Published on January 7, 2008
Political Participation: Political Participation Americans with higher socio-economic status (SES) participate at higher rates. Why? Participation rates are a function of resources and civic skills. Both come with higher SES. Resources necessary? Money Time Civic Skills necessary? Knowing the system; who to contact. Research skills; leadership skills. Types of Political Participation: Types of Political Participation Voting: Least costly, thus most common (Presidential elections). Activity in campaigns: Includes working for a party or a candidate and going to rallies. Contributing money to campaigns: Typically, only done by wealthy. Contacting government officials, including writing letters, email, phoning officials. Requires time and civic skills. Community participation: Volunteering locally. Trending upwards. Types of US Elections: Types of US Elections Primaries & Caucuses. Elections held to choose party nominee for the general election. General Election. Voters choose btw candidates of different parties, selecting the officeholder. National general election in November. Initiative Petitions: Voters place a policy question on the ballot for direct approval. Ex: Issues 2-5 on ballot (minimum wage (#2), slot machines (#3), smoking (#4, #5). Referendum: Voters approve (or not) policy placed on ballot by legislature. Recall. Direct Democracy only in state/local elections. Voter Turnout: Voter Turnout Turn-out has decreased substantially in recent decades. High of about 65% in 1960. Voter Turnout: Voter Turnout Turnout in American elections, typically low, even presidential. Worse in other elections. Typical midterm congressional: 35% Typical primary election: 20% Typical local election (off-year): 20% Turnout in USA much lower than other democracies. Why? Registration requirements- these differ from state to state. Too many elections? Declining political efficacy, increased cynicism. Who Votes?: Who Votes? Critical question for democracy. Why? Demographic indicators of vote: Age. The young rarely vote. Wealth. Poor unlikely to vote. Education. Uneducated unlikely to vote. Married voters more likely to vote. Race immaterial once SES is accounted for. Once SES is controlled, minorities vote at greater rates. The best indicator? Registration. Why Vote?: Why Vote? One vote rarely ever matters, especially in high turnout elections, so why vote? Voting is costly, especially w/ registration and learning complex policies. So, how is it rational to vote? More rational to vote if candidates offer distinct differences. They often do not. Civic Duty Political Efficacy leads to people voting, belief that participation matters. Presidential Nomination Race: Presidential Nomination Race Nomination campaign decides who runs for each party in the general election. Occurs in the Winter & Spring (first votes late January). IA, NH first, shape the field, enormous influence. What’s necessary to win: Money, Media Attention, Momentum. All of these relate to one another. The prize: pledged delegates for national convention. Problems with the Nomination Process: Problems with the Nomination Process Disproportionate attention to early primaries. Late primaries irrelevant, leads to front-loading, as states move their primaries up, increasing costs. High costs mean money has great impact. Participation in primaries is low and is not representative. Party activists are ideologues. Candidates cater to extremes, middle loses out. To much power to the media– they decide play the role of “king makers.” Money and US Elections: Money and US Elections Campaign Finance Laws created in early 1970s, revised several times, 2002 law most recent. 1974 FECA led to full disclosure, donation limits, voluntary spending limits in presidential races & subsidized presidential races (if limits). Also created Federal Elections Commission (FEC). Created Political Action Committees (PACs), which funnel regulated $$ to campaigns. 2002 reform seriously limited “soft money” donations to political parties. Money and US Elections: Money and US Elections Campaign Finance Laws strictly limit donations from PACs and individuals. Candidates can spend unlimited amounts of own $$. $2000 limit for individuals per campaign. $10,000 limit for PACs per campaign. Early money is most significant. Early money buys legitimacy (begetting more $$), allows candidate to campaign effectively. Most money spent on campaign TV Ads. TV Ads tending toward negative– most effective and informative. http://www.polisci.wisc.edu/tvadvertising/Historic%20Ads%20Library.htm Money Effects: Money Effects While money is crucial, it is not everything. In fact, congressional incumbents that spend the most tend to receive the least votes. Money is a necessary, but insufficient factor. However, $ is especially important for challenger candidates. It is not true that PAC money buys members of Congress (their votes). PACs give $ to their friends, so likely to vote with them anyway. $$ most important in presidential nomination race Campaign Effects: Campaign Effects Political campaigns (outside of the nomination race) are less crucial in elections than politicians believe. Most voters make decision very early. Reinforcement, Activation, Conversion. Campaigns mostly reinforce and activate, rarely do they convert. Campaigns change very few votes, but they do stimulate turn-out. Reasons for weak effect? Few pay attention, most is selective perception; Party ID voters; Incumbency advantage. Explaining How People Vote: Explaining How People Vote Policy Mandate theory: The idea that the winning candidate has a mandate from the people to carry out his or her policy agenda. Require convincing win based on issue voting. Presidents especially like this theory, as it lends legitimacy to their policy agenda. Political scientists do not, as rarely do voters vote based on issues. The Voting Decision: The Voting Decision Three major elements in the voting decision: Party Identification: Provides short cut when we vote- a perspective to evaluate candidates and issues. Candidate Evaluations: Leadership qualities (integrity, reliability, and competence), as well as the candidate’s image (visual & confidence). More important in recent elections. Why? Policy voting: Base vote on issue preferences, Difficult to do, rarely done. Media unhelpful, positions often ambiguous. http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2004/pages/results/states/US/P/00/epolls.0.html The Electoral College: The Electoral College The process used to select the president. To win, candidate must receive a majority (270) of electoral votes, which total 538. Each state gets EC votes = #’s in Congress. Biased in favor of small states, magnifying their voting power. Disfavors 3rd parties. Votes primarily determined on a “winner-take-all” process, which can distort the final outcome. Essentially, 50 different presidential races, with attention fixed on “battleground” (swing) states. Closeness, not size, is what is important here.