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Voter Turnout: An Analysis of Three Election Years Essay



Voting is mandatory for the democratic process since it is the means through which the voice of the majority is projected. However, for the voting process to be valid, a sizable proportion of the citizens who are eligible for voting should take part in the activity.

Voter turnout rates in America are said to be significantly low when compared to many other democracies in the world in spite of the fact that America is celebrated as a model democracy all over the world. For this reason, various administrations and civil societies have made attempts to increase the voter turnouts in the US.

This paper will carry out a concise, yet informative analysis of voter turnout for three presidential elections. Policies and actions which have positively impacted voter turnout will be highlighted and my view on future voter turnout will be given.

Voter Turnout 1988

Voter turnout statistics

Voter turnout in the US in the 1988 presidential elections was one of the lowest in the American voting history. Herron (1998) declares that at the rate of 50.1%, it was a phenomenally low turnout when compared to American standards.

The 1988 election runoffs were contested by three main candidates who were: George Bush, Michael Dukakis, and Ron Paul. The election was won by George Bush while the second place was taken by Dukakis. While there were many other contestants for the presidential seat, they only managed to achieve trivial vote counts.

Factors Resulting To a Low Voters Turnout

Elections voter turnout was influenced by a number of factors including: social, political, and psychological factors. This fact was true for the 1988 elections where social class dictated the outcomes in a very fundamental way. Statistics indicate that voter turnout was largely influenced by social class of the electorate (Herron, 1998).

86 percent of people with salaries above $75,000 participated in the voting of the presidential election while a significantly lower 52 percent of people with salaries under $15,000 took part in the elections (Herron, 1998). This indicates that social status affects the turnout rate in the elections greatly.

The process of voting and registration are major contributors to voter turnout in any elections. In 1988 presidential elections, the voting process was quite hectic; a factor that kept the electorate away from the polling stations as they were avoiding long queues. The elections schedule, according to Herron (1998), was not properly structured and many people saw the process as time consuming, hence there was a low turnout.

This is because voters’ turnout is dependent on the individuals’ motivation to engage in the activity. Partisanship also had its stake on the effect of the low turnout. Not many people considered the individuals in the race for presidency; rather the focus was on the preferred political party.

Voting model

A careful consideration of the circumstances surrounding the 1988 presidential elections outcomes suggests that prospective model of voting best describes the mode of voting. In this mode, the electorates look forward to effective change from the administration they are voting in. Voting in 1988 was highly influenced by the past performance of the Democratic Party which had previously held office.

Most voters who voted in favor of President Bush were driven by the strong attachment to his party, as well as the need for a change of governance. This was after the decline of the economical growth in the hands of the previous governance.

With his exemplary performance in various high profiled positions he held before becoming a vice president, Bush was a promising candidate. He lost his bid for the senate two times before he was appointed as an ambassador to the United Nations.

From here onwards, his positive performance received public acclaim. While he lost to Ronald Reagan in the campaigns for the republican nomination, he was chosen as a running mate and became the vice president. In 1988 Bush won the republican nomination and easily defeated Michael Dukakis (Herron, 1998).

His past records in the navy and as a torpedo bomber pilot played a major role in his success, as this formed the major judgment scale for candidates. The voting influenced by the expectations of the electorates is a prospective mode of voting.

Demographic patterns

A higher percentage of the male voters favored George Bush’s presidency as it is shown in the public opinion’s archives research chart. However, Bush’s presidency was not highly approved by the black community.

Hibbs (1996) documents that Bush only managed to convince 11 percent of the black voting community to vote for his administration. Dukakis seemed to have a higher influence on the black community as he managed 89 percent of the black’s votes.

President Bush was quite appealing among different age groups as he got an average score across all the age groups. His voters mainly came from the conservative voters with the liberals favoring Michael Dukakis (Roper center, 2004). Even so, the low-income earners did not support Bush but rather showed overwhelming support for Dukakis’s presidency.

Voter Turnout 1996

Voter turnout statistics

The voter turnout in 1996 dropped even further with only 49 percent of the eligible voters participating in the process. Notably, a large percentage of young people did not participate in the voting process.

Former president William Clinton won the poorly participated elections with a 70.4% victory against Robert Dole who only managed 29.6%. The turnout showed a low record with the electorate showing little or no concern about the country’s leadership. The elections were less competitive and did not attract a lot of attention from the media as well.

Factors Resulting into a Low Voters Turnout

Political analysts attributed the low turnout in the presidential elections to the economic growth that have been experienced in the recent years. Hibbs (1996), states that motivation and mobilization (which are the main factors in campaigns) were lacking.

The views of the voters were formed by the results of the previous elections in the year 1992 when George Bush lost his elections bid. Analysts point out that lack of motivation was the result of the economic growth. With a growing economy, people had no reason to be worried about the leadership in place as they had no antagonism about financial well being which is usually the major cause of disappointment in leaders.

George Bush lost of the elections was a result of the decline in the economy performance because people were alert and angered by the difficult financials circumstances. This was the height of a growing disengagement of the American people with their leaders and politics. People were fed up with colossal amounts of money used on extravagant televisions advertisements in the name of campaigns.

Voting model

The electorate in the 1996 presidential elections had no driving force behind the voting and a candidate of choice. The voting was influenced by partisanship since the electorate banked on the past performance of the Democratic Party. Compared to George Bush’s reelection run off, this election did not have any clearly pronounced expectations and led to a low voter turnout.

Situations where voters take part in the process without future expectations, but rather on the basis of past performance, are known as retrospective models of voting. This was the case with the United States of America during the 1996 presidential elections. The elections, as noted above, did not attract a lot of participation as the voters were satisfied with the previous governance hence the democrats easily won them.

Demographic patterns

Bill Clinton won the majority of women’s votes compared to his opponent Bob Dole. This was a significant change compared to George Bush’s victory in 1988 where a majority of women voted for his opponent. The black community also supported the democrat’s governance as did the Hispanic voters. In his reelection bid in 1996, Clinton lost most of the white voters as they drifted in favor of the Republican Party.

Nevertheless, he had a majority following and support from the blacks community who supported the Democratic Party consistently (Alvarez & Nagler, 1996).

The democrats hold their strength in the support from the minority groups like the Jews in religion and the blacks by race. The young generation, as well as the elderly and middle aged voters also favored Clinton. High-income earners also welcomed Clintons reelection bid on the record of his performance in the previous term.

Voter Turnout 2004

Voter turnout statistics

These elections witnessed the highest turnout recorded in the American elections since 1968 (Faler, 2005). This was therefore the best election year with the highest number of voters participating in the processes compared to the past few decades.

This was an impressive turnout considering the low turnout of about 40 percent in the previous elections. George W. Bush won the election with a simple majority of 50.8 percent of the votes. His closest opponent followed him with 48.3 percent.

Factors Resulting To Voters Turnout

A win was marred by controversies which occurred after a while of Bush’s presidency from 2001 to 2009 when he retired from public life. He was closely followed by Al Gore who lost by a very slim margin which led to questions on the legitimacy of the win. Analysts indicate that Bush was the first president to win the elections without the popular vote (Roberts, 2009).

The re-election of President Bush was greatly aided by his military action against terror and commitment to protect the United States. His nomination with the republican was influenced by his rich political background, as well as his input during his father’s campaigns. His vast experience on political issues put him in the best place to run with the party’s ticket for presidency.

President Bush had his greatest support from the older voting generation and the white voters hence the major competition. These elections were very competitive as both the candidates were of the same race. The advantage of President Bush was the drift by the white voters from the liberal Democratic Party to the conservative Republican Party.

Another advantage was his action to woo the minority religious groups to his side. He succeeded and this gave him an upper hand in his election bid. Race issues were also prevalent in some states all through the elections.

The voting was mainly influenced by race and principles with the more conservative party gaining more publicity and following. Turnout was on the rise due to competition and need for change. The drift in favor of the Republican was the evidence that people were looking for change in governance.

Voting model

The 2004 presidential elections in the United States of America was an example of an electoral competition voting model. This is where the parties engaged into competitively wooing the electorate to their advantage.

Parties take advantage of the voters divided according preference to the party’s policies on which one is closer to an alternative of status-quo (Colomen & Llavador, 2008). The case of the 2004 presidential elections presents an analytical potential electoral competition model of voting.

Demographic patterns

Bush got the majority of his votes from male voters although he had his share from the female voters as well. In the race demographic category, he was the favorite of the whites where he scored the highest percentage at 58%. But like noted above, these elections were highly contested and therefore one did not enjoy a big margin in percentage over the other (Wayne, 2011).

Bush’s presidency was highly supported by high income earners at 58 percent as well as religious groups. The conservatives saw the republican administration as their preferred choice compared to the liberal democrats.

Comparison of the Voter Turnout Rates

Elections in the United States have adopted a fairly predictable pattern since 1968. Voter turnout rates have been heavily influenced by the moods of the electorate with dissatisfaction translating to higher participation. It has been established that in all three cases, the financial well being of the citizens played a major role in determining the participation in the voting process.

In all the cases, the level of income of a particular group affected their decisions in whether or not to vote. High income earners have been seen all through the study period to participate more in voting than the low income earners. This may be attributed to the apathy that low income earners feel concerning their ability to initiate favorable change through the ballot box.

Education is another factor that has remained constant in the three case studies. The level of education of a population determines how the voters respond to elections. Education opens the learner’s mind and gives them a broader way of solving and handling issues (Colomen & Llavador, 2008).

With such an understanding, the educated population seems to choose voting with an understanding that it makes a difference. The research has established that the three presidential elections results were largely influenced by the vote from the educated population.

Contrast of the Voter Turnout Rates

In the first case study, in which George, W.H, Bush won, it was an easy win without a great challenge from the opposition. This was because of the dominance in the republican popularity and the conservative political philosophy.

But as we have approached the 21century, a drift has been seen from the conservative dimension to a more liberal political situation hence the transformation from retrospective voting to an electoral competition model. The world has changed and the election habits are changing considering the level of education of the society.

The study has shown the changes that occured in rationale from the year 1988 to the very competitive elections in the year 2004.

Discussion and Conclusion

Lewis-Beck and Stegmaier (2000, p.211) declare that there is a “powerful relationship between the economy and the electorate in democracies the world over”.

People therefore feel that they can impact the economic policies of their country by voting. Considering the economic realities over the last decade, I feel that the voter turnout will increase in the future since people want to install in a president whose economic policies are sound.

An interesting concept that will shape future elections is cyber-campaigning which will see candidates make use of the internet on a larger capacity (Gibson & Stephen, 2002). This will ensure that even the apathetic citizens are involved in the process hence increasing the voter numbers.

This paper analyzes voter trends in the US by looking at three past Presidential Elections. It has been observed that voter rates have significantly increased in the latest election. While voting frequency in the past were on a decline, there has been a recent resurgent in voting interest among Americans.

This can be credited to civil societies and the belief that one’s single vote can make a difference. In my opinion, voting frequency will increase as individual American begin to see the impact they can make through voting.


Alvarez, R.M. & Nagler, J. (1996). Economics, entitlements and social issues: voter choice in the 1996 Presidential Election. Party Politics, 3 (2): 22-45.

Colomen, J. M., & Llavador, H. (2008). An agenda-setting model of electoral competition. Party Politics, 9 (1): 47-76.

Gibson, R.K. & Stephen J. (2002). Virtual campaigning: Australian Parties and the internet. Australian Journal of Political Science, 35 (1): 99-122.

Herron, M.C. (1998). The Presidential Election of 1988: low voter turnout and the Defeat of Michael Dukakis. Web.

Hibbs, J.D. (1996). . Web.

Lewis-Beck, M.S., & Stegmaier, M. (2000). Economic determinants of electoral outcomes. Annual Review of Political Science, 3(2): 183–219.

Roberts, D. S. (2009). . Web.

Ropercenter. (2004). . Web.

Wayne, J.S. (2011). Road to the White House 2012. Boston: Cengage Learning.

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