Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A vote is your token to be in this game

A vote is your token to be in this game
By Charles M. Madigan
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published August 8, 2006

If you wanted to visit the most robust slices of democracy in the United States, you would soon find yourself among wealthy, elderly, white, property-owning married people who, at least nominally, have benefited the most from the bounties of American life.

Among a few others, that is a description of the kinds of groups most likely to show up in the strongest way on Election Day. They vote in high percentages.

I reached this conclusion after reading my most favorite federal report, "Voting and Registration," on the 2004 presidential contest.

I'm not kidding.

Wonky? Moi?


It's very difficult to get any kind of trustworthy measure of what happened in that election, despite bundles of money thrown at the process by the private sector. Maybe you think that's not important. President Bush was re-elected, after all. Who needs to know more?

Maybe your idea of juicy stuff is not federal analysis of voting behaviors.

But I think we all need to know. What we are looking at when we look at these numbers is a measure of who is in the game and who is not.

You don't need to know how these people voted. The important thing is that they voted.

The document is produced a couple of years after each presidential election and it is based on extensive questioning of people who participate in the Bureau of the Census' Current Population Survey, a mega-poll that elicits an immense amount of data about the people of the U.S.

I love it because it tells me so much about what we are as a nation and, in a very clear way, the gap between our ideals about democracy and how we actually behave.

It can plant some unusual thoughts in your head.

Because wealth is such a strong indicator of political behavior, some of the trappings of wealth play the same role. The more bathrooms a person has in a home, then, the more likely that person is to vote. I call it the American Standard Standard.

What I think of when I read through these statistics is that democracy is very healthy in a piece of the United States, and that is good news.

But it's not a big enough piece, by my measure.

My argument would be that the people who would most benefit from using politics to achieve an end are the least likely to show up to vote. That is a sad development that must be remedied.

Are they victims of their lack of participation, or is their situation in life a consequence?

On Election Day, politicians are looking for the people who vote, and the barrier to putting yourself in that group isn't very high in the United States.

Tens of thousands of American soldiers are wrapped up in a brutal war in Iraq that has, as one of its many objectives, the fostering of "democracy" in a place that obviously doesn't quite know what to do with it.

Read "Voting and Registration" and think about it and you might raise the same kind of questions about the United States: Do we really know how to use our democracy? Are we taking advantage of the inherent people powers constructed into our system?

I don't think so.

Let's look for a minute at who is strongest at voting.

If you look at families with incomes of $50,000 or more, you see right away that almost 8 in 10 voted in the 2004 presidential election. Shift on down the income scale and you see that participation number sliding, quite a bit. Just under half of the families with incomes of $20,000 or less went out to vote.

There are a lot of other indicators that point to strong performance on Election Day too.

Education is very important, and the more of it that you have, the more likely you are to cast a ballot. Almost 8 in 10 people who have bachelor's degrees voted. That was about twice as high as the voting rate among high school dropouts.

Non-Hispanic whites participate more strongly on Election Day too. Non-Hispanic whites had the highest rate of voter registration at 75 percent. For blacks, the registration rate was 69 percent. Some 58 percent of Hispanics and 52 percent of Asians were registered to vote in 2004.


Non-Hispanic whites had the highest level of turnout at 67 percent; with black citizens at 60 percent, Hispanic citizens at 47 percent and Asian citizens at 44 percent.

The biggest voting state in the U.S. is Minnesota, while Hawaii has the lowest participation rate.

There is simply too much in this report (which you can find at http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/voting.html) to present in one column.

Look it up and see what it tells you about who is in the game and who is not on Election Day.


Post a Comment

<< Home