Political Participation and Election Results
Democracy in the United States has been defined as a government "of the people. by the people. and for the people" Accordingly. it would stand to reason that "the people" would actively participate in their government at any or all of four levels: (I) voting. (2) attending and taking part in political meetings, (3) actively participating in political campaigns, and (4) running for and or holding political office. At most, about 10 percent of the voting-age population in this country participates at a level higher than simply voting, and over the past 40 years, less than half of the voting-age population has voted in non presidential, elections. Even in presidential elections, voter turnout often is relatively low. In the 2008 presidential election. about 62 percent of the 208.3 million eligible voters cast ballots, compared with 60.6 percent in the 2004 presidential election.
The number of ballots cast in 2008 was the highest in history because about 6.5 million more people were registered to vote in 2008. The larger turnout in 2008 was partly a result of significant increases in voting by younger people, Latinos/as, and African American voters. Women's votes were also a significant factor in the election of Barack Obama because women strongly preferred Obama (56 percent) to John McCain (43 percent), whereas men split their votes almost evenly be- tween Obama (49 percent) and.McCain (48 percent). State-by-state differences in voting preferences are also highly visible in what political analysts refer to as the "red states" and the "blue states.Why is it that so many eligible voters in this country stay away from the polls? During any election, millions of voting-age persons do not go to the polls due to illness, disability, lack of transportation, non registration, or absenteeism. However, these explanations do not account for why many other people do not vote. According to some conservative analysts, people may not vote because they are satisfied with the status quo or because they are apathetic and uninformed-they lack an understanding of both public issues and the basic processes of government.
By contrast Liberals argue that people stay away from the polls because they feel alienated from politics at all levels of government=federal. state, and local-due to political corruption 'and intense peddling by special interests and large corporations. Participation in politics is influenced by gender, age, race/ethnicity. and. especially, socioeconomic status (SES). One explanation for the higher rates of political participation at higher SES levels is that advanced levels of education may give people a better understanding of government processes, a belief that they have more at stake in the political process, and greater economic resources to contribute to the process. Some studies suggest that during their college years, many people develop assumptions about political participation that continue throughout their lives.