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VOTER PARTICIPATION REPORT
by Michael Hodges - email
(updated November. 2002)
- a chapter of the Grandfather Economic Reports -

modern voting machine

40-YEAR DECLINE IN PERCENTAGE VOTING IN ELECTIONS

24 million more citizens stayed home during the 2000 national election,
compared to the 1960 voting ratio -

And -
the 2000 Presidential election appeared like America is two nations, not one,
as major population centers nearly overwhelmed the diversity of the rest of the nation.

A clear signal that today's political leaders have insufficient legitimacy or citizen trust,
compared to the past and to that intended by our nation's founding forefathers.

Downsizing government dominance and increasing citizen trust are indicated.

Was the 2002 off-year election an anomaly, or foretelling something new?

The Grandfather Economic Reports is a series of picture reports of threats to the economic future and freedom of families and their children compared to prior generations, on issues such as government size, debt, incomes, education quality, national security, energy, international competitiveness, social security and healthcare. You are now at the brief chapter on Trends in Public Voting in national elections. Welcome. We hope your visit will find useful information to help you and your loved ones.


5 QUESTIONS and 3 COLOR PICTURES:

  1. Should we bequeath to our young generation a political system which produces a smaller and smaller percentage of voting-age citizens participating in the selection of leaders? Voter participation rates have dropped for 40 years - - 1996 was a new record. The 2000 election turnout was near the same despite huge increases in campaign spending and registration drives, compared to before.
  2. What does this say about citizen trust in government, or political legitimacy of so-called 'leaders', or citizen belief in individual ability to influence public policy in favor of current and future generations?
  3. Is this not another confirmation of similar declines in nation-wide education quality performance, despite massive increases in such funding - - or that families work more months per year to cover government spending compared to many decades ago, while learning there is a negative return on their social security payroll deductions?
  4. Is this declining citizen participation performance the type of representative democracy intended by our nation's founding fathers? What does it say about our future? Is it perhaps a clear signal of the need for downsizing of federal (and state) government share of the economy - - as such share increased too much compared to the intention of our founders plan for small government, closer to the people?
  5. AND - is America becoming a 'we' vs. 'them', or a divided nation? - - meaning large city population centers (representing 20% of the nation's counties) trending to overwhelm the rest of the nation (representing 80% of the counties and their diversity) - - as shown on the map comparing voting results by county?

40-year trend of % voting presidential electionsVoting Trend in Presidential Election Years

The left chart shows the negative 40-year trend of the percentage of voting-age citizens participating in national elections for U.S. President.

From a 63% citizen voting participation turn-out rate in 1960, to 51% in 2000.

Would our nation's founding forefathers be proud of this low and declining citizen rate of participation in the election of their leaders? Wouldn't an 80% rate of educated voters, that is also rising, be better?

Note the continued downward trend, with but a slight up-tick in 1992 when there were 3 instead of 2 national candidates - falling thereafter.

This negative trend of voter participation rates occurred despite massive voter registration programs, which increased registration rates from 59% to 74%. Registration drives have been ineffective in increasing vote participation rates above 1960 - - in fact, the percentage of registered voters actually voting declined in this period a whopping 30 points.

Additionally, voter participation rates declined regardless of the state of the economy concerning growth or stagnation.

If the 2000 voting ratio of 51.21% had been the same as the 1960 ratio, then 24 million more citizens would have voted than was the case. That's a huge citizen participation loss. That loss is equivalent to 2 entire states the size of Florida.

Even worse - - in the 2000 presidential election of the 206 million citizens of voting age, only 105 million voted - meaning 101 million people did not make the effort to vote.

NOTE the chart up-tick of the 1992 participation rate - - which occurred because there were 3 nationally-recognized candidates, instead of but 2 candidates - - temporarily disrupting the prior long-term negative trend. Not only did having a 3rd candidate increase participation by 5 points, but he (Perot) also gathered nearly 20% of the total votes cast - - a 4 to 1 move - - despite that candidate being opposed by entrenched parties and their supporting organizations (unions, AARP, etc.) - -and despite battling to gain access to the ballots of all states and the media, battles not faced by the entrenched opposition. What does that say about having more candidates? Shouldn't high participation rates be a goal?

Despite large increases in registrations, coupled with even more massive campaign spending and T-V coverage, the voting participation rate continues to decline. One could draw the conclusion that there is a negative correlation between voting participation rates and the combination of registration drives and media bombardment. And, fewer homes had television sets 40 years ago, in 1960, yet voter participation rates were higher in that period - - which was before a major surge in social entitlements, such as creation of Medicare.

The negative trend above is even steeper if we plot voter turn-out vs. the number of registered voters - - down a whopping 30 points in that period. This is because the percentage of voting-age population casting votes declined (per above chart) despite massive increases in registration drives.

The above chart represents a negative concerning the impact of citizens concerning their government. It appears to represent an increased conviction by many that every politician is the same in the end - being for power without truly representing voters. And, many consciously decided not to vote because they believe their voice by this process is irrelevant to political manipulation and power plays. To this observer, the trends indicate that government action is considered more and more irrelevant by the populace - - and, these lower turnouts mean in effect that those in political power are actually losing their legitimacy to represent and make laws. Such can be seen as simply a demand to reduce the influence of government at the federal level. The lock of the 2-party system continuously tries to increase its decreasing legitimacy by more 'narrowly focused, agenda-driven' voter registration drives, but this continually fails - - since the percentage of citizen voting participation has actually gone down per the above chart, as the percentage of those registered to vote increased.

Can some reasons for the declining turn-out be found in a new Gallup Poll which shows citizen trust in ethics and honesty of elected officials, news professionals and lawyers reached an all-time low.

Voting Trend in Off- Year Elections (non-presidential voting years)

election-off-year.gif (4518 bytes)In addition to the above negative trend in presidential elections, the chart at the left shows the participation rate for off-year (non-presidential) congressional elections also has been very poor. It tracks similar to the above chart for presidential elections, except at lower participation rates. The 36.4% turn-out for 1998 tied the historic low mark, while the 39% turn-out ratio in 2002 was the highest in 20 years.

Interesting that in 1982 and 1994, years with just a 2 point up-tick in voter turn-out rates, the political party (Democrat)  previously holding a congressional majority lost one house the first time and both houses the second time. This shows that a very small change in participation rates can have a dramatic impact on national priorities and direction.

Although the chart shows the November 2002 off-year election turnout was just 39%, it was the highest turnout in 20 years, with a 2.5% up-tick in turnout over 1998. What was most noteworthy was that this up-tick was sufficient to produce a historic event: it was the first time in 68 years that a political party in control of the White House in a mid-term election picked up seats in both houses of Congress, including gaining a majority in both. Many attributed this to President George W. Bush with one of history's highest popularity ratings in a mid-term election year. In off-year elections for nearly 150 years prior to 2002, with the exception of Franklin Roosevelt in 1934, the party in the Presidency always lost seats in Congress.

So, major changes in direction can occur with just a 2% INCREASE in turnout. It also indicates that those past three relatively small up-ticks were more conservative concerning what government should or should not do.

Concerning young voters 18-24 years old, turnout nationwide in the November 1998 was just 15% - a record low. It declined in every prior election but one since 18-20 year-olds got the right to vote 3 decades ago. (The Wall Street Journal, 3/29/99) This record low turnout of young voters nation-wide would have been even lower had one state (Minnesota) not recorded its highest ever turnout (60%) for the election of Governor (the body) Ventura - - as young people voted in droves. This says something about how young people regard today's candidates, nearly all of whom are either lawyers, on government pay-roll much of their lives as professional politicians - with 99% of same 'captured' by the two major parties. Unlike the other 49 states, Minnesota voters had a choice of a non-politician candidate who to many seemed more like the framers of the constitution hoped for - - a citizen more like them.

To this author, the above is another indictment of the public school system regarding lack of quality teaching of the Constitution and the responsibility of becoming an informed voter.

AND, similar problems are seen in local elections for town commissions - - more and more with unopposed candidates - - which indicates the less enthusiastic citizens are with national elections the fewer candidates at the local level. This author believes the nation-wide trend in local elections of fewer and fewer challengers is a serious issue.

From both charts, note the major drops following 1970 - - which also correlates with similar changes in real median family incomes (stagnation instead of long-term growth), personal savings stop rising and plunge to record lows, and accelerated private AND government debt ratios, leaps in social spending ratios, state & local government employ counts zooming faster than population, and plunges in education quality productivity rates and international trade balance - - as shown in related chapters of the Grandfather Economic Report series.

All must be considered a negative for a healthy and representative participatory democracy - - having such low voter turn-out participation rates. In my view all is indicative of the need to downsize government power and size toward ratios envisioned by our nation's founders.

If more registration, and more campaign spending and reform, and more media hype have not reversed the decline in voter participation rates, then the author submits there must be other factors at work, such as the following:

  1. Government Dominance: Citizens have less respect and confidence in the relevance of government in general - - as its role has departed from the 4 core principal reasons for government (outlined by the framers of the Constitution - see Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Papers)- by the addition of a 5th principle: entitlements and socialization - - and as the share of the economy dominated by government spending soared to 40% of the economic pie (see Government Spending Report), including increased social spending ratios from 4% of the economy to 15% of same since 1960 (see color chart #2 of the Federal Spending Report), and as major portions of income were transferred from families and young people to seniors (see Social Security Report), and as federal debt ratios to GDP stopped falling in the late 1960s and soared to record peace-time levels (see Debt Report), and increased taxation per the Tax Report to pay for this, and the increase in the share of the economy absorbing government-mandated regulatory compliance costs - - all influencing the 2 decade stagnation and decrease of real median Family Incomes. Over this time period, America has become a society much more dominated and controlled by government - - which means less individual freedom of choice for citizens - - completely contrary to the intent of the nation's founding forefathers. Unless you are one of those on the receiving end of all that government spending or promoting some radical mandate to force others to relinquish certain freedom of choice, yet are paying for it, why vote? And, if you are on the receiving end through no efforts of your own - - why vote? There is always the risk that those most dependent on government spending will vote for more government, which tends to support those believing differently than our nation's founders who believed in very limited government..
  2. Big Government Mandates: As government at the federal level increased 9 times faster than economic growth (from 3% of national income to 25%), its power over others increased even more - - by use of imposing regulatory mandates not just on business and the private sector, but on state & local governments. Why should a citizen vote for national leaders when the evidence is clear that the federal government uses its power to mandate social engineering agendas, on local school boards for example. Citizens would prefer to deal with those issues in local school board voting, and must be disgusted with government imposing from top down - - whereas the basic premise of our founding forefathers was suppose to flow from the bottom up - - not the other way around. Such top-down mandate by the federal government has caused state & local government spending ratios to soar upward in response. In this example: local citizens and their local school board elected officials should have full control of local school policy without federal or state mandates. The way it has been going, why vote in either national or local elections? Thus, the down trend. Regulatory activity from top to bottom must be downsized.
  3. Education Quality: Other reports indicate that a well-educated person is more likely to vote than one less educated. When a nation's president in the mid-1990s, for the first time in U.S. history, called for volunteers to help teach kids to read we know the problem is real. The Education Report shows the decline in education quality/spending productivity ratios, as reflected by lower SAT scores since 1960 despite massive inflation-adjusted increases of spending per student - resulting in a 71% decline in the education-productivity index. Education Polls prove the public concern. Parents need more choices of their own to counter negative education quality trends, but they witness such efforts vigorously resisted by government forces. Even minorities are up in arms about the lack of more choice (Choice and polls). Why vote if politicians have such a track record of talk-only, while resisting measurable improvement and more choice to enable parents to do the job that government has failed to perform? There is always the risk that the less well-educated in and around population centers can be more easily organized into mass voting (even bused to the polls) - - thereby upsetting informed choice.
  4. Massive School Districts: The 93% decrease in the number of schools per 10,000 population causes one reader to write: "Voter-turn out starts to drop because schools become too large. In big schools, students feel alienated from the governing body and feel their voice has no effect. This mind set stays with them after they graduate from high school. When the time comes to vote in national or regional elections, they feel that their opinion doesn't matter and therefore don't go out to vote."
  5. Trust in Government: The Trust in Government Report long-term graphic proves that today's trust in government is near all-time lows, compared to past generations. Only 22-31% trust in government - - which means 69-78% do not trust government. In the early 1960s, trust was 100% higher than today's. Clearly, the lack of citizen trust must be reflected in voter turn-out - - and both are strong indicators of serious problems with regard to our representative democracy and of the legitimacy of politicians and government officials, compared to past generations. A Gallup Poll shows citizen trust in ethics and honesty of elected officials, news professionals and lawyers has reached an all-time low.
  6. Institutional Dominance: Organizations, not individuals, dominate election media time. As government dominance has grown so have institutions in support of same (AARP, unions, political action committees, etc.) - - with more financial power and organizational capacity to corrupt the process of a voter making up his own mind.
  7. Dominance by the 2 prime Political Parties: Should consideration be given to break-up the monopoly power which allows the 2 major political power to dominate the political process, to boost possibilities for other challengers? Public-financed federal grants help solidify the dominance of these 2 main parties, giving them a guaranteed source of funds not easily available to others. Why should the populace, while granting less and less legitimacy to these parties (as evidenced by above chart trends), allow use of any public funds to perpetuate these parties in their dominant position?
  8. Dominance by large city population centers overwhelms voters in counties. Our nation's founders envisioned not a 100% representative democracy, since they placed the electoral college mandate in the Constitution to give more clout to smaller states. They believed with this measure, and in keeping with their wish for limited government, that not only would individuals be represented but so would the diversity represented by those in smaller states. As government has grown larger relative to the size of the economy so has the volume increased of those dependent on government spending - - with much higher concentration of same found in and near major population centers, compared to those not so dependent. This potentially 'out-of-balance' situation and trend is covered below.




Presidential Election Results by County
November 2000 - Bush vs. Gore
volume voting in large population centers nearly overwhelmed the rest of the nation

a picture tells a very powerful story


2000 Presidential election by countyELECTION RESULT BY COUNTY

This map of the United States, showing the 2000 Presidential election results by county, is most dramatic.

Looking at the blue vs. red counties reveals how voting by major population centers overwhelms the impact of citizens living in counties without large cities.

Vice President Gore won the blue counties - - Governor Bush won the red counties.

Although Gore won the nation-wide popular vote by 0.3%, by winning 71% of the vote in mega-population centers, this map shows >

<You can click the above map to enlarge it for a dramatic view, then click your back button to return to this spot.>

It is informative to examine this outcome in a bit more detail.

The above graphic is but one of many from the 2000 Presidential Election Report, showing the election by state, nationally by county, and within Florida and New York by county - - indicating major population center voting nearly overwhelmed voting in 80% of the nation's counties. Is the power of the Constitution's mandate for the Electoral College weakening in its requirement to give recognition to the greater diversity, as prescribed by our founders? Also shown are other comparisons, such as population size. Recommended for a quick read.


happy flag

What to Do: The author would like to receive email from those with good comments concerning future implications of these trends. Following are a few ideas to stimulate your thinking. What would you add or subtract?:

  1. Reversing the negative trend of voter participation rates above the 63% rate of 1960 is required to restore legitimacy to the current process of government - - and such cannot occur unless certain changes occur in the current political process of large government supported by monopoly power of the current parties.
  2. Education - smaller schools, better education quality. As mentioned above, less education quality coupled with the trend away from smaller schools makes more students believe their voice does not count or they are not responsible to the larger community, a belief which carries over when they are old enough to vote - - and many don't vote. High school education should develop voter turnout responsibility, and should include students developing class projects with actual petition development and drives to cause referendums to occur on local ballots.
  3. More candidates are needed. Open up the political process, at least sufficiently to here diversity of debate on various issues. 'Unlock' the political stranglehold of the two main parties, to allow more candidates not members of the 2 main parties easier access to the ballot in all states with the opportunity for national debate on more equal footing.. And, unlock the narrow approach of the 2 main parties, which now only enter in the 'finals' but one candidate - - why not put on the final ballot the top 3 from each party from the primaries, and the top 5 non-major-party candidates - - or at least have all of these in the nationalized public debates? In the voter trend chart at the top of the page we noted that in 1992 the 3rd party candidate (Perot) took 20% of the nation-wide vote, partly because he was 'allowed' to participate with the 2 major candidates in each of the national debates - - his message was heard by millions which, even though he did not win, without a doubt significantly impacted future policies regarding deficit and debt reduction - - which until then were being ignored by the major parties. That's healthy.
  4. Make the two major parties now in monopoly control of the election process non-eligible for any federal 'matching' grants. If federal grants are to be continued in any fashion then the two prime parties now in the monopoly should be excluded from use of federal funds - - and, federal funds (like welfare) should be directed only to challengers of lesser power than the 2 main parties. Since we have anti-trust laws to discourage monopoly power in the business private sector, we should have anti-trust laws to assure no dominance of the political process by a the 2 prime parties, also.
  5. Election campaigns should be financed exclusively by donations of individuals, not by collective organizations. Consider legislation to cease all campaign financing by any organization (PAC, union, etc.), including disallowing organizations from media advertising aimed to influence elections. Democracy and free speech should be individualistic. The power of individuals, not organizations, must be improved.
  6. Voting during a single week day may limit turnout, especially for working people with long commutes from work and those picking up their children from day care centers or schools. Studies should be made for having polls open from Friday through Saturday.
  7. Voting by mail, if fraud or mass manipulation can be controlled - - should be considered - - just as done with tax returns.
  8. The aged an disabled should have assistance. States should require their election supervisors arrange for ballots to be voted in hospitals and nursing homes.
  9. Decentralize and free up the public education monopoly system to more competition, to provide measurable increases in quality and parental choice. And, cease federal and state mandates imposed on local boards.
  10. Reduce the share of the economy dependent on government spending and debt, to better reflect the narrower core principles of limited government as prescribed by those brave and very wise people who developed our Constitution.
  11. Term Limits, a concept of limiting the power of incumbency, should be seriously placed on the ballot of every community and state, perhaps every 10 years - - so as to increase the chance of more candidate choice.
  12. Regarding State & local elections, and decisions on major projects : National elections must continue to follow the mandate of the Constitution - - - meaning the electoral college which helps better recognize the diversity of smaller states. Regarding state-wide elections for both president and state governors, perhaps the electoral system used at the national level should be used regarding more power to smaller counties. But - regarding local elections, but not national ones, perhaps the continual down-trend of voter participation signals the need for a move to a more direct democracy - - whereby more issues are decided by referendum of registered voters (instead of by politicians) - - also perhaps via mail-in ballots. The downtrend in voting is partially reflected in citizens believing that politicians will do what they want when elected, no longer cuddling up to citizens once in office - - and, it often does not matter for whom one votes as once elected the politician is seduced (captured by the love of power and the power system. As an example: a Florida community developed a petition drive resulting in successful referendum that stopped two large city building projects despite dire warnings from local politicians and town staff - - this reversed a city council plan to hike property tax rates by a factor of 3. To provide more power to the citizens, to overcome incumbency protection of politicians via referendum, local citizens need to assure their local charter provides requirements that a referendum with a minimal percentage of signatures must go on the local ballot within a short period (say, 90 days) without change to the wording by politicians or bureaucrats. A more direct democracy, more responsive to citizens, can be achieved in a legal manner by local citizens. Local citizens planning in this direction know they are on the right track if local government officials start yelling, "Government by referendum is bad" - - a yell designed to head-off a curbing of entrenched political power.

ON DIRECT DEMOCRACY
vs. a constitutional representative republic

Here's an excellent email from reader that is very well worth reading:

Dear Michael,
1- The dangers of direct democracy are historical and serious. The Founders knew that, and so do we, Madison said that democracy was the right of the people to choose their own tyrants. We have already slipped too far down the road of democracy (popular election of senators, etc.). Under direct democracy, the rights of the individual become inferior to the will of the mob, and the tyrants who lead them (ask the Jews of Germany). We are a constitutional representative republic. God forbid that ever changes.
2- The ability of politicians to do whatever they want expands as they are able to expand the dependency base. The producers become fewer, and those remaining are bullied into believing the government has the right to take their property and give it to others. Until producers are willing to stand up - at the polls, in the courts, in the streets - to defend their property and rights, it frankly doesn't matter how many people vote.
3-Finally, the best educated tend to vote. As your well-done Education Report chapter proves, the dumbing down of Americans continues. Do we really want the least educated, most government-dependent, most easily influenced people to vote in greater numbers? It has been said that liberty will last only until people discover they can vote themselves a piece of the treasury. Every time they vote, they vote for those who will take that piece of the treasury from my wallet - and yours. Do I want to see a greater voter turnout? Jon Schleifer, 21 December 2000.


happy flag

A FAMOUS QUOTE - FROM A FAMOUS FOUNDING FATHER

"There is in the nature of government an impatience of control that disposes those invested with power to look with an evil eye upon all external attempts to restrain or direct its operations. This has its origin in the love of power. Representatives of the people are not superior to the people themselves." Alexander Hamilton - Federalist Papers, 1787.


A Joke

NOW - how about a joke about elections, to add some humor for a change.
Question: What is the real reason in November & December 2000 voters in Florida delayed the Presidential election ?? Read and know the 'facts.'


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