August 19, 1996 in Nation/World

No-Show ‘96: Americans Who Don’t Vote It’s A Battle To Get Nonvoters To Vote On Web Sites, At Rock Concerts, They Register; Will They Vote?

Stacy Adams Medill News Service
 

Twenty-five percent of America’s likely nonvoters say they intend to vote this November, but their history suggests they won’t.

Another 52 percent say they are undecided about going to the polls.

Turning nonvoters into voters is a challenge for political activists which has sparked everything from Web sites to rock concerts.

A Medill News Service poll of 1,001 likely nonvoters found many don’t fit the stereotype of alienated, poor, uneducated citizens. Instead, they show interest in politics and their communities in ways other than voting.

“It is a huge percentage of people who choose not to vote,” said Tracy Warren, spokeswoman for the League of Women Voters. “Those people have the resources to get the information they need but have chosen not to participate.”

Through a voter registration campaign, which includes a toll-free number and a Web site to register by computer, the league is trying to convince nonvoters to participate, Warren said. It also is working on a get-out-the-vote campaign that will peak about 30 days before the November election “when you have to do an intensive push.”

The league is telling nonvoters that “the outcome of this election is going to have an impact on their lives,” she said.

But that message may be a hard sell among some nonvoters, many of whom already follow what’s going on in public affairs and believe their vote, if they would cast it, would count - but still don’t vote, the poll suggests.

The league is depending on the National Voter Registration Act, passed in 1993, to attract about 20 million new registrants within the next four years, Warren said. The law, known as “motor voter,” allows citizens to register to vote when they receive or renew their driver’s licenses or visit social service agencies.

Although the law makes registration easier, political scientists still are concerned.

“We’re not sure if those people actually will go out and vote,” said Dr. John Hibbing, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska.

Hibbing said only 55 percent or an even smaller percentage of voting-age Americans will vote in November.

Many nonvoters are “put off by the system” and have a “so-why-should-I-waste-my-time-voting?” attitude.

He said states such as Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota have some of the highest numbers for voter registration and turnout because their residents are older and more settled. Other states should focus on educating people about political issues, especially if their nonvoters are young, poor or members of minorities, he said.

Some voter advocacy groups target specific audiences.

Rock the Vote, a national voting campaign founded by recording artists in 1990, focuses on drawing young voters to the polls.

Its 1992 registration campaign was responsible for bringing 2 million young people to the polls, organization officials said.

This year’s campaign includes public service announcements, a toll-free number to register by phone, a Web site for on-line registration by computer and a variety of concerts and events to attract potential voters.

Susan Mayer, new to the New Jersey area, registered through the Rock the Vote hotline after hearing the number on a radio station. “I was trying to figure out, before I heard the radio commercial, where I would go register.”

Hibbing said he agrees with Rock the Vote’s message but questions its method. “I would never discourage anyone from doing that,” he said about attracting young voters.

“At the same time, I’m not real confident that it’s going to make a tremendous difference.”

He said that “just bouncing around and playing some rock music” is not enough to actually improve voter turnout.

“You have to caution these people who think if we can make registration easier, everything will be fine.”


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