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Lecture 3

POLS 1101 Lecture 3: Elections

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Political Science
POLS 1101
Tony Madonna

Elections POLS 1101 The Logic of Elections • American democracy is representative democracy • Madison emphasized the main differences between a democracy and a republic o A larger group of people decide how they government functions in a democracy • Delegation of authority raises the possibility of agency loss o One solution is to hold regular, free, competitive elections • Elections work to ameliorate this problem: o They give ordinary citizens a say in who represents them o The prospect of future elections gives officeholders who want to keep or improve their jobs a motive to be responsive agents o Elections provide powerful incentives for the small set of citizens who want to replace the current officeholders to keep a close eye on representatives and to provide crtical evaluations of them to the public at large 5 Stages of Extending Suffrage and Consequences • First stage: Early 1800’s religious, property and tax qualifications begin to disappear in every State (universal white male suffrage by 1840s) o Only about half of the free adult male population was eligible to vote at the time the Constitution was adopted o Those in an advantaged position were not inclined to risk the social order, which helped them maintain their position o BUT: property requirements were not enforced strictly the Revolutionary War itself exerted a powerful influence on the demands to enlarge the franchise o The vote was not extended simultaneously (as it was left to individual states to decide who could vote), but as it was extended, opposition to extending it became a political liability: as the electorate expanded, it became political suicide to oppose more democracy o The property-less did not despoil the properties o The conformity cost most dreaded did not emerge • Second stage: 1870- 15th amendment prohibits voting restrictions based on race or color o Civil war amendments: Thirteenth (formal emancipation), Fourteenth (grated citizenship), Fifteenth (guaranteed the right to vote) o The fourteenth and fifteenth amendments did not prevent a century of racial discrimination at the polls. o Only the Voting Rights Act quickly and effectively achieved its goals • Third Stage: 1920-19th Amendment removes voting restrictions based on sex o The women’s suffrage movement grew directly out of the antislavery movement (and temperance movement) o The resistance to women’s suffrage was gradually overcome by a combination of social changes (increased education, more women in the workforce, political need) o Only southern Democrats held out to the end, fearing that inroads for women would reinforce federal support of suffrage for blacks Elections POLS 1101 o Women did not alter the nature of politics. Indeed, no distinctive pattern of women’s voting was evident until the 1980’s. • Fourth Stage: 1965- Voting Rights Act enforces racial equity at polling places o Jim Crow Laws in place in the South (white primary, poll tax, literacy tests, grandfather clauses to protect the poor and illiterate whites) o Anti-lynching laws stymied in Congress o Plessy v. Ferguson upholds “separate but equal doctrine” in 1896 o Civil Rights movement shifts from litigation (1940’s and 50’s) to mass protests (1960’s) • Fifth Stage: 1971-26th amendment sets the minimum voting age at 18 o Also politically motivated: Eighteen-year olds old enough to fight, therefore old enough to vote o The only discernible consequence was the decline in voting that occurred when the right was extended to eighteen-, nineteen-, and twenty-year-olds. Who Uses the Right to Vote? • Most of us agree that the right to vote is the very essence of democracy • Yet millions of Americans do not vote. Is this irrational? Paradoxical? o Not when you consider that the benefits of elections are collective benefits o People enjoy the payoffs even if they have not helped to produce them by voting o A single vote is not likely to make much of a difference. And voting is costly! o Makes sense to demand the right to vote. But rational not to use it. • Amazing outcome is that so many people actually do turn out to vote! o Freerider problems are overcome • Same logic applies to gathering information about the competing candidates and parties if a person chooses to vote. • They share of eligible voters who go to polls has varies widely over American history • The most important contemporary change was the sharp decline in voter turnout between 1960 and 1972: o Since then, an average of only about 58 percent of the eligible electorate has bothered to register and vote in presidential elections o Even the hotly contested 2008 race inspired a turnout of only about 61 percent • Age and education have the strongest influence on voting o African Americans and Hispanics are less likely to vote as are people who live in southern states or those that border southern states. o People with deeper roots in their community vote more often as do those with internal and external efficacy o Turnout is higher in areas where there are fewer barriers to registration • Turnout is higher among people with stronger partisan views and electoral preferences • If one lives in an area with more active parties and more competitive elections, there is also an increased probability of voting • In terms of gender, men and women are equally likely to turn out and vote. • The cynical and distrusting are as likely to vote as anyone else o Contradicts a popular explanation for the decline in participation- that it resulted from an increase in public cynicism and mistrust since 1960 Elections POLS 1101 • Voting and other forms of political participation incur costs but produce benefits • People participate when they can meet the costs and appreciate the benefits • Those with money, education, experience, free time, and self-confidence find it easier to meet the costs, while those with a greater psychological stake receive greater benefits • Voting therefore rational for those who derive personal satisfaction from going to the polls. Expressing themselves through voting typically outweighs the modest costs of casting a ballot • Differences in participation cannot be explained completely by individual differences in resources and psychological involvement, however. • Institutional contexts (variation in registration laws, for example) affect turnout as well. • Social circumstances also play a crucial part in stimulating turnout: o Social connections help with efficacy levels, information, and contact with activists. o Often people participate because they have been asked to do so. The Non-Representative Electorate • The assorted demographic and institutional influences on voting produce an electorate (the voting public) in which: o Wealthy, well-educated, older white people are overrepresented. o Poor, uneducated, young, and nonwhite people are underrepresented. • People like this are more likely to be mobilized by parties, interest groups, and campaigns: o They are targeted as the cheapest to reach and easiest to mobilize Variation in Turnout over Time • Earlier discussion focused on the factors that explain variations in participation among individuals, but what accounts for variations in turnout over time? • Puzzling: While voter registration laws have eased and education attainment has increased, why had voter turnout declined
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