Voter Apathy: Definition, Statistics & Causes

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

Voting is an important part of the political process in a democracy. The fact that many people don't vote can be confusing to observers. Why would you choose not to vote? This lesson on voter apathy discusses this phenomenon.

Voter Apathy as a Phenomenon

'We the People of the Unites States. . .' begins the Constitution of the United States. During a period of colonialism and imperial domination, the Constitution offered a view of government not ordained by a king or god, but brought about by the people themselves. Though not the earliest example of democratic principles, the Constitution of the United States is one of the oldest such documents used in the world. However, the dream of a citizen-run government depends upon citizens who care about issues and vote on them accordingly. How can it be, then, that many voters today don't seem to care? Voter apathy is the name assigned to this type of behavior.

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  • 0:01 Voter Apathy Phenomenon
  • 0:46 Voter Apathy Definition
  • 1:29 Statistics for Voter Apathy
  • 2:36 Voter Apathy Causes
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
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Voter Apathy Definition

Voter apathy occurs when eligible voters do not vote in public elections. Outside of election time, voters may seem disillusioned with the political process or politicians in general. In a country supposedly run by elected officials, disenchanted and inactive citizens can present problems. For example, when very few people vote, the politicians elected do not represent the beliefs and values of the general population. Voter apathy has been compared with a sort of political depression, where one feels helpless and unable to influence important events.

Statistics for Voter Apathy

In 2014, the Center for the Study of the American Electorate (CSAE), a nonpartisan research group, performed an analysis of 25 states' primary elections. As both governors and senators were running for office, local and national issues were represented. According to the analysis, just three of the 25 states experienced greater voter turnout in 2014 than they did in 2010. Nationally, only 14.8% of eligible voters participated in state-wide primaries in 2014, a 3.5% decrease from the 18.3% of eligible voters who participated in state-wide primaries in 2010. A little over 17% of both Democrat and Republican voters turned out for the primaries in 2014. This figure represented a 54% reduction in the number of eligible voters who participated in the primaries in 1966, which in that year, stood at 31.9%.

Voter Apathy Causes

The major cause of voter apathy is a general lack of agency: citizens may doubt their ability to make a difference, or minorities may feel under-represented in government. Additionally, scandalous and sensationalist media reports have also led voters to think of politics as being a less-than-honest enterprise. Another major cause of voter apathy is a lack of interest in the political process.

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