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1998 Election Outlook

Turnout on the Decline

According to the Federal Election Commission, in 1994 only 16.6 percent of eligible voters age 18-20 voted, while 61.3 percent of those age 65 and older cast their ballots. So much for Rock the Vote.

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Indeed, women are not alone in their disillusionment and inclination to stay home rather than get out and vote. In fact, Gans thinks voter turnout over the past 30 years has reached crisis levels. Voter turnout for the 1996 presidential election was less than 50 percent, the first time since 1924 that the turnout didn't hit the 50 percent mark. It was also the second-lowest turnout since 1824, making the United States among the lowest participating democracies in the world.

Traditionally, young people have also been largely indifferent at election time. Many think the apathy is part of a Catch-22: Most 18 to 24 year olds don't vote anyway, so politicians don't address issues of importance to them, which in turn makes these people think politicians don't care. For example, in 1994, only 16.6 percent of eligible voters age 18-20 voted, while 61.3 percent of those age 65 and older cast their ballots, according to the Federal Election Commission. So much for Rock the Vote, the effort begun in 1992 by the music industry to encourage young people to vote.

Gans attributes the steady decline in turnout to a prevailing cynicism with government that has been building since Vietnam. "The media looks for a hidden agenda in everything the government does, which projects a cynicism onto the electorate," he said. In addition, "the malling of America, the decline of community, children being brought up in two-wage earner homes where parents don't have the time or interest to vote, shifts in values to consumerism, a decline in the quality of education have all contributed to a shift away from civic responsibility."

However one interprets the numbers, America has hit a new low on several fronts.


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