Overall voter turnout in the United States is considered to be quite low in comparison to other developed countries (Ginsberg, Lowi, Weir, and Spitzer 219). Voter turnout for the 2008 presidential election was close to sixty-two percent of registered voters, which was significantly lower than the seventy to ninety percent turnout in European nations (Ginsberg et al. 217). The Democrat and Republican parties dominate the U.S. political landscape and strive to motivate voters to cast their ballot support for the parties’ candidates. Interest groups that are in alignment with the political platforms and values of specific parties and candidates also strive to rally voters to the polls. Political parties and interest groups motivate voters by appealing to key issues, such as the economy, social programs, social reform, and proposed legislation.
Certain demographics can predict the likelihood of voter turnout, but it is typically loyalty to a political party’s agenda, the issue present within a particular election, and the candidate’s characteristics that convince voters that it is important to cast their ballots (Ginsberg et al. 214-216). In terms of demographic characteristics, education seems to play the most significant role in voter turnout. Voters who have graduated from college are more likely to cast their ballots, join political campaigns, and participate in political protests (Ginsberg et al. 146). This may be the result of a greater awareness of the political process, a better understanding of the background behind the issues at stake in each election, and better access to resources which make it more convenient to vote. Regardless, a strong emotional attachment between the issues at hand and the voter’s personal circumstances or perspectives drives that person to vote. The motivation may be a strong disagreement with a candidate’s agenda or a need to support equality and social justice. In either case, the decision to vote is a decision to firmly voice one’s opinion.
The two dominant political parties that exist in the U.S. are the Republicans and Democrats (Ginsberg et al. 209). The Republican Party appeals to a conservative ideology, while the Democratic Party appeals to liberal values (Ginsberg et al. 210). Women, African-Americans, eighteen to twenty-nine year olds, those with annual incomes of $50,000 or less, and those who reside in the Midwest and East are more likely to identify as Democrats. White males, who are sixty-five and older, and those who make over $50,000 annually are more likely to identify as Republican (Ginsberg et al. 213). Education seems to play an interesting role in whether an individual identifies as either Democrat or Republican. Those with less than a high school diploma or those who possess a graduate degree are overwhelmingly likely to identify as Democrat. Those who identify as Republican do not dominate any of the educational tiers, but fair better among four-year college graduates (Ginsberg et al. 213).
Interest groups can heavily influence whether voters cast their ballots in favor of specific candidates or ballot measures. For instance, Christian conservative lobbying organizations and other conservative organizations such as Focus on the Family have historically pushed voters to the polls to support Republican candidates for president (Mike and Perry 56). These groups target religious voters and urge them to get to the polls for issues such as gay marriage, abortion, taxes, gun control, stem-cell research, and the preservation of the “nation of sovereignty” (Mike et al. 57-58). Essentially conservative interest groups want to ensure that the conservative political platform stays intact. The social issues these types of interest groups support are what the leaders of the interest groups use to appeal to voters. Those same social issues are of keen interest to the voters the interest groups target. Christian voters tend to have the same outlook as the interest groups on these social issues and desire the same result.
A similar movement backed by interest groups happened in 2009 and 2010 with President Obama’s push for healthcare reform (Ginsberg et al. 237). Interest groups spent over one million dollars to ensure that the U.S. Senate’s 2009 health care bill stipulated that U.S. citizens would be required to purchase health insurance (Ginsberg et al. 238). Healthcare companies and those who had a direct financial interest in the healthcare industry backed the interest groups that spent the money to ensure health care reform laws worked in their favor (Ginsberg et al. 237-238).
Some members of the American public and news organizations take issue with the political influence that interest groups have over legislation, candidates, and those already in public office. Interest groups tend to exert influence over the agendas pushed through Congress and the Senate, over the bills that Presidents sign into law, and over the exact language that these bills contain. They are of course in favor of what the interest groups want and not necessarily what the public wants. In the case of healthcare reform, was it in the best interests of the American public to require that everyone has to purchase and maintain health insurance? Since the bill contained language that favored private health insurance carriers over publicly-funded options such as Medicare, one has to wonder whether interest groups should not be able to exert as much control over legislation. The main problem with interest groups is that they have a tendency to be selective and those who have financial resources are at an advantage when it comes to controlling what the interest groups stand for and how they operate (Ginsberg et al. 238).
The techniques that interest groups use to push their agendas and influence voters include lobbying, lawsuits, influencing public opinion, and sponsoring political action committees (PACs) (Ginsberg et al. 247-258). Much of this comes in the form of pushing information and advertising to legislators and the general public. Messages are either aimed at the positive effects of the interest groups’ causes or the negatives that might arise if the interest groups’ causes are not cemented into law. One of the main problems with interest groups is that they are almost always backed by society’s elite. This means that the interests and perspectives of the elite dominate the U.S. political system, rather than the interests of the socioeconomically disadvantaged (Ginsberg et al. 258). Interest groups will frequently play on the reasons voters decide to vote: political party, specific candidate, or social issues.
The reasons why voters turn out at the polls is because they feel strongly about the political party they identify with, they develop an affinity with a specific political candidate and his or her agenda, or they feel strongly about social issues that will be affected by ballot measures (Ginsberg et al. 214). Voters develop their perspectives and affinity towards certain political parties as a result of their upbringing, social circles, and life experiences (Ginsberg et al. 214). For example, the Democratic Party has a tendency to push a more liberal agenda in favor of keeping abortion legal and ensuring less marginalization takes place in society’s institutions. When the conservative agenda pushes issues and legislation that alienate voters based on gender, education level, socioeconomic level, and ethnicity, this is often more than enough reason for voters to vote in opposition to that party and its candidates. If voters feel that their basic rights and existence are threatened by a party’s political agenda, they are likely to develop an affinity for the opposite side. Political parties and interest groups play on those affinities by appealing to voters’ emotional attachment to their identities and the issues that voters feel are vital to existence.
Allen, Mike, and Perry Bacon Jr. "Courting The Devout." Time 168.18 (2006): 56-58. Academic Search Alumni Edition. Web. 14 July 2015.
Ginsberg, Benjamin, Lowi, Theodore J., Weir, Margaret, and Spitzer, Robert J. We the People: An Introduction to American Politics. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. Print.