in two ways; it could either organize people to demand a change or it could lead them to not participating at all (117). In other instances, a higher level of turnout is seen in smaller countries and places with smaller communities, too. However, turnout is continuously lower in poorer countries. Although Blais believes that this surge would be because of stronger groups in smaller communities, this is not yet proven because of “the absence of the correlation between turnout and urbanization” (117). Voters may also feel that their vote matters more because the population is lower. It could also be the case that since smaller countries have fewer constituents per elected candidates, it is easier for political parties and other interested parties to mobilize people to vote.
The initial response to turnout and number of present parties would be that because voters have more options to chose from, the turnout rate would be higher. They would be able to find a party whose platform stands for the individual’s belief. The voter would not have to settle to choose a party they do not agree with because of lack of available choices. Therefore, it could also call for a more significant constituency movement. Blais rejects the idea that by having more parties, their turnout would increase. He claims “almost all empirical research has found a negative correlation between the number of parties and turnout” (118). He. The results suggest people are less motivated to vote when there are more parties present. Party mobilization does not have a significant influence either. Also, turnout rates are not higher in elections that produce single-party governments (118). Proportionate representation does increase the number of parties, but it yet unknown how it affects turnout.
The Columbia Studies, conducted by Paul Lazarsfeld, focused on using survey research to study voter behavior (Bartels 2004, 240). Lazarsfeld and his team surveyed 600 voters in a single community in Erie County, Ohio. They repeated the test seven times during the 1940 presidential campaign, “mixing new and repeated questions in each successive interview, and adding fresh cross-sections to serve as baselines for assessing the effects of repeated interviewing on the respondents on the main panel” (240). In 1948, the team developed a second study, this time in Elmira, New York. They followed each study with two books: in The People’s Choice: How the Voter Makes Up His Mind in a Presidential Campaign in 1944 and Voting: A Study of Opinion Formation in a Presidential Campaign in 1954. Though both books contributed to the study of electoral behavior, Voting focused on political aspects and the role of political issues. The Columbia studies were meant to measure alterations in vote intentions during a presidential campaign. First, people tend to vote as they and their families always have. By their 1948 study, the team found that voters’ decisions also emphasized their groups involving religion, their workplace, and social acquaintances. They found that voters often ignored their chosen candidate’s points when they did not align with theirs.
The American Voter is one of the most important books in the political science field focused on voting behavior theory. It focuses on the “Michigan Model,” also known as the Early Socialization and Cognitive Consistency Model,” based on research explaining voting behavior regarding a voter’s psychological attachment to a party (Bartels 242; Lau and Redlwask 2006, 10). In October of 1948, Angus Campbell and Robert Kahn directed a national survey to find out foreign policy attitudes (242). They asked respondents whether or not they intended to vote in the next presidential election during the fall term. In contrast to the Columbia studies, their research used national samples, thus expanding the geographic coverage, but only did two respondent interviews, one before and one after the elections. They continued to do the surveys and compared the result for the presidential elections of 1952 and 1956.
The Michigan team introduced far-reaching changes in the conceptualization of the voting process. By its national study of 1948, those researchers felt that social group memberships have some direct impact on the voting decision. Party identification is thought of as a stable attitude that develops early in life (Bartels 2008, 243). Individuals who use this model are knowledge enough about policy issues and make the connections. Both issue orientation and candidate orientation depend on the context of a particular election. Issue orientation refers to individuals’ involvement in issues they perceive as being affected by the outcome of an election. Self-identification does not change, and party identification remains stable. The data also suggest that individuals who know enough about policy issues and make connections use this model. By the 1970s, revisionists declared their findings were no longer valid, explaining that political issues override political identification demonstrated by a shift during the 1950s (Bartels 2008, 245). To verify their previous findings, the Michigan team conducted their surveys again several time to see whether party attachments remained same as in the 1950s. They found a stabilized preference that was relatively similar to their previous results.
The “Rational Choice model” sees the voter as carefully evaluating the pros and cons of each party or candidate, assessing its utility and proximity to the voter’s position and then voting for the closest or most useful party and/or candidate. This model indicates that if a voter has acquired a suitable set of information, he can make good, rational choices. People are somewhat aware of the political climate most of the time. While the rational choice model seems like the most ideal, it is not realistic. Even though the voter has to obtain as much information as possible to make an educated decision, they might be wrong in their calculations.
There are two rational choice models: constrained and unconstrained (Lau and Redlawsk 2006, 6). The unconstrained model refers to when an individual can analyze the candidates and their policies and carefully choose which of them he agrees with. The individual believes that the more information he has, he will be able to make an informed decision that could benefit themselves. On the other hand, in the constrained model, voters do not have the same rational capabilities as in the unconstrained model, making it harder to analyze the information because they understand it takes a vast amount of time to gather and evaluate the information. However, they might not have the time to do so, or would rather do something they consider more important. They also would not mind which political party wins as long as its going to advocate on the issues they care about. Both rational choice models assume individuals knowingly and contemplating the positive and negative results from their decisions.
The “Fast and Frugal Decision Making” model has the voter base their decisions based on a small number of essential conditions. They actively gather the amount of necessary information that focuses on their specific needs and do not care about the rest. They do not spend a lot of time analyzing the data and usually make decisions in less time than the voters from the previous models. Also, they do not determine which candidate to support based on their political party. Instead, they have an open mind and give them a chance to cover their issues. Although these voters usually are recognized as single-issue voters, they have a secondary condition in case their primary issue cannot help them reach a decision (12). However, they may include eliminating factors they won’t stand for, even if they agree with the candidate.
The “Bounded Rationality and Decision Making” model’s voters– also known as intuitive decision voters– make their choices depending on heuristics, stereotypes, and emotions. They seek only enough information to reach a decision and rely on their impressions to make it. Essentially, they have two main incentives: to make the right decision and to let it be easy (14). If they do considered consequences, it would only matter how important the decision is to the individual. For some voters, their primary concern is the easiness of achieving the decision. Because of their limited cognitive skills, this model exemplifies that sometimes the only option for these voters to take when reaching a decision.
As stated in the previous sections, most of Americans do not care about politics. Political candidates and other groups get involved in campaigns to mobilize the vote. It is often asked if campaigns do in fact matter. Gary Jacobson (2015) research confirms that they matter some of the time. However, the purpose of his research was not to corroborate this argument, but to find out where, when, for what, and for whom they matter” (Jacobson 2015, 32). To study campaign effects, there needs to be research on political campaign case studies, observational data on campaign activities and their effects, experiments, and other types of studies. As the information is available, researchers can study its results and compare it to further explore this area. A campaign’s purpose is to mobilize individuals to vote when they otherwise would not and make the choice they consider is right. They test the ideas of how campaigns have an effect on voters by shaping their opinions and views.
There are mixed opinions on whether or not campaigns matter during a presidential election. A study conducted by Lazarsfeld came to the conclusion that presidential campaigns have a small influence on voting choices, determined by experiences between elections and party followers. Another study stated that the electorate results could be projected with factors such as the economy, the spread of partisanship in the constituency and the candidate’s ideology spectrum, before the election (Jacobson 2015, 23). If this is the case, then only the factors would matter, and not the campaign. Several other studies focused on the idea of that campaigns are necessary for the fundamental factors to take place. Campaigns can inform voters on the economy and their party’s ideology and agenda while trying to win their support.
According to Jacobsen, all presidential campaigns use advertising and other available methods to reach their voter pool. Television ads is one of the most crucial ways to win voters.