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Which groups in the U.S. today tend to vote at higher rates, and which at lower rates?  What do you think the sources of these patterns might be?

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Political scientists argue that people make the decision on whether to vote on the basis of a cost/benefit analysis.  They weigh the costs of voting with the benefits that they expect to get.  If the benefits outweigh the costs, they vote.  In order to think about why some groups of people vote more than others, we need to think about the costs and benefits that various groups get.

Of course, no one has to pay to vote.  The costs are, instead, costs in terms of time and effort.  This means that there are two groups that will not have very high costs.  One of the groups is people who are educated.  These people are more likely to already know a great deal about the political system.  When election time comes around, they do not have to spend a great deal of time and effort becoming familiar with issues and candidates.  If they do have to spend some time, their ability to find and understand information makes it easier for them to learn the things they need to learn.  This is in contrast to people with less education who will have to work harder to become informed.

A second group that will have low costs is elderly people.  Such people are generally retired.  Therefore, it does not matter as much to them if they have to spend time learning about issues or if they have to spend time standing in line to vote.  They have less to do and therefore do not feel that spending time on voting is a major cost.

Since no gets paid to vote, the benefits of voting must be psychological or emotional.  People will get the feeling that they have done their duty.  They will feel that they have acted as good Americans should.  They might also feel that they have done what they can for “their” side in the election.

This will typically mean that people who are happier with the American system will vote more.  They will feel more as if they should be good Americans and they should do their civic duty.  Richer people are more likely to feel this way.  Whites are more likely to feel this way than minorities.  Those groups typically feel that the system works for them and so they feel inclined to vote.

Thus, we can see why older people, more educated people, richer people, and white people tend to vote more than others.

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Which groups in the U.S. today tend to vote at higher rates, and which at lower rates?  What do you think the sources  of these patterns might be?

Let us start by looking at a few groups that vote more and a few corresponding groups that vote less often.  After identifying the groups, we can think about why they behave as they do.

First, whites tend to vote more than non-whites.  African Americans have caught up to whites in recent elections, but Asians and Hispanics continue to vote much less often than whites (and blacks) do.  Second, people with more education tend to vote more than people with less education.  Third, older people vote much more than younger people.  Finally, richer people tend to vote more than poorer people do.  Let us think about why this might be.

One reason for some of these differences is that some groups have lower costs for voting.  Political scientists believe that if the costs of voting are too high, people will not vote.  Voting does not cost money, but it does have costs in terms of the time and effort needed to become educated on the issues and candidates and (in most states) in terms of the time needed to actually go and vote.  We can say that better educated people will not need to take as much time learning about issues and candidates because they are likely to be better informed about the political system.  The same is true for older people who generally have more time and are more likely to spend some of that time following politics.

Another reason for some of these differences is that some groups derive low benefits from voting.  Political scientists believe that people will not vote if the benefits they get from voting are too low.  The benefits of voting are psychological and emotional.  People get an emotional benefit from voting if they feel that it is their civic duty to do so.  They get benefits from voting if they feel that they are participating in a system that works for people like them.  In general, white people and richer people are much more likely to feel that the system works for them.  They are much more likely to feel that they have a civic duty to vote because they are more likely to feel a strong connection to the country and its system.

Thus, some groups vote more than others because they have lower costs for voting and/or because they derive more benefits from doing so.

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