Based on more than 80,000 interviews, The Vanishing Voter investigates why - despite a better-educated citizenry, the end of racial barriers to voting, and simplified voter registration procedures - the percentage of voters has steadily decreased to the point that the United States now has nearly the lowest voting rate in the world. Patterson cites the blurring of differences between the political parties, the news media's negative bias, and flaws in the election system to explain this disturbing trend while suggesting specific reforms intended to bring Americans back to the polls. Astute, far-reaching, and impeccably researched, The Vanishing Voter engages the very meaning of our relationship to our government.
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. (Sept. 18) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.