Elections and Voting Behavior
Chapter 10
How American Elections Work

Three types of elections:
– Select party nominees (primary elections; take
place in spring)
– Select officeholders (general elections; takes
place in Nov.)
– Select options on specific policies (special
elections)
Special Elections & Ballot
Measures


Referendum:
– State voters approve or disapprove proposed
legislation.
– Often used for constitutional amendments.
Initiative petition:
– Voters in some states propose legislation to be
voted on.
– Requires a specific number of signatures to be
valid.
– Can still be voted down by the people.
The Expansion of Suffrage

Suffrage or franchise is the right to vote
 It has been expanded throughout US history
 Today nearly all Americans over the age of
18 can vote in elections
The Expansion of Suffrage
15th Amendment (1870) granted suffrage to
African Americans (and other non-whites)
 19th Amendment (1920) granted suffrage to
women
 26th Amendment (1971) set the minimum
voting age at 18 (from 21)

Whether to Vote: A Citizen’s
First Choice

Deciding Whether to Vote
– U.S. typically has low voter turnouts—
historically around 50% in most presidential
elections.
– Some argue it is a rational choice to not vote.
Whether to Vote: A Citizen’s First
Choice

The Decline of Turnout: 1892-2004 (Figure 10.2)
Whether to Vote: Registration

49 states require registration—officially
signing up to vote.

Registration procedures differ from state to state.
 Registration requirements reduce turnout
– It requires voters to register well in advance of the
election day.
– Motor Voter Act: Requires states to permit people
to register to vote when they apply for their
driver’s license.
Other reasons cited for not
voting…

Some believe there is little ideological
difference between the two parties’
candidates
 They believe one vote among millions cast
doesn’t matter
 They are unable to leave work on a Tuesday
to vote
Some reasons people are
more likely to vote…

They perceive an ideological difference
between candidates
 They have a sense of political efficacy—
they believe their vote makes a difference
 The want to perform their civic duty in a
democracy
Predict who is likely to vote

Gender
 Race (Caucasian, Latino, African
American)
 Age
 Education
 Religion (pick three)
 Income
 Urban or rural
Whether to Vote: A Citizen’s
First Choice

Who Votes?
– Education: More education = more likely to
vote. Most important factor.
– Age: Older = more likely to vote.
– Race: Caucasian = more likely to vote. BUT,
other ethnicities are higher with comparable
education.
– Gender: Female = more likely to vote.
Whether to Vote: A Citizen’s
First Choice

Who Votes? (continued)
– Marital Status: Married = more likely to vote.
– Union Membership: Union member = more
likely to vote.
– Traits are cumulative - possessing several adds
up.
Voter Reforms

Studies show that if turnout increases
among groups with low rates, Democrats
would probably receive more votes
 Republicans are unlikely to support reforms
that would cost them this advantage
Whether to Vote: A Citizen’s First
Choice
Who Votes How?

Republicans
– Upper income, evangelical Christians,
conservative religious, Cuban Americans

Democrats
– African Americans, Jews, women, Latinos
How Americans Vote:
Explaining Citizens’ Decisions

Mandate Theory of Elections
– The idea that the winning candidate has a
mandate from the people to carry out his or her
platforms and politics.
– Politicians like the theory better than political
scientists do.
How Americans Vote:
Explaining Citizen's Decisions
1. Party Identification
– People generally vote for the party they agree
with.
– They don’t have to become informed about
every issue
– This trend is declining as parties have lost some
significance in the political process (with rise of
Independents)
How Americans Vote: Explaining
Citizen’s Decisions
How Americans Vote:
Explaining Citizen's Decisions
2. Candidate’s Personalities
– A candidate’s appearance may play an
unconscious role in decision-making
– People tend to value integrity, reliability, and
competence.
– Voters with college education are more likely
to base their decision on personality
How Americans Vote:
Explaining Citizen's Decisions
3. Policy Preferences
– People vote for candidates who share their policy
–
–
–
–
preferences.
Must know where they and the candidates stand on
issues and see differences between candidates.
Candidates can be ambiguous on the issues.
Today candidates are forced to take a clear stand in the
party primaries.
Retrospective Voting: choosing a candidate who vows
to continue policies helpful to him/her
The Last Battle: The Electoral
College

Electoral College actually elects the
President - founders wanted president
chosen by the elite of the country
 States choose the electors
 Winner-Take-All system gives bigger
emphasis to more populated states and
swing states during campaign
The Last Battle: The Electoral
College

How it works today:
– Each state has as many votes as it does Representatives
and Senators.
– Winner of popular vote typically gets ALL the Electoral
College votes.
– Electors meet in December, votes are reported by the
vice president in January.
– If no candidate gets 270 votes (a majority), the House
of Representatives votes for president, with each state
getting ONE vote.
Electoral College:
Winner Take All

48 states are winner-take-all
 If Candidate A gets 51% and Candidate B
gets 49% of vote, Candidate A gets all
electoral votes
 In Oregon, A=7
B=0
Electoral College:
Maine and Nebraska

Separate vote by House district
 Popular vote winner in each district gets the
electoral vote
 Winner of state popular vote gets final 2
electoral votes
 (show map www.270towin.c0m)
2000 Election

Illustrates a key weakness to the Electoral
College—winner of popular vote can lose in
the E.C.
 Bush won more small states which are
overrepresented in E.C.
 Gore won more populous states—they are
underrepresented in E.C.
 Overall popular vote was close
The Last Battle: The Electoral
College
Should the Electoral College
be Reformed?
Think-Pair-Share Activity
 Make a list of the greatest benefits and
greatest weaknesses of the Electoral College
system (3 of each…at least)
 Should the system be reformed? How?
Defend your answer.
Evaluating the E.C.


Weaknesses
– Doesn’t always represent the popular vote totals
– Small states overrepresented / large states underrepresented
– Faithless electors
– Deflates voter turnout
– Campaigns ignore some states
Strengths
– Winner-Take-All system provides a clear victor
– Clear, Quick results
– Traditional system / known quantity
– Reduced risk of fraud
Understanding Elections and
Voting Behavior

Democracy and Elections
– Voters can steer government only when there
are noticeable policy differences between the
candidates.
– Candidates who vow to continue popular
policies are more likely to win elections.
– Policies affect voting behavior through
retrospective voting.
– Bad economies make politicians nervous.
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Ch 10 Elections and Voting Behavior