Three Myths about Voter Turnout in the United States

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Critics of American politics and elections oftenfocus on low voter turnout in the United States.They argue that voter turnout is steadily declininglargely because of voter cynicism caused by bigmoney campaigns and negative political advertising.Voter turnout is lower than it was in the1960s, but almost the entire decline happenedbetween 1968 and 1974. Sophisticated anddetailed studies of both public trust in governmentand the consequences of political advertisingshow that neither factor has a negative effecton voter turnout.

Turnout is lower than in other developednations, but the United States has a different cultureand history than European nations that seelarge majorities of their citizens go to the polls.European standards are not appropriate for judgingAmerican turnout.

Critics of American politics have misunderstoodvoter turnout in the United States. Theproposed remedies--limiting political libertythrough restrictions on campaign finance andon political advertising--are neither analyticallysound nor necessary for a healthy body politic.

John Samples

John Samples is director of the Cato Institute's Center for Representative Government.