The Revolt of the Nonvoter

On November 3, 1992, the most surprising news will not be who has won the presidential election, but whether a majority of the 186 million Americans eligible to do so will have voted. The salient question today is whether a moiety promises to become a majority. Four years ago they barely missed the honor: 49.84 percent were nonvoters, with some 91 million forming their ranks. Then as now, the mass media will have failed to report the biggest scoop of recent presidential campaigns: the empty voting booth.

Thus far, this election year has been most remarkable for the citizen boycott of the lengthy and extravagant sideshow known as the presidential primaries. Case in point: New York state, where Bill Clinton attracted less than three percent of eligible voters; the supposedly crucial contests of last spring in Illinois, Michigan, and then California that enticed less than one in six to cast a vote for candidates Bush, Buchanan, Brown, Clinton, or Tsongas. All told, across 27 states, voting levels declined from 24 percent in 1988 to just above 15 percent this year.

The groundswell of apparent disinterest and disdain for the election process, already evident with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 (when 62.8 percent of the electorate participated), has increased steadily over the seven subsequent presidential elections. In the last presidential contest, while 5.2 million persons were added to the ranks of voters since 1984,...

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