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Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Identify factors that motivate registered voters to vote
  • Discuss circumstances that prevent citizens from voting
  • Analyze reasons for low voter turnout in the United States

Campaign managers worry about who will show up at the polls on Election Day. Will more Republicans come? More Democrats? Will a surge in younger voters occur this year, or will an older population cast ballots? We can actually predict with strong accuracy who is likely to vote each year, based on identified influence factors such as age, education, and income. Campaigns will often target each group of voters in different ways, spending precious campaign dollars on the groups already most likely to show up at the polls rather than trying to persuade citizens who are highly unlikely to vote.

Counting voters

Low voter turnout has long caused the media and others to express concern and frustration. A healthy democratic society is expected to be filled with citizens who vote regularly and participate in the electoral process. Organizations like Rock the Vote and Project Vote Smart ( [link] ) work alongside MTV to increase voter turnout in all age groups across the United States. But just how low is voter turnout? The answer depends on who is calculating it and how. There are several methods, each of which highlights a different problem with the electoral system in the United States.

Image A is of a tour bus driving along a road. Print on the back of the bus reads “Rock the Vote”. Image B is of Sheryl Crow holding a guitar.
Rock the Vote works with musicians and other celebrities across the country to encourage and register young people to vote (a). Sheryl Crow was one of Rock the Vote’s strongest supporters in the 2008 election, subsequently performing at the Midwest Inaugural Ball in January 2009 (b). (credit a: modification of work by Jeff Kramer; credit b: modification of work by “cliff1066”/Flickr)

Calculating voter turnout begins by counting how many ballots were cast in a particular election. These votes must be cast on time, either by mail or in person. The next step is to count how many people could have voted in the same election. This is the number that causes different people to calculate different turnout rates. The complete population of the country includes all people, regardless of age, nationality, mental capacity, or freedom. We can count subsections of this population to calculate voter turnout. For instance, the next largest population in the country is the voting-age population    (VAP), which consists of persons who are eighteen and older. Some of these persons may not be eligible to vote in their state, but they are included because they are of age to do so.

Michael P. McDonald and Samuel Popkin. 2001. “Myth of the Vanishing Voter,” American Political Science Review 95, No. 4: 963–974; See also, “What is the Voting-Age Population (VAP) and the Voting-Eligible Population (VEP)?” http://www.electproject.org/home/voter-turnout/faq/denominator (November 12, 2015).

Questions & Answers

In what ways can the media change the way a citizen thinks about government?
Justin Reply
Which of the following is not an agent of political socialization?
Vanessa Reply
What is government
AHMED Reply
how is the legislative work ?
Abdurahim Reply
When acting as an agenda setter, the media
Brooke Reply
How do you know the answer to a question?
Nikaela Reply
which was not a third party challenger
Jonna Reply
the system of government in the United States is best described as?
Gabrielle Reply
Which of the following was not a third-party challenger? a. Whig Party b. Progressive Party c. Dixiecrats d. Green Party
sonu Reply
Why the Belgium turkey in Australia have higher voter turnout than United States
Deb Reply
A major difference between most European countries and the United States today is
Paul Reply
how to know the correct answer?
Bilal Reply
the elite theory of government maintains that
Mariah Reply
Why we're the federalist papers written
Carmen Reply
Which statement about unfunded mandates is false?
Austin Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, American government. OpenStax CNX. Dec 05, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11995/1.15
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