Political Participation

Block objective 6: Identify the characteristics of the typical American voter 

  1. People who vote, like those who are knowledgeable about politics, tend to have certain socioeconomic, demographic, and psychological characteristics. [ Click on the blue button to retrieve a diagram depicting The Typical American Voter].

    1. Socioeconomic characteristics

      1. Education

        1. Studies of voting behavior consistently show that individuals with a college education vote at almost twice the rate of high school dropouts.

        2. Education increases one's capacity for understanding complex subjects such as politics.

        3. Education encourages civic responsibility.

        4. Schooling provides experience with a variety of bureaucratic problems, such as coping with requirements, filling out forms, and meeting deadlines.

      2. Family income and occupational status

        1. Voting turnout rises sharply from low to middle income levels and individuals that hold white-collar jobs vote more often than blue-collar laborers.

        2. People who have more money to contribute to candidates, political parties, and interest groups, tend to belong to social circles that have more people interested in politics.

    2. Demographic characteristics

      1. Race

        1. Race and ethnicity seem to make a difference in turnout rates.

        2. In 2000, non-Hispanic whites reported voting at the highest rate, 77 percent, while African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans voted at lower rates.

        3. The difference between whites and nonwhites, however, is mainly attributable to differences in income and education. For example, middle-class blacks are just as likely to vote as middle-class whites.

        4. Thus, while a gap still exists between whites and nonwhites, it is narrowing.

      2. Age

        1. As people grow older, they gain knowledge and other resources that make participation easier.

        2. People also gain the social contacts that make participation easier as they age.

        3. By the time people are in their eighties, some begin to lose the ability to participate. But poor health and other problems cause only a slight drop in turnout among the elderly. They remain far more likely to vote than those under thirty.

      3. Gender

        1. Historically, women voted in much lower proportions than males.

        2. To a great extent, this disparity occurred because at one time women were not eligible to vote.

        3. Even after women were enfranchised, it took some time for them to close the gap.

        4. Today, no significant gap now exists between women and men; if anything, women are slightly more likely to vote than men.

    3. Other characteristics

      1. Political party identification [ Click on the blue button to retrieve a diagram depicting the Percentage of Americans Identifying With a Political Party].

        1. Partisanship also has an effect on turnout.

        2. People who strongly identify with a political party tend to vote more than independents or weak partisans.

        3. Of the two major parties, Republicans tend to vote at higher levels than Democrats.

      2. Political efficacy

        1. The belief that one can affect politics and political decision-makers, motivates them to vote.

        2. Lacking a strong sense of efficacy, on the other hand, makes one less likely to vote.

        3. Someone who believes that elected officials do not care what they think, will see voting as a wasted effort.

      3. Region

        1. The East and South regions have the lowest levels of voting turnout.

        2. The Midwest region has the highest level of turnout.

      4. Political interest: People who are interested in politics and who follow politics in newspapers and magazines are also more likely to vote than those who are not interested and who do not follow politics in the print media.

      5. Political trust

        1. Some believe that those who have confidence in our government will vote more often than those who do not have confidence in our government.

        2. Studies show, however, that people do not refrain from voting just because they do not like or trust politicians.

        3. If they believe their votes can affect politicians and policies, they vote despite their low opinions of officeholders and candidates.

      6. Religion

        1. Liberal Protestants and members of the Jewish faith tend to vote more often than other religious affiliations.

        2. Those without a religious affiliation tend to vote less often.

      7. Political ideology

        1. Conservatives tend to vote more than liberals or moderates.

        2. Moderates vote less often than an ideological group.

  2. Summary: The people most likely to vote are

    1. well educated

    2. wealthy

    3. those with high-status occupations

    4. white

    5. elderly

    6. strong party identifiers

    7. those with a high sense of political efficacy and high interest in campaigns

    8. those who read about campaigns in newspapers

    9. those who live outside of the South and Border states