29 Mar 2022



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National and international governments and institutions are becoming increasingly concern about the decrease in political and electoral participation. National discourses on electoral processes demonstrate some psychosocial detachment of citizens in many issues of governance. Several factors have been given as to why electors’ turnout in national elections is decreasing over the decades. This paper looks at the consequences of decreasing electoral turnout as it makes reference alternative forms of engagement and participation. Well developed democracies are experiencing low voter turnout in almost the same proportion with the developing democracies. This trend is perceived both objectively and subjectively. Participation in the electoral process in a democratic nation state is a function of national orientation and the economic, political, sociocultural relationship between the electorate and the government. The degree of voter apathy, and the sociocultural aloofness from participating in political and electoral processes should be the primary concern of political parties, government institutions and non-governmental organizations.

The problem of decreased electoral turnout is not peculiar to one nation and it has cut across developed, industrialized and the developing nations including what it referred to as the third world or nations. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) comparative study demonstrated that France, the United Kingdom and America’s electoral turnout is declining (IDEA, 2002). The United Kingdom Electoral Commission in a report found out that the electoral turnout in its general elections is abysmally low (UK Electoral Commission, 2002). In America, since the 1960s presidential elections turnout has steadily decreased. The midterm election statistics give very dismal projections in the electoral participation. However, as Franklin wrote that the salience of the election is critical in determining the turnout and that election that does not involve executive powers such as midterm elections are usually seen as less important and therefore evoke fewer turnouts (Franklin, 2001, . 6). According to the United States Election Project, since WWII the 2014 midterm elections was the lowest in any election cycle in America according early projections (United States Election Project, 2014). These results are projections that give analysts the instruments of debate but of no practical implications. The New York Times editorial (2014) has attributed this decline to apathy, citizens’ dissatisfaction with the government and the nature or tone of the campaigns.

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The civic orientation of the people in a nation which defines their culture to national issues is a critical factor in political participation and electoral turnout. The decline of the civic culture is therefore one of the causes of the decline in voter turnout general elections. Almond and Verba describe civic culture as the totality of citizens’ knowledge and consciousness, political sentiment and participation, with a sense of political responsibility and competence, and social attitudes and practices. (Almond & Verba, 1963, .402). This description indicates that the citizen has external and internal elements that need to be aroused towards societal and political growth and stability. National consciousness seems to erode without a high level of civic culture and the nation state appears to be inactive even as it operates because of the disconnection and decline that will eventually arise in both political and electoral participation. Without a civic culture, civic duties such as participation in elections and becoming members of political parties and other relevant organizations will be difficult. The behavior of citizens is seen in their inactivity and non-participation in electoral processes.

The declining trust in the preceding governments and politicians has contributed immensely to the decrease in electoral turnout across the world including industrialized nations. Voting during elections is usually a subjective transfer of trust to who the vote is given and when the promises are not met the elector’s confidence in the person or persons begin to dwindle and the attachment as seen in the description of civic culture evaporates creating a disconnect between government, politicians and the electors. According to a survey by the Elections Canada, “There is a widespread perception that politicians are untrustworthy, selfish, unaccountable, lack credibility, are not true to their word, etc. (Election Canada, 2003, .7). The relationship between the nation states and their citizens experiences a lack of vitality through the indicators of poor electoral turnout. A country like the U.S. experiences low turnout mainly due to the inactivity and lack of attachment of the institutions of governance with the people. This sort of political numbness causes the citizens to choose other non-electoral forms of political involvement to get their needs and interest (Barnes and Kaase 1979). Perceptional change may be the solution to the apathy that is currently within the minds of electorates towards the government and the politicians.

Interest prioritization is another consequence of low electoral turnout in established and old democracies. Citizens of nations seem to perceive the government and politicians as entities with interests that do not align with those of the citizens. This in turn has caused many to see any political process as a secondary exercise that has little to do with their individual lives. In other words, there is more individualization now than it was before. The social groups of the society in which we live as agents of change tend to care about its needs far more than the concerns of the electoral process. The shift is in the valuation of the importance of the electoral process and the most pressing individual needs that are probably the cause of the same political process, leading to the citizenry having a preference for the individual pursuit. The unwillingness and challenge to voting is complex when viewed from a different perspective. Ferrini writing on why election turnout is decreasing across democracies stated that from the 1960s when a peak was observed there has been a change in prioritization by western citizens where there is more adaptations of material well-being, food and health security, individualization over more basic economic needs and the class division (Ferrini, L. 2012). When these group of citizens listen to politicians during campaigns during electioneering periods, the expectations seems to be too high and the politicians often fall short giving the citizens reasons to avoid participation.

Youth disengagement from the polity is a possible factor in the continued decrease in the electoral process. The perception of youths and the ruling class is far apart. The U.S. Bureau of the Census, Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistic Administration showed that the percentage of youths in congressional and presidential elections is progressively lower, (Bureau Of The Census, 1991). The adult population in the society has not given the youth the awareness that is necessary for them to see political participation as something that has any meaning effect on their present life. Most of them will later see the reasons why they could not get involved in the change process through elections and blame the society and the ruling elites for the state of their country. Youths in many developed democracies do not think that the government or politicians care about their interests. Where they are in life in terms of age creates imaginary distance between them and the government, political parties are out of touch, and are perceived as not having the maturity to handle certain issues much talked about during general elections. Elections Canada found that young people are lacking in political representation (p.51). This perceived notion further creates indifference towards electoral process and political participation.

Weakness in political parties has contributed to low electoral turnout often due to the content of the electoral campaigns. Voting is very important in any democracy and the political parties play very central role in its stability. Franklin puts it candidly when he wrote that “the health of a democracy is often seen in terms of its level of turnout.” ( p.1). Recent campaigns do not seem to be based on very important issues of the society. And gaps are created between the electorates and the parties and candidates they vote for. These gaps continue to create disconnections that result in indifference to elections and other aspects of political participation. The campaign themes do not always resonate with the aspirations of the people because what they are after in their personal lives is or are not in alignment with the theme of the parties. These gaps are these days fill psychologically by interest groups as alternative forms of political engagement and participation.

Alternative forms of Participation

Representative government is the hallmark of democracies across the world. Interests in a diverse society play significant roles in the vitality of the democratic and electoral process. Community life is a traditional way of participation in the political process of a nation through the group or community activities that touches the lives of the people. Interest groups have emerged in the political domain due to several factors that are not the concern of this paper but suffice it to say that weakness in the political system has created pathways for citizens to use alternative forms of accessing and participating in political and electoral exercises. The escalation in interest groups and special interest or issues lobbyists’ platforms reflects the failure of structural political party politics in tackling specific individual interests and concerns. This has led to the proliferation of alternative forms of participation through communities and interest groups. Several platforms have been created for political participation in democracies. The common town hall meetings are one avenue of political participation that is outside the normal electoral process where groups can gather and push for a policy in the state and central government. There are also grassroots movements and campaigns that represent some interest groups or community benefits. This channel form very strong political fronts without the means of elections. There are also other groups such as the trade associations and those who act as watchdogs of the government and the politicians. The media in all its forms can be means that citizens use to participate in the political process without involving in elections. Rallies and protests are forms of political participation in a democratic society if a government is unresponsive to the needs of the people.


Electoral turnout is indeed decreasing but not in alarming rates. Political parties, politicians, government and the citizens have different roles to play in nation building and change. Participation in electoral process is a function of national orientation and the economic, political, socio-cultural relationship between the electorate and the government. There are signs of dissatisfaction and prioritization of issues by individuals that has led to the shift and the low turnout. Interest groups have emerged to strengthen democracies through the provision of alternative forms of participation and engagement. What needs to be done is for political parties to strategize and be focused on themes and constructive issues that touches on the modern life of the citizens.


Almond, Gabriel A., and Verba, Sidney. 1963. The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations (Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown & Co., 1963), p 402.

Barnes, Samuel, Max Kaase, et al. 1979. Political Action: Mass Participation in Five Western Democracies . Beverly Hills CA: Sage.

Elections Canada. 2003. Explaining the Turnout Decline in Canada Federal Elections: A new Survey of Non-voters . Available at http:// www.elections.ca

Ferrini , Luca. 2012. Why is Turnout at Elections Declining Across the Democratic World? . (September 27). Available at: http://www.e-ir.info/2012/09/27/why-is-turnout-at-elections-declining-across-the-democratic-world/

Franklin, Mark N. July, 2001. The Dynamics of Electoral Participation . [Online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/2412322

International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. 2002. Comparative Survey. Publications and Resources. Available at: http:// www.idea.int

The New York Times. 2014. The worst voter turnout in 72 years . Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/12/opinion/the-worst-voter-turnout-in-72-years.html?_r=0

UK Electoral Commission . 2002 . Voter engagement and young people. Available at http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/about-us/voterengageyoungppl.cfm

United States Election Project. 2014. Low Turnout in midterm election . Available at: http://www.electproject.org/2014g

U.S. Department of Commerce Economic and Statistical Administration. Bureau of the Census. 1991. The Decline in America Voter Turnout.  

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