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Monday, November 2, 1998
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 50

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Voter apathy reaches new high in county

By Andrew Sandoval
Daily Cougar Staff 

On the eve of election day, Harris County officials are expecting one of the lowest voter turnouts in Harris County in years.

Only 37 percent of the 1.7 million registered voters in Harris County are predicted to participate in Tuesday's elections, Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman told the Houston Chronicle last week, compared to the almost 50 percent who made their way to the polls in 1994.

The expected number of voters is the lowest in more than a decade. Since 1986, Harris County has experienced voter turnout no lower than 46 percent.

However, the decline in voter participation is not limited to mid-term elections. Though presidential elections usually generate higher participation, even their numbers have been gradually tapering.

"(In) the early 1960s, over 60 percent of the eligible people voted. Now it's about 50 percent," said UH political science Professor Robert Erikson.

What is more, statistics show the long decline in political involvement and participation in the county mirrors a drop in political interest among college students nationwide in the 1990s.

According to a study released by the University of California-Los Angeles in January, college students contribute to the growing percentage of voters who lack interest in general politics.

UCLA's involved freshman students at 464 colleges and universities across the country. Of those, 27 percent said political affairs were important to them, as opposed to more than 40 percent earlier this decade.

Several UH students said they were dissatisfied with today's politics, from negative advertising to unfulfilled campaign promises.

"The older I get, the more cynical I get about the people running for office," said Kathryn Peterson, a graduate student in English. "I think our country is polarized -- there is the left and right wing -- and they do not have any communication."

Such cynicism, or a lack of understanding of the government and the role it plays, contribute to less voters involvement, experts say.

However, few seem to have a clear answer regarding how to encourage people to cast their votes other than voters being self-motivated and educated about the issues.

"In order to see a change in politics, it is important that the public be informed and knowledgeable of the issues that are on the ballot and not only knowledgeable of the current scandals," said freshman MIS major Vicky Luke.
 

Reach Sandoval at
dcougar@mail.uh.edu.
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