C. 10 Video Overview



V. WHETHER TO VOTE: A CITIZEN’S FIRST CHOICE
Who votes and who stays home?
Nearly two centuries of American electoral history include greatly expanded 
suffrage (the right to vote).
As the right to vote has been extended, proportionately fewer of those 
eligible have chosen to exercise that right.
The highest turnout of the past 100 years was the 80 percent turnout in 
1896; in 2008, 61 percent of the adult population voted for president.
One reason why many people vote is that they have a high sense of political 
efficacy—the belief that ordinary people can influence the government.
Those who vote out of a sense of civic duty are people who vote simply to 
support democratic government (even if they are indifferent about the 
outcome).

Registering to vote.
States adopted voter registration around the turn of the century, largely to prevent corruption associated with stuffing the ballot boxes.
Registration procedures differ greatly from one state to another.
States in the upper Great Plains and the Northwest make it easiest to register: there is no registration at all in North Dakota, and four states 
permit registration on election day.
States in the South still face the most difficult forms of registration (and 
they also record lower voter turnout rates).
This changed somewhat when the 1993 Motor Voter Act went into 
effect in 1996. The act requires states to permit people to register to vote at the same time citizens apply for driver’s licenses. The Motor Voter Act makes voter registration much easier by allowing eligible voters to simply check a box on their driver’s license application or renewal form. 
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C. Social science research points to several characteristics of voters and nonvoters:
Voting is a class-biased activity. People with higher than average education 
and income levels have a higher rate of voting. This is the most important 
factor affecting turnout.
Young people have the lowest turnout rate.
Whites vote with greater frequency than members of minority groups (but 
Blacks and other minority groups with high levels of income and education 
have a higher turnout rate than Whites with comparable socioeconomic status).
Women are slightly more likely than men to vote.
Married people are more likely to vote than unmarried people.
Government employees have higher than average turnout levels.

VI. HOW AMERICANS VOTE: EXPLAINING CITIZENS’ DECISIONS
Mandate theory of elections.
Many journalists and politicians believe the winner of an election has a 
mandate from the people to carry out the policies he or she promised during 
the campaign.
Conversely, political scientists know that people rarely vote a certain way 
for the same reasons. Political scientists focus instead on three major elements of voters’ decisions: voters’ party identification, voters’ evaluations of the candidates, and the match between voters’ policy positions and those of the candidates and parties (known as policy voting).
Party identification.
Because of the importance of party identification in deciding how to vote, 
the parties tended to rely on groups that lean heavily in their favor to form 
their basic coalition.
With the emergence of television and candidate-centered politics, the hold of 
the party on the voter eroded substantially during the 1960s and 1970s, and 
then stabilized at a new and lower level during the 1980s.
Scholars singled out party affiliation as the single best predictor of a voter’s 
decision in the 1950s. Voting along party lines is less common today, particularly in elections for the House of Representatives, where incumbency is now of paramount importance.

Candidate evaluations.
Political psychologists Shawn Rosenberg and Patrick McCafferty show that 
it is possible to manipulate a candidate’s appearance in a way that affects 
voters’ choices (even by substituting a good picture for a bad one).
Research by Miller, Wattenberg, and Malanchuk shows that the three most 
important components of candidate image are integrity, reliability, and competence.
In 2000, George W. Bush scored higher than Al Gore in the dimension of 
integrity.
Integrity is not enough; a candidate must also be seen as being reliable, i.e., 
dependable and decisive. George H. W. Bush’s image of reliability suffered when he broke the “no new taxes” pledge made during his 1992 campaign. 
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c. The personal traits most often mentioned by voters involve competence, i.e., experience, which is one of the reasons it is hard to beat an incumbent president.
Policy voting.
Policy voting occurs when people base their choices in an election on their 
own issue preferences.
True policy voting can take place only when several conditions are met.
Voters must have a clear view of their own policy positions.
Voters must know where the candidates stand on policy issues.
Voters must see a difference between candidates on these issues.
Voters must actually cast a vote for the candidate whose policy 
positions coincide with their own.
One recurrent problem is that candidates often decide that the best way to 
handle a controversial issue is to cloud their positions in rhetoric; both 
candidates may be deliberately ambiguous.
The media also may not be helpful, as they typically focus more on the “horse 
race” aspects of the campaign than on the policy stands of the candidates.
Although it is questionable whether voters are really much more sophisticated now about issues, policy voting has become somewhat easier than in the past. 
Today’s candidates are compelled to take clear stands to appeal to their own party’s primary voters. The presidency of George W. Bush was marked by clear, strong positions, which have increased voter polarization. Thus, it is the electoral process that has changed rather than the voters.

2008: An Election about Change
In 2004, Barack Obama catapulted to national prominence as the result of a 
debut speech that electrified the Democratic Convention.

a. Obama’s message emphasized unity and multi-culturalism.
b. Obama was viewed as a rising star and potential presidential candidate.
Obama declared his presidential candidacy in February 2007.
Obama became the primary alternative to the front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Obama’s call for change resonated more effectively than Clinton’s 
emphasis on experience.
The Republican nomination was wrapped up faster and more decisively by 
John McCain.
a. McCain’s reputation as a maverick had special appeal.
The campaign seemed to be shaping up as a close battle between Obama’s perceived advantages on economic issues and personal intelligence versus McCain’s perceived advantages on foreign policy issues and political experience.
The campaign took a turn in late September when the credit crisis rocked the financial markets.
The intense focus on the economy for the rest of the campaign provided Obama with opportunities to emphasize his popular plans for middle-class tax cut, extension of health care coverage, and programs to support education.
McCain’s choice of vice president, Sarah Palin did not resonate with the electorate even though she was an effective campaigner. 
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Obama was able to successfully link McCain to the unpopular President George W. Bush.
The final result of the election gave Obama 53 percent of the vote to McCain’s 46 percent.
Thepeople’sverdictin2008,justasin1800and1896,wasthatitwastime for a change in Washington.

VII. THE LAST BATTLE: THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE
It is the electoral vote rather than the popular vote that actually determines the 
outcome of the presidential election.
Because the founders wanted the president to be selected by the nation’s 
elite—and not directly by the people—they created the electoral college.
Political practice since 1828 has been for electors to vote for the candidate 
who won their state’s popular vote.
Mechanics of the electoral college system.
Each state has as many electoral votes as it has U.S. senators and representatives. Today, state parties nominate slates of electors.
All states except Maine and Nebraska have a winner-take-all system in which electors vote as a bloc for the candidate who received the most popular votes in the states.
Electors meet in their respective states in December and mail their votes to the president of the Senate (vice president of the U.S.). The vote is counted when the new congressional session opens in January, and the result is reported by the president of the Senate.
If no candidate receives an electoral college majority, the election is thrown into the House of Representatives, which must choose from among the top three electoral vote winners. The unit rule is used, which means that each state delegation has one vote (not each member).
The electoral college system disproportionately favors less populated states because of the formula, heavily populated states because of the winner-take- all rules, and especially the swing states where it is not clear which party has the edge—that is where the bulk of the attention will go during the general election.

VIII. UNDERSTANDING NOMINATIONS AND CAMPAIGNS
A. Are nominations and campaigns too democratic?
The American political system allows citizens a voice at almost every point 
of the election process, unlike many countries where a political elite controls nominations and elections. As a result, party outsiders can get elected in a way that is virtually unknown outside the United States.
The process has also led to what some call “the permanent campaign.” Some analysts believe the process of openness places numerous demands on citizens; many are overwhelmed by the process and do not participate.
The burdens of the modern campaign can also discourage good candidates from entering the fray. 
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4. The current system of running for office has been labeled by Wattenberg as the “candidate-centered age.” It allows for politicians to decide on their own to run, to raise their own campaign funds, to build their own personal organizations, and to make promises as to how they specifically will act in office.

Do elections affect public policy?
Elections, to some degree, affect public policy, and public policy decisions 
affect electoral outcomes.
The greater the policy differences between the candidates, the more likely 
voters will be able to steer government policies by their choices.
When individual candidates do offer a plan choice to the voters, voters are 
more able to guide the government’s policy direction.

Do big campaigns lead to an increase in the scope of government?
Because states are the key battlegrounds of presidential campaigns, candidates must tailor their appeals to the particular interests of each major state.
Candidates end up supporting a variety of local interests in order to secure votes from each region of the country.
The way modern campaigns are conducted is thus one of the many reasons why politicians always find it easier to expand the scope of American government than to limit it.

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