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Ciboski: Why Do So Few People Vote?


Yesterday was primary election day in Kansas. Fair and frequent elections are necessary conditions for a country to have a democracy. Even so, prior to the election the expected turnout was 26 percent of registered voters. With so many offices up for election, why do so few people vote? Have you ever asked yourself what would happen if we had an election and nobody came? 

So, who votes and who does not vote? People with higher levels of income and education are more likely to vote than are poor people with less education and lower income. Also, people who have a strong sense of what we call political efficacy, which is that they think their vote will count, are more likely to vote.

One of the problems of American democracy is that we have a pattern of unequal voter participation.  Political officeholders are not stupid. They know who does and does not vote for them. Because of this, the needs of nonvoters who are of lower socio-economic standing are often ignored.  

If diverse demographic groups could form coalitions and vote, they could be more effective in making their needs known. One problem, I think, is that whites feel uncomfortable in working with African Americans and other minorities. They worry what their friends and relatives will think about them. In contrast, African Americans have the experience of the civil rights movement as a model. White Americans have no such model.

There is the need for effective political action. For example, among the industrialized countries of the world, we are the only one without a viable universal health care system. We need to figure out how more voices can be heard, and how get more people to be involved in the political process.

Dr. Ken Ciboski is an associate professor emeritus of political science at Wichita State University.