No Competition Allowed or He Who Controls the Ballot Controls the Election

  • James T. Bennett

James Madison, in Federalist 10, explained that “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires.”1 Parties depend on liberty to exist. Free, robust debate is healthy in a republic. But what happens when two parties assert their right to exist and suppress competitors? We are living with the consequences of such suppression. When voters are forced to choose between lookalike and soundalike candidates who are distinguished only by the R on one’s lapel and the D on the other’s, something is horribly amiss. Lacking choices, many Americans decide not to vote. In recent years, the typical presidential election has attracted to the polls at best half the eligible voters. In off-year elections, when the 435 members of the Peoples’ House are up for selection, the figure is closer to 40%. “Voter turnout has not exceeded two-thirds of the eligible electorate since 1900,” writes Mark Lawrence Kornbluh in Why America Stopped Voting: The Decline of Participatory Democracy and the Emergence of Modern American Politics (2000). Tens of millions of otherwise engaged and intelligent Americans do not bother to vote. Yet as Kornbluh notes, voter turnout for presidential races in the nineteenth century in the North often exceeded 80% – and this in an age when getting to the polls was not an easy and warm-and-dry car ride away.2 Turnout remained extraordinarily high – or healthy, to use a better word – into the 1890s. With the coming of the new century it dropped: to 60% in the teens and, in more recent years, to the pathetic 50% (or even lower) level.


Presidential Election Voter Turnout American Political Science Review Major Party Eligible Voter 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

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