In the US voter turnout rates varies directly by income. This is not a two-variable causal relationship as many other variables, mostly associated with income, come into play. The 2008 election demonstrates the relationship. Here is a link to see it on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voter_turnout_in_the_United_States_presidential_elections#/media/File:Voter_Turnout_by_Income,_2008_US_Presidential_Election.png I chose this diagram as it broke the income groups into 10 rather than two or a few categories.
Overall I would argue that the underlying explanation, while complex, involves the relative stake different socioeconomic groups have in both the economy and the political system. That is the more affluent a person is the more he or she is able both to benefit from public policy and perceive that he or she can have a marginal, small to be sure, impact on public policies in the future by voting. Perceived benefits and costs from public policies that the affluent recognize along with civic responsibilities such as voting provide a more coherent picture of being part of the body politic. The less affluent, in contrast, are more likely to perceive they are at the mercy of public policy. I should think the less affluent would be less likely to perceive their concerns and needs are considered when policy is made; and, the less affluent are less likely to expect their votes matter.
This contrast across the continuum of economic groups and their levels of participation is likely exacerbated by the issue content of elections in the last half century: welfare reform, lower taxes, drug tests for public housing residents, stop and frisk, public health funding to name just a few. The lower one’s income the more recent changes in social welfare programs have caused financial challenges to one’s daily life and existence. To a very real extent the concerns by taxpayers over funding social welfare policies is a direct attack on those who rely on those programs. How could a public welfare recipient feel part of a political and economic system that publicly declares they are, at best, a drag on growth and prosperity?
One of the prevailing “stories” about America is that if a person works hard that person will become a success. That belief belies that well over 99.99% of those of us who judge ourselves successful had a lot of help from family, neighbors, public servants, pastors/priests/rabbis just to name a few. However, the further one’s parents are down the income ladder the less assistance one will receive from anyone to be success. Indeed, the farther down the income ladder the more obstacles and impediments to becoming successful one will encounter.
It is no accident that there is a strong positive correlation between an individual’s income grouping and one’s parent’s income grouping. I am not arguing that hard work doesn’t pay. However, if you are doing a menial task for a living you receive a menial wage. It is difficult to amass a fortune on a menial wage no matter how hard one works. Things like housing, transportation, clothing, medical care/insurance, can quickly become unaffordable on a menial wage. Then people earning a menial wage, like everyone else, have children or parents or both who are in some fashion at least partially dependent on one for their housing, transportation, clothing, and/or medical care/insurance. Just because one does a necessary task that folks who had more support can avoid should not condemn one to being on the socioeconomic and political margins. But it does.
Having a wide spectrum of needs based programs, we call them entitlements, that a significant proportion of our citizens rely upon with another significant number of our citizens decry and do not want to pay taxes to fund creates all the necessary ingredients for civil strife–potentially a class based civil war. Yet, this potential conflict is not necessary. Rather it is an artifact of how we create money and how we redistribute money through government taxing and spending policies. Our approaches to both monetary and fiscal policy are the basis of a big share of our political conflict.
If we did not maintain income transfers through government we could mitigate some of the core conflicts in the American Society, Economy, and Polity. If you look closely at the proposal for creating new money through all the sovereign citizens and giving the government’s a stipend in lieu of a tax base you will find it obviates the need for the lion’s share of entitlements and the resentments those entitlements engender from those paying for the entitlements with taxes they pay. You will also find it largely removes the largest reason for the differentiation among givers and receivers from public policy. Finally, if you stop the incentives for lawmakers to play favorites based on campaign contributions, you begin to equalize the playing field for all.
A more equalized playing field will not automatically and quickly create more successful people. But it will make it possible to prove that success can be attained without such a strong correlation to one’s parent’s income levels. For example, the voting age is 18. So, when a person reaches the age of participatory citizenship that person will have resources that are not dependent upon his or her parents for support for job training or a formal education. Or, an 18-year-old could approach self-sufficiency. That could prove a break on crime, hopelessness, veterans’ adjustments to separation, again to name a few.
One policy issues that will need to be addressed is the practice of withdrawal of civil rights from ex-convicts. I should think it would facilitate their reintegration into society if they were finished with their rehabilitation and punishment when released from incarceration and their rights restored at that point.
Another policy issues that will need to be addressed is the content of educational curriculum. It would be expeditious if all citizens had some personal finance training and a firm grasp of how governments and the political processes operates.
Turnout will increase across all income groups. While paying citizens to do their civic duties of voting, jury duty and educating their children and the like is not quite the same as requiring citizens to vote, the financial penalty for not voting largely obviates any difference between the system I propose and compulsory voting. Hence, we need to examine the impact of compulsory voting in the 22 nations that have it.