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Voter Turnout and Why It Matters

Voting is a right most American adults have – but not everyone chooses to use.

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Voter turnout is seen as critically important for elections, but what influences people’s decision to go out and vote? The 2020 presidential election saw record-high voter numbers. Turnout for both registration and actual voting was very high, partly due to the adoption of widespread mail-in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The main point of presidential campaigns is to encourage Americans to vote for each candidate. High voter turnout means that many eligible voters exercised their right to vote in an election. Lower voter turnout is the opposite, where the number of voters is low.

What Affects Voter Turnout?

Many factors play a role in either increasing or decreasing voter turnout. Factors like the weather on Election Day, the number of polling stations in a county, and ease of voter registration all affect a population’s decision to go out and vote. Other variables like socioeconomic status, location, race, age, trust in government, participation costs, and identity requirements are considered to have a role in the likelihood of someone going out to vote.

Younger people with low socioeconomic status and a lack of education, especially living in states where it is more challenging to register and vote, are believed to have the lowest turnout rate. In contrast, older, wealthy, and educated voters appear to have the highest rates of turnout. Older voters typically have more time, are more likely to be affected by policies to do with Social Security and Medicare, and more often belong to social circles that discuss politics and voting than younger groups. Florida, which has a significant number of retired seniors living in the state, is in the upper end of voter turnout compared to other states, even though they request photo ID, which many argue lowers voter turnout.

To Vote or Not to Vote?

The right to vote is often called one of the greatest rights of Americans – the core way that ordinary citizens can help decide how the government is run. Many voters are against the idea of their fellow citizens not exercising their right to have a say in our government. However, a large portion of Americans simply choose not to vote. In the last 40 years of presidential elections, the turnout rate for eligible voters in the United States has never reached above 60%.

There are multiple reasons for why the average American decides not to go out and vote. Often times, they will find that choosing between the available candidates is more of a vote between the “lesser of two evils,” where they would prefer not to vote for either candidate due to a lack of enthusiasm. Some also believe voting to simply be useless, and that nothing in government changes no matter who they vote for. This thinking is called voter apathy and characterizes nonvoters who tend to believe the government is corrupt anyways, that their vote doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, or that politics means little in their lives. Citizens often don’t know or don’t care enough about politics to go through the steps of voting, or they may distrust the electoral system.

Lack of voter turnout in the country has prompted many Americans to question why voting is not mandatory or why Election Day isn’t a federal holiday, as in many other nations worldwide. Some countries have boosted voter turnout by making voting compulsory. Countries like Australia, Singapore, Peru, and others have passed voting laws that threaten fines or punishment if their citizens do not vote. Would this tactic be successful in America – or would it fail to address the key reasons why so many choose not to vote? For that matter, would the Constitution allow it?

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Jose Backer, General Assignment Reporter, is a graduate of St. Michael's College and is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Political Science. Born and raised in Southern California, he currently resides in the Pasadena area.

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