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Voter Turnout Lowest Since 1924

November 6, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ More than half America’s eligible voters stayed home on Election Day, producing the lowest turnout since 1924 when Calvin Coolidge’s campaign didn’t excite the electorate either. Chief among the reasons cited by experts was President Clinton’s near-certain victory.

The final figures weren’t in on Wednesday, the day after the election, but Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for Study of the American Electorate, said he expects Tuesday’s turnout to be 48.8 percent of eligible voters. That compares with 55 percent in 1992.

In all, 95.8 million people will have voted, he said, out of 196.5 million who were eligible.

The 1924 turnout that elected the taciturn Coolidge was 50.1 percent. The previous low turnout was in 1824, with 48.9 percent.

Some of the people who did vote indicated they held their noses while doing it.

Gilbert Finger of Grosse Pointe Park, Mich., said he decided to vote ``because I have no right to gripe if I don’t.″ He chose Clinton, but said, ``It’s almost like I’m voting for the lesser of two evils.″

Gans said the attack advertising one or two hours a day ``gives people a choice between bad and awful, worse and worser, and creates a pall across the system.″

Robert Y. Shapiro, a political science professor at Columbia University, said Clinton’s lead in the polls held down the turnout.

``The presidential election was essentially a done deal,″ he said.

Shapiro says voters in 1992 were upset about the state of the economy and wanted to vote against George Bush. And Ross Perot’s presence in the race stirred voter interest.

Paradoxically, Perot probably had something to do with people staying away on Tuesday, Shapiro said.

``This go-round, voters were turned off by him,″ he added. ``He laid the groundwork for a third party, but I think that Perot was perceived as tired, worn and less effective.″

West Virginians voted in far larger percentages than the national average, but the turnout, at just under 64 percent, fell below expectations.

It was ``M&M politics,″ said West Virginia Secretary of State Ken Hechler, who had predicted 75 percent. ``If you look at M&Ms, they’re all different colors on the outside. And when you bite into them, they’re all similar on the inside.″

Politics has become dependent on mud and money, said Hechler, who served in Harry Truman’s White House. ``All too frequently, the voters look at this and they throw up their hands, and say what’s the use in voting.″

Forrest Maltzman, an assistant professor of political science at George Washington University, said voter turnout goes down when people think they know the outcome.

``A lot of people thought they knew exactly what was going to happen and that it was not worth bothering to vote,″ he said.

J.P. Monroe, a professor of political science at the University of Miami, said the low turnout is a concern.

``Here you have half the eligible voters electing the most important political official in the country,″ he said. ``That carries tremendous implications. When more and more people don’t participate, you cease to be a democracy.″

That sentiment was echoed by Ricki Seidman, executive director of Rock the Vote, which works to get young people to vote. More money was spent in the election than any before it, she said, but it wasn’t spent to bring more voters out but only to reach those people who were likely to vote.

``This is not encouraging for the future of our democracy,″ she said. ``This election ... cannot be said to determine America’s common political ideas and ideals.″

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