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American Voter Turnout in Comparative Perspective

G. Bingham Powell, Jr.
The American Political Science Review
Vol. 80, No. 1 (Mar., 1986), pp. 17-43
DOI: 10.2307/1957082
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1957082
Page Count: 27
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American Voter Turnout in Comparative Perspective
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Abstract

Despite relatively favorable citizen attitudes, voter turnout in American national elections is far below the average of 80% of the eligible electorate that votes in other industrialized democracies. The American institutional setting--particularly the party system and the registration laws--severely inhibits voter turnout, and probably also accounts for the unusual degree to which education and other socioeconomic resources are directly linked to voting participation in the United States. Using a combination of aggregate and comparative survey data, the present analysis suggests that in comparative perspective, turnout in the United States is advantaged about 5% by political attitudes, but disadvantaged 13% by the party system and institutional factors, and up to 14% by the registration laws. The experience of other democracies suggests that encouraging voter participation would contribute to channeling discontent through the electoral process. Even a significantly expanded American electorate would be more interested and involved in political activity than are present voters in most other democracies.

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