Over the years, the voter turnout in the US presidential elections has been on a decline especially in the 20th century. In fact, the 20th century has witnessed one of the lowest voter turnout levels at one point hitting below the 50% mark in 1996. While there is no single explanation regarding the drop in voter turnout over the years, it is clear that less people take part in the presidential elections. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that midterm elections attract an even less voter turnout relative to the presidential elections. In fact, the 2014 midterm elections attracted fewer voters than the 2012 election did or the anticipated number in 2016. Surprisingly, the voter turnout in midterm elections has been on a steady decline since 1840s and is therefore not attributable to the 20th century. Comparatively, about 57.1% of the voting age population cast ballots in 2008 while 2010 witnessed a voter turnout of only 36.9%. In the next election of 2012, voter turnout again bounced to 53.7%. The reason why voters turn out to vote is attributable to the influence of political parties among other factors.
Political parties, as do interest groups, aim to influence the government through election of their members to key positions within the government (Ginsberg et al, 2013, pp 199). While political parties target to control the entire government through election of members, interest groups accept the government and only try to influence key policies. That notwithstanding, interest groups do influence the electoral process by shaping debate and influencing key decisions including the mobilization of voters. The interrelationship between the government, political parties and interest groups goes beyond mere definition and is deeper than what academics suggest. In fact, political parties arose from the same electoral process that they aim to influence as evidenced by the adoption of the electoral structure in political parties. Interest groups are also in existence owing to the existence of the electoral process and must therefore be involved in shaping public perceptions and opinions on the same. The involvement of the both the political parties and interest groups is not only guarded by law but is important in mobilizing the voters to participate in the electoral process.
The role of political parties in election mobilization is much more intense owing to the fact that they sponsor candidates to vie for elective positions. One of the key roles is the recruitment of candidates for the various elective positions in government including local, state and national levels (Ginsberg et al, 2013, pp 200). Every election year, parties must identify candidates for thousands of congressional as well as state and local offices. In so doing, the parties influence the choice of flag bearer thus influencing more people to vote for their candidates. It is in the parties’ best interests to identify the most popular candidates thereby attracting more votes. For instance, a party may identify a pro-black candidate for an elective post in an area that is largely black thus encouraging more people to participate in the elections. In addition, the mini polls conducted within the parties are important in mobilizing more people to participate in elections since they want their candidates to take the seat. Often times, there is stiff competition among strong parties because of the number of candidates that are interested in representing the party at different levels of political representation. Ideally, the high competition is enough to mobilize large numbers of people to take part in the electoral process both directly and indirectly.
The parties’ nominations also impact on the number of voters that take part in an election and parties are thus very keen on their preferred candidates. The popularity of the nominated candidates is influential in attracting large numbers of voters especially when competing parties have strong candidates. An example is the 2008 presidential election that recorded a voter turnout of more than 57%. Although this fact is attributable to many factors, the popularity of the candidates is responsible for the high turnout since both Barrack Obama and McCain were highly popular candidates. It is also true that the voter turnout would have been relatively lower had different candidates been fronted in the presidential race. Evidently, therefore, the choice of candidates by the political parties had a direct influence on the voter turnout at least in the presidential elections (Ginsberg et al, 2013, pp 215). In addition, the fact that the nomination process is done months prior to the elections is testament of the influence that the process plays in mobilizing voters. The initial nomination process brings the mood of election to the citizens thus encouraging them to take part in the decision of the next office bearer for different elective positions. Ideally, party nomination exercises serve as reminders of the imminent election process thus preparing people to vote in large numbers.
Immediately after the nomination process, the country heralds the election period which is a time of glory for the different political parties. The importance of the election period to the parties is evidenced in the desire to manifest their individual support bases at the local, state aned national levels. The electoral process begins with the voter registration which is an important determinant of the actual election process (Ginsberg et al, 2013, pp 216). The process of voter registration is largely influenced by the political parties as they encourage more members from their parties to register for the process. In the past, the process of voter registration was a party affair conducted by party workers. The importance of voter registration is communicated to the eligible voter population since one cannot vote without having registered beforehand. Today, certain interest groups such as the chambers of commerce and the League of Women Voters take active part in the mobilization of the voter registration exercise. The role of political parties in influencing voter registration is well captured in the fact that they often have their own processes of registration. In some cases, the parties have mapped out areas where there are potential voters and developed data files on the same.
The number of interest groups has increased over the last forty years to increase their participation in elections in the US. Ideally, these groups seek to influence the governments through different channels including lobbying and litigation (Ginsberg et al, 2013, pp 247). In addition to these influences, the interest groups can mobilize people to vote by defining issues that affect the population and widening the voter participation. Normally, the interest groups are bound to go public in raising awareness about particular issues and to get the attention of the government. In so doing, interest groups sensitize the people of the need to participate in the voting process and to elect the most suitable candidates that can safeguard the people’s interests. In fact, interest groups are renowned for grassroots mobilizations thus translate into voters in presidential and congressional elections (Ginsberg et al, 2013, pp 239). In one way or the other, these groups can mobilize people to participate in the voting process by outlining key issues that need to be addressed by flag bearers. By enlightening the people on such issues, they are likely to have a hunger to vote in candidates that they think will represent their interest well.
Different factors influence the voting likelihood of voters in the US including their socioeconomic status, electoral laws and rules as well as political socializations. Perhaps the most influential factor is the individual socioeconomic background including age, religion and race. Although people aged between 30 and 65 years were most likely to vote in elections, youths have increasingly come out to the polls out of the realization that the decision on elections is most likely to influence their lives more. In addition, the notion that women are not frequent voters cannot be statistically proven as women have voted as much as men since 1980. However, the gender of individual voters is influential in the candidates that are voted in elections at a time when women rights as a topic is on the rise. The ethnicity of voters is also influential in the voting patterns of voters with different ethnic groups having unique voting trends. For instance, while African-American voters participate as much as other groups, Asian voters are likely to exhibit lower turnout rates. Further, the religious inclinations of voters may influence their voting patterns based on moral and social grounds. In this regard, their views on certain topics may influence their decisions on candidates and the voting process in general.
Ginsberg, B., Lowi, T., Weir, M., & Spitzer, R. (2013). We the people: An introduction to American politics. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
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