The world is faced with a new type of threat. Like a disease, it spreads and seems to have no boundaries. It affects a variety of countries. It threatens republics, democracies, and even monarchies, criticizing their legitimacy until none remains and chaos ensues. This menace is known as low voter turnout. Low voter turnout affects countries all across the world, threating to delegitimize governments that guarantee their citizens the right to vote in elections. This epidemic has taken hold in many countries across the world, and it is essential that we find a way to combat this menace.
Many possible solutions have been researched, however, only one, in my opinion, has proved to be effective. This solution is called compulsory voting, also known as mandatory voting. Although some criticize the notion of compulsory voting, and there can be some less desirable effects upon the electorate, I still argue that when compulsory voting is implemented in the correct way, a high voter turnout will return to these countries validating their legitimacy. The epidemic low voter turnout is a problem that has plagued countries for centuries.
Low voter turnout occurs when a large percentage of an eligible population decides to forfeit their rights by not participating in an election. Low voter turnout is potentially dangerous for governments that rely on these elections to select officials to run the government. This danger lies in the fact that these governments derive their authority to govern from the consent of its citizens. If the citizens choose to not participate in elections, the government loses the vital legitimacy it takes to govern its people (qtd. “Preface to”).
Low voter turnout is a very real problem, and some countries have chosen to combat this threat with the effective strategy called compulsory voting. Compulsory voting is when a country requires, by law, that all eligible citizens must vote or face punishment. There has been a great and long struggle among governments to remain ligament. Low voter turnout has been a major problem for many countries around the world. Over the past few decades, almost like an epidemic, well-established countries like the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, and many more are seeing a dramatic drop in voter turnout.
According to Scott Bennet, the author of the article, “Mandatory Voting Overcomes Problems Such as Voter Turnout,” the voter turnout for the United Kingdom in the “1950 British general election was 83. 6[%, and in 2001 it was]…59. 4[%]…” (Bennet). Over the span of those 51 years, voter turnout in the United Kingdom dropped by 24. 2 percentage points. The voter turnout of New Zealand has much of the same story. In 2002, New Zealand’s voter turnout was 20. 6 % less than the turnout in 1946.
This trend continues in Canada, having a relatively high voter turnout in 1945, and then the steady decline to present day started. Bennet notes that there seems to be a correlation in this trend explaining “…that turnouts have been declining in most democracies. ” (Bennet). One country that fits perfectly into this statement is the United States. The United States has one of the lowest voter turnout rates of developed countries.
Explained by Drew DeSilver, in his article titled “U. S. Voter Turnout Trails Most Developed Countries,” when it comes to voter turnout, “…the U. S. lags most of its peers, landing 31st among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [also known as the OECD]…” (DeSilver). Most of the OECD is comprised of well-developed democratic countries, so it goes to show just how poor voter turnout is in the United States. When we look back at the voter turnout in past presidential elections, it’s easier to understand the electorate. The website, The American Presidency Project, is a project created by John Woolley and Gerhard Peters.
On the page titled, “Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections,” a list of presidential elections, dating from 1828 to 2012, is given along with the percent of voter turnout for the voting age population. According to the page titled, “Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections,” the United States reached its highest voter turnout in “1876 [at] 81. 8%” (Peters and Woolley). The website shows that in elections from 1840 to 1900, voter turnout stayed relatively steady in the 70th percentile, and never changed more than 10. 5%.
However after 1888, voter turnout continues to drop, leveling out in the 1960’s around the lower 60% to upper 50% where it remains today (Peters and Woolley). But why was there a sudden drop? What type of voters make up the electorate today? The American electorate has changed a lot over the last century, and there are many different types of voters that hold certain characteristics that make up the electorate. By looking at this electorate and focusing on different characteristics, we can better understand a general idea of who votes and who doesn’t vote in different elections.
One trend that has been consistently evident is that presidential elections in the United States have a higher turnout than congressional elections. This is extremely troubling because of the fact that voter turnout for presidential elections is considered dismal. If congressional elections have even lower turnouts, then the validity of the government would be slim to none. This would lead to problems between the government and the people.
This is shown in a report written by Thom File titled “Who Votes? Congressional Elections and the American Electorate: 1978–2014. In his report File says, “In 2014, the overall voting rate was the lowest for a congressional election since…1978,” but this can also be seen in presidential elections (File 13). Although voting rates for presidential elections shift often, over time, the voter turnout has decreased sitting at 61. 8% for the 2012 presidential election. As File mentions, the same can be said for congressional elections decreasing well below presidential elections sitting at a measly 41. 9% in the 2014 congressional election (File 3).
One of the main reasons for low voter turnout in the United States is the extremely low levels of participation among young people (File 13). An article written by a public interest group called Alliance for Better Campaigns titled, “Young People Are Not Interested in Politics,” explains why many young people lack the feeling of civil duty. Alliance argues that young people have a “lack of connection with their communities, [a] mistrust of government, and [a] lack of information available to them regarding candidates and issues,” these are just some of the reasons offered by Alliance (Alliance).
Professionals argue that most young people, ages 18-44 years old, aren’t interested in politics; they believe it won’t make a difference in their lives. In contrast, it seems that as a person ages and the older that person is, the more likely that person is to vote. File illustrates this in his report explaining that in the 2014 congressional election, 18-to-34-year-olds had a disturbingly low voter turnout of 23. 1%. Whereas people who were 65 years and older had a voter turnout of 59. 4% (File 5). In a table titled, “Table 399.
Voting-Age Population—Reported Registration and Voting by Selected Characteristics: 1996 to 2010,” found in the report titled, “Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012,” written by the United States Census Bureau, we can find much of the same findings reported by File. Found in this report, we can see the effects that race, education, and employment status have on voting turnout. The United States Census Bureau’s data shows that in terms of race, White and Black voters tend to have the same voter turnout.
In contrast, those who identify themselves as Asian and Hispanic tend to have a far lower voter turnout (United States 246). Despite the low levels of voter turnout among Asians and Hispanics, it should be mentioned that the diversity of the electorate has improved. As explained by File, “…across the last three election cycles, the voting population has grown more racially and ethnically diverse” (File 13). This goes to show that the electorate is somewhat improving by better representing the diverse population found in America.
As well as race, the United States Census Bureau’s data also shows voter turnout in terms of education. In this data, it shows that individuals with higher levels of education tend to have higher voter turnout rates than individuals with less education (United States 246). One last characteristic worth mentioning, that’s shown in the data collected by the United States Census Bureau, is employment. The Bureau finds that people who are employed have a higher voter turnout than people who are unemployed.
It is certainly clear that there are certain demographic patterns that show the make-up of the electorate and those who chose to not participate in elections. As File explains in his report, “…voting rates were highest for Americans 65 years and older, non-Hispanic Whites, individuals with high levels of education, and those with relatively high incomes” (File 13). The predicament facing the United States is extremely problematic with more than half of the eligible population forgoing their right to participate in the 2014 congressional election. This lead to the lowest voter turnout ever seen (File 13).
The legitimacy of its government has never been more questionable. The time for procrastination has all but run out for the United States, and the time to act is now. However, low voter turnout isn’t just a problem in the United States, but all across the World. The World needs a proven and effective solution, and that solution is compulsory voting. However, there are critics who argue compulsory voting is not the answer. One of the leading arguments against compulsory voting is that it’s undemocratic and illustrates a practice for over-government.
They say it goes against the freedom that’s associated with democracies, taking away the fundamental right of choice. One of the bigger arguments against compulsory voting is that everyone has to vote, even people who aren’t informed on current issues. As explained in an article titled, “Preface to ‘Should Voting Be Mandatory? ‘” critics argue that “… voting should be reserved for those who are motivated and take the time to learn about the important topics of the day” (“Preface to”). They say that no one should ever be forced into voting, that it should be a choice.
Some even argue that the turnout seen in normal elections are actually healthy turnouts, and the high turnouts seen in countries that have compulsory voting are unnatural. Some even argue that compulsory voting could have negative effects on the electorate. This is explained by Maria Gratschew in an article titled, “Mandatory Voting Can Lead to a Range of Problems,” where she says that compulsory voting could actually “…discourage the political education of the electorate because people forced to participate will react against the perceived source of oppression” (Gratschew).
What Gratschew is saying is that when people are forced to do something, the more likely they will react negatively. This would explain the increased number of invalid votes, blank votes, and even random votes seen in countries that enforce mandatory voting. Obviously, there truly is some criticisms in the use of compulsory voting. However, it is my belief that for the few negative aspects of compulsory voting, the positives greatly overshadows the negatives. Compulsory voting isn’t a new concept, it was first introduced in Belgium in 1892, and Australia in 1924 (Gratschew).
Compulsory voting has been a proven and tested concept for centuries. As Bennett explains in his article, “Academic analysis shows that wherever compulsory voting is used, it increases the turnout of registered voters” (Bennett). One British scholar by the name of Pippa Norris has even found that countries with compulsory voting see a 14% higher turnout then countries with voluntary voting (Bennett). This 14% increase would greatly benefit any country, but especially the United States, the same country that’s ranked 31st out of the 34 countries in the OECD for voter turnout.
Out of those 34 countries found in the OECD, the top two countries, Belgium and Turkey, are actually among 28 nations around the world that have compulsory voting, and six of which are part of the OECD (DeSilver). It is now evident that voter turnout has decreased in almost all democracies. Despite these major declines, compulsory voting countries, like Australia and Belgium, remain constant. This proves that countries that use compulsory voting are immune to the low voter turnout epidemic.
Although some criticize the notion of compulsory voting, and there can be some less desirable effects upon the electorate, I argue that when compulsory voting is implemented in the correct way, a high voter turnout will return to these countries validating their legitimacy. It is imperative that we put an end to low voter turnout. The extremely low voter turnout in the United States is a warning sign of how little faith its citizens have in the current government. Many have given up on the process because they don’t trust the government and are tired of the establishment.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that a government that doesn’t represent its citizens is bound to end with revolution. There is no doubt, if voter turnout continues to fall, the government will lose all legitimacy and will be overthrown. This goes for all countries affected by low voter turnout. This problem will not go away on its own. Major changes must be made to guarantee a legitimate government, and implementing compulsory voting is the most effective cure to this epidemic.