Public Involvment in an Age of Uncertainty
Author: Thomas E. Patterson
Publisher: Knopf Alfred A
September 2002

>From the Publisher
The Disputed Presidential election of 2000 highlighted a range of flaws in the American voting System, from ballot procedures to alleged voter intimidation to questions about the fairness of the Electoral College. But as Harvard University political scientist Thomas E. Patterson shows, one problem dwarfs all of these, a predicament that has been increasing since the 1960s and threatens the very foundations of our democracy: fewer and fewer Americans participate in elections. They are less likely to vote, less likely to contribute money to campaigns, and less likely to talk about candidates. They even are less likely to tune in the televised presidential debates.

>From the Critics
>From Publishers Weekly
In the year preceding the 2000 presidential election, scholars at Harvard University's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy conducted a study designed to uncover the reasons behind the growing national voter malaise. Based on the Vanishing Voter Project results, Patterson (Out of Order), who teaches at the Shorenstein Center, identifies and analyzes why voters have turned away from participatory politics. Although his conclusions will not surprise thoughtful observers, the painstakingly collected statistical support (the study queried almost 100,000 Americans) will add weight to his suggested solutions. In Patterson's view, media bias, the primary system, an endless campaign season, negative campaigning and institutional obstacles that have undermined the importance of individual voters all combine to deter Americans from voting. His considerations of the first two are the most original. Because voters faced with negative reporting disengage, he argues that the most damaging media bias is not in favor of liberals or conservatives, but in favor of negative reporting. The primary system is ineffectual because the results in early primary states determine ultimate results; voters in states with later primaries lose interest. Patterson offers suggestions to political parties, the press and public officials about how to increase voter participation. Among them: shorten campaigns; provide more prime-time coverage of primary debates and conventions; and add Election Day to the list of national holidays. This straightforward analysis of the difficulties inherent in keeping voters informed and involved and the pragmatic suggestions for overcoming them should be of interest to politicians and private citizens alike.

>From Kirkus Reviews
Civic-minded Americans are getting to be as rare as passenger pigeons, writes Harvard political scientist Patterson-and the system likes it just fine. "The juice has been squeezed out of elections," declares Patterson (Out of Order, 1993) in this engaging study of modern politics, an outgrowth of the Pew Charitable Trusts-sponsored Vanishing Voter Project, which conducted interviews with some 90,000 eligible voters during and after the 2000 presidential election. Weary and cynical, Americans no longer bother to study up on candidates and issues, no longer tune in to watch debates and conventions, can scarcely be bothered to vote-though, he adds, in the wake of the 2000 fiasco, many wish they had. In the Gore-Bush contest, less than half of the electorate cast a vote. Had all eligible voters turned out, Patterson observes, "the Democrats would have captured the presidency and both houses of Congress." The present active electorate represents a victory for the status quo: those who do vote are proportionally older and wealthier than the statistically average American, and they tend to have stronger and more conservative opinions on matters such as gun control, labor rights, and abortion; the lower classes, conversely, are scarcely present in modern elections and turn out in numbers far lower than in any other industrial democracy (and, Patterson notes, on a par with India). Patterson attributes this sweeping decline in citizen involvement to many causes, among them the disgraceful quality of the contemporary media and the candidates alike. He also suggests that the system does not serve average citizens well, noting that after September 11, there was no shortage of desire on the part ofcitizens to do their civic duty-but few outlets for them to do so, apart from purely symbolic gestures such as flying flags. By way of remedy, he suggests a number of measures designed to remove at least some of the tedium of the current electoral process, including a reformed primary system and a shorter campaign cycle. Provocative if depressing, and required reading for the public-policy-minded.

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