So what do you Americans have to offer the world?

Despite the vast sums being spent to court the vote of the American electorate, it can safely be said that anywhere between 40-45% of the population will simply chose not to participate in the election. How can I say that?

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Dr. James Boys
On 3 November 2012 19:02

Ok, ok, ok, so by now you’ve heard all of the facts and figures. You know that the election is on Tuesday, you know the two main candidates, and you know the policy differences as exposed in the debates. You have pondered the role of advertising in the campaigns, and you are familiar with why Ohio is important in the process.

Finally, you know how much money has been spent during the 2012 campaign season. Congratulations. You already care more than a vast proportion of the American population. Much was made of Mitt Romney’s lament in relation to the ‘47% of the American population’ who wouldn’t vote for him. He was being generous. Actually only 47-48% of the entire electorate would consider voting for him, which equates to approximately a quarter of the American population.

Despite the vast sums being spent to court the vote of the American electorate, it can safely be said that anywhere between 40-45% of the population will simply chose not to participate in the election. How can I say that?

Because they never do. Even in a year in which the media referred to a higher than usual turnout, 2008, fewer than 58% of Americans bothered to vote. What about 1960 and the apparent euphoria surrounding the Kennedy campaign? A 63% turnout. Indeed, not since 1968 has more than 60% of the American population bothered to vote for a presidential candidate, and not since 1900 has the turnout exceeded 70%. Only twice has turnout ever exceeded 80%: Once in 1840 and then in 1860, in the election that brought Abraham Lincoln to the White House.

Shown on a graph, the figures are truly appalling. 2008, of course, was of particular importance in such considerations due to the presence of an African American on the ticket. Given Obama’s presence on the ticket, the relatively low turnout that year (despite actually being an increase on previous years) would appear to diminish suggestions that low turnout has anything to do with racial exclusion or disdain for an all-white field. Various excuses have been provided as to why turnout is so woeful.

Suggestions have been made that it’s just too darn difficult to register. I’ve even heard it said that the figure is so low due to the fact that Americans are a nomadic people and so many of them are constantly on the move, and so either lack a fixed abode, or are between houses at election time! What does this mean in practice?

It means that in 1996, less than 50% of the American population bothered to vote. Of the 49% of Americans who did vote, only 49% voted for the incumbent, Bill Clinton. The result? 75% of Americans did not vote for the man in office between January 1997 and January 2001. Is it any wonder that America appeared to lack leadership at that time? What this means for America in 2012 is that whoever wins on Tuesday will at best only ever be president of half of the United States: That’s all they have ever been

Dr. James D. Boys is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. He is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King's College London, Associate Professor of International Political Studies at Richmond University in London and a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Policy Institute. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @jamesdboys

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