Why Don't People Vote?

Link to Article: 
Newspaper: 
Psychology Today
Date Published: 
12/01/2011
Author(s): 
R. Michael Alvarez
Caltech
Op-Ed

It's just weeks away from the first round of presidential caucuses and primaries here in the US, and in coming months we will hear more about how low voter participation typically is in US presidential elections—and whether it matters.

I thought that I'd start by writing about why people don't vote in US presidential elections. That is, why don't those American citizens who are registered to vote turnout? In later essays I'll take up related questions, like why eligible citizens don't register to vote, a question on which there is considerable research.

Voter participation has been one of the most heavily studied questions for decades. In fact, some of the earliest empirical studies of voting behavior were studies of participation and mobilization: Harold Gosnell's 1927 book, Getting Out The Vote, still is a classic in the field. And these same questions continue to be studied: one of my recent Ph.D. students here at Caltech, Ines Levin, has just completed a wonderful Ph.D. these on voter participation, A New Approach to the Study of Political Participation. So after more than eight decades of research, voter participation is something that researchers know a lot about.

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