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Who Does and Doesn't Go to the Polls

SOME Americans who are entitled to vote but who don't exercise their right might feel a bit guilty about their nonparticipation. This may be why the amount of people telling United States Bureau of the Census interviewers that they voted has been 6 or 7 percentage points higher than the actual count of those voting in every recent presidential election.

Turnout varies greatly by age and education. In the presidential balloting four years ago, just a third of those 18 to 20 years of age said they voted for president, compared to almost 7 out of 10 who were 45 years and older. The proportion of those with college degrees who vote is roughly twice that among persons with a high school education or less.

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When we look at other forms of political participation, such as attending political meetings and rallies, we see the same relationships. In the 1988 election, 54 percent of college graduates said they were very interested in the campaign, compared to just 24 percent of high school graduates.

From the 1930s through the 1960s, the Republicans were the party which most often benefited from low voter turnout. This is no longer the case. In the 1988 presidential balloting, for example, and in the 1990 congressional elections, the Republicans had more support among persons who didn't make it to the polls than they did among the actual electorate.

As we have seen, young people have very low rates of turnout. The Democrats did exceptionally well in 1990 among that minority of the young who cast ballots. Surveys show that the Republicans were much stronger among that majority of persons 18 to 29 years of age who failed to exercise their franchise.

* Analysis and data provided by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut.

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