As the confusion over the ballots in Florida in 2000 demonstrated, American elections are complex and anything but user-friendly. This phenomenon is by no means new, but with the weakening of political parties in recent decades and the rise of candidate-centered politics, the high level of complexity has become ever more difficult for many citizens to navigate. Thus the combination of complex elections and the steady decline of the party system has led to a decline in voter turnout.
In this timely book, Martin Wattenberg confronts the question of what low participation rates mean for democracy. At the individual level, turnout decline has been highest among the types of people who most need to have electoral decisions simplified for them through a strong party system--those with the least education, political knowledge, and life experience.
As Wattenberg shows, rather than lamenting how many Americans fail to exercise their democratic rights, we should be impressed with how many arrive at the polls in spite of a political system that asks more of a typical person than is reasonable. Meanwhile, we must find ways to make the American electoral process more user-friendly.
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Martin P. Wattenberg is Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine.From Library Journal:
The number of Americans who bother to vote has declined for decades, to the point that the United States has the lowest turnout rate in the industrialized world, save only Switzerland. Why this is so is a question that Wattenberg (Univ. of California, Irvine; The Decline of American Political Parties) studies from every available angle-sociological, psychological, economic, and political. Much of what he finds is well known: the poor are less likely to vote than the well off, the decline of parties and rise of candidate-centered politics has adversely affected turnout, and the young vote at an abysmally low rate. His work is original, however, on such questions as the effect of negative political advertising and on the difficulties in the act of voting itself. Far more accessible than Warren E. Miller's authoritative The New American Voter and with a wider scope than Frances Fox Piven's Why Americans Still Don't Vote and Why Politicians Want It That Way, Wattenberg's book is a lucid presentation of new and prior research on an important problem. Recommended for all academic and many public libraries.
Robert F. Nardini, Chichester, NH
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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