Chapter Summary

Elections represent the core of American democracy, serving several functions: selecting leaders, giving direction to policy, developing citizenship, informing the public, containing conflict, and stabilizing the political system.

Voting enhances the quality of democratic life by legitimizing the outcomes of elections. However, American voter turnout levels are typically among the lowest in the world and may endanger American democracy. Factors such as age, income, education, and race affect whether a person is likely to vote.

Candidates and the media often blur issue positions, and voters realistically cannot investigate policy proposals on their own. Therefore, voters make a decision by considering party identification and peer viewpoints, prominent issues, and campaign images.

The “road to the White House” is long, expensive, and grueling. It begins with planning and early fundraising in the pre-primary phase and develops into more active campaigning during the primary phase, which ends with each party’s choice of a candidate, announced at the party conventions. During the general election the major-party candidates are pitted against each other in a process that relies increasingly on the media and getting out the vote. Much of the battle at this stage is focused on attracting voters who have not yet made up their minds.

The Electoral College demonstrates well the founders’ desire to insulate government from public whims. Citizens do not vote directly for the president or vice president but rather for an elector who has already pledged to vote for that candidate. Except in Maine and Nebraska, the candidate with the majority of votes in a state wins all the electoral votes in that state.

Although American citizens do not fit the mythical ideal of the democratic citizen, elections still seem to work in representing the voice of the people in terms of citizen policy preferences.