- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2000

Voters yesterday bucked a decades long trend of increased political apathy, showing up in surprisingly large numbers in key states to help decide who will next control the White House.
In Lake Forest, Ill., nearly four out of five of those eligible will have voted by day's end to decide who will replace retiring Republican Rep. John M. Porter. In North Dakota, voters and election workers braved blizzard-like conditions. And in New York and Maryland, lines weaved into the night at polling places.
"People understand this is an extremely important election," said Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. Mr. Kennedy, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was one of the few to predict that turnout would be "really, really high."
"Polls that showed [the presidential election] so tight, got them thinking their vote might make a difference," said Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.
Unclear is whether these spikes in turnout will be enough to raise the national average or will have any enduring effect on the slow decline in American adults' political participation.
Conventional wisdom says high-turnout favors Democrats, but that may be confounded this year with both parties pushing folks to the polls.
"You need to talk to all the pundits and all the experts and pollsters and spin-meisters," George W. Bush told reporters early in the day. "You'll get every answer you want to that question."
Since 1960, voter turn out for presidential elections has slowly ebbed from a peak of 63 percent to 49 percent in 1996.
Efforts to ease access to voting, through motor voter laws and the like, have had little effect.
Analysts point to a growing cynicism and increased reliance on television as a source of news, which itself has turned from matters politic. In the last election, just 36 percent of those under 30 voted. By comparison, nearly 70 percent of those aged 55 and older voted.
"For the vast majority of Americans, elections happen only as television. They are shown with bad actors and a bad script, no more relevant to their lives than any other television spectacle," wrote the Alliance for Better Campaigns.
This year participation in primaries was low, viewership of the debates matched that for 1996, and there has been a general disinterest in politics, according to Martin P. Wattenberg, professor at University of California in Irvine.
As a result he, Mr. Gans, and other analysts had assumed turnout for the general election would hover around the halfway mark. Yesterday, the consensus seemed to be that turnout would range somewhere from 47 percent to 52 percent.
To counter voter malaise, there were "get out the vote" efforts by Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, and unions and minority groups.
The NAACP spent $10 million on its Voter Fund, sending 80 full time staff into 12 battleground states and registering 200,000 voters.
Auto plants in Detroit sat idle to allow workers to vote, a day off negotiated in the last labor union contract. Early polls showed voter turnout in Michigan hitting 60 percent.
Republicans say they made 72 million telephone calls in the last weeks.
Even in Maryland, considered safe for Mr. Gore, Republicans called some independent voters twice over the two nights preceeding election day with recorded messages from Mr. Bush's wife Laura.
"There has been a major mobilization effort, probably unprecedented," said Mr. Gans.
But those efforts have been extremely targeted, and so, Mr. Gans said, will be any increase in voter turnout.
More to the point, any increase will not be a reversal of the downtrend in voter turnout, but rather a "result of the peculiarities of this particularly close [presidential] race and the mobilization effort going into it," Mr. Gans said.

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