Monday, March 5, 2012

Does Voter Turnout Really Matter?

Iraqi voter - c. 2010
Americans put a great deal of faith in the election process; however, it seems that only a modest number are willing to get involved. What difference does it make if many Americans do not seem interested in politics and that Americans on the whole turn out to vote less often than citizens in other democracies? Is this really something to worry about?

The elite democratic model suggests that full participation is not so important; instead, we should wonder whether enough citizens are involved to make the electoral process competitive. After all, the people who don't vote also tend to be the least well-informed... do we really want uninformed voters involved in the process of selecting our leaders? Some observers would also suggest that less informed citizens are more prone to radical policy shifts - so their absence on election day actually adds a degree of stability to public policy and the political process.

In an opinion-editorial for Newsweek magazine, conservative columnist George Will argues that "good government - not the right to vote - is a fundamental human right. From Will's perspective, declining voter turnout is no cause for worry... as long as fairness and political opportunity are guaranteed.

The popular (majoritarian) democratic model, on the other hand, puts a premium on electoral involvement - perhaps because citizens develop a sense that they have a stake in whatever public policy results from their political decisions. The popular model suggests that systems of government designed to reflect the will of the people - the ours here in the United States - will do so better, and in the long run will be more prosperous and stable, if average citizens join the electoral process.

In his book Why Americans Hate Politics, liberal journalist E. J. Dionne writes that "a nation that hates politics will not long thrive as a democracy."

Which commentator, Will or Dionne, comes closer to representing YOUR point-of-view on whether modest voter participation in America is really something to worry about?