excerpted from the book
Why Americans Don't Vote
by Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward
Pantheon Books, 1988, paper
... our unrepresentative electorate and the resulting low voting
rates have their historical roots in the exclusionary voter registration
systems established at the end of the nineteenth century. Southern
planters pushed through poll taxes, literacy tests, and obstructive
voter registration policies to slash voting among blacks and poor
whites. Northern businessmen reformers, claiming a "quality"
electorate as their goal, introduced similar practices (including
poll taxes in a number of New England states). As the new procedures
took effect between 1888 and 1904, voting rates fell: from 64
percent to 19 percent in the South; from 86 percent to 55 percent
in the North and West; and from 8 ~ percent to 49 percent nationally.
And as the electorate shrank, party appeals and strategies also
By contrast, during this same era of tumultuous industrial
growth in the early twentieth century, working men and poor farmers
in Europe were winning the franchise. Their votes, in turn, spurred
the growth of socialist or labor parties. In Germany, the Social
Democratic party actually won the largest share of the vote once
the anti-socialist laws, which had disenfranchised many workers,
were allowed to lapse. The Austrian Social Democrats won 21 percent
of the vote in 1907, the Finnish Social Democrats 37 percent,
and the Belgian Workers' party 13.2 percent-all in the first elections
after universal male suffrage had been won. As parties on the
left emerged, they in turn helped activate newly enfranchised
workers, resulting in the continued rise of voting totals in these
Voting levels did rise in the United States during the Great
Depression. Popular discontent, the growth of industrial unions,
and big-city political organizations revitalized by Roosevelt's
New Deal programs all helped working people hurdle registration
barriers, producing a twentieth-century turnout high of 73 percent
in the North and West by 1940. The effects of rising participation
were immediate and dramatic as the Democratic party's appeals
and programs shifted toward these new working class voters.
Still, this transformation was incomplete. National Democratic
leaders continued to be constrained by the racist politics of
the southern wing of the party, whose barriers to the franchise
kept voting down among poor whites and blacks alike. Southern
turnout finally rose in the 1960s and 1970s (although it remains
marginally lower than the national average) following the civil
rights movement's success in overturning the more extreme barriers
to registration, such as poll taxes and literacy tests. Once again,
the rise in voting levels had an immediate impact on the two parties
as Democratic politicians grew more liberal in response to a stronger
black turnout (illustrated more recently by the role southern
Democratic senators played in defeating Robert Bork's Supreme
Court Justice nomination), while many newly enfranchised whites
helped revive the southern wing of the Republican party.
Even as voter turnout rose after 1960 in the South, it fell
in the North and West, and the system of personal voter registration
must figure as part of the explanation. The overall national turnout
slide from the 20th-century high of 65 percent in 1960 to about
50 percent in 1988 was not mainly due to fewer registered voters
voting. Based on studies spanning two decades, the Census Bureau
concluded that people "overwhelmingly go to the polls"
once they are registered.
In 1984, fully 88 percent of registered voters went to the
polls, and there is no reason to think the figure fell appreciably
in 1988. (Voting was down by several percentage points, but so
was the level of registration.) The drop in voting since 1960
resulted mainly from a decrease of roughly 10 percentage points
in the registration levels themselves-to 61 percent in 1988 by
our estimate-and much of the decline occurred among the less educated
and the unemployed, and among residents of major cities where
registration levels often account for less than half of the eligible
A good many commentators claim that registration procedures
today are more liberal than ever before. True, poll taxes and
literacy tests are gone, but outside the South, the major reform
in registration procedures consists of allowing people to register
by mail. This reform is more appearance than fact, since provision
is rarely made for the wide distribution of the postcard forms.
States with mail-in systems do not have higher registration levels,
because people may still have to travel to a county seat or to
a downtown office in a central city simply to register.
Not only has the voter registration system not been liberalized
to the extent claimed by many commentators, but the political
parties are also less likely now than in the past to provide "hands
on" assistance with registration procedures. National political
campaigns run as media events do not put voter registration cards
in people's hands. Furthermore, the local party infrastructure
created during the New Deal to help overcome registration barriers
has decayed. Many of the traditional big city party machines persist
more to organize graft than to organize voters, or they refuse
to mobilize potential black and Hispanic voters for fear of fueling
racial challenges. The shrinking industrial unions are no longer
capable of reaching many unregistered workers, especially the
low-wage nonunionized workers in the vast and growing service
sector. Without local organizations to help people sign up, registration
barriers become more restrictive, gradually driving turnout down.
At first glance, the turnout slide is puzzling; it flies in
the face of the logic of competitive elections. The Democrats
have lost five of the past six presidential elections. Why doesn't
the party therefore exert itself somehow to expand its political
base among minorities and the less well off? Of the nearly 70
million Americans who are not registered to vote, two out of three
have family incomes that fall below the median, and the opinion
polls show that their preferences lean toward the Democrats.
One answer is that the Democrats are more a confederation
of individual entrepreneurs than an organized party. Moreover,
most of these entrepreneurs are doing quite well; a substantial
majority of elected positions below the presidential level are
controlled by Democrats who are regularly reelected and so see
no need to expand the electorate; indeed, they have good reason
to want to keep things as they are. The presidency doesn't matter
nearly as much to this establishment of incumbents that reign
over the Congress and state and local governments.
The only practical way to produce more differentiated parties
is to expand the electorate, and that in turn requires a system
of universal registration.
... Consistently, the virtual absence of large-scale protest during
the 1980S facilitated the spate of domestic policies that has
dramatically worsened the bias of public policy against working-
and lower-class groups.
Although movements and voting are sometimes treated simply
as conflicting alternatives, the bearing of each on the other
is in fact multifaceted; each form of political action both undermines
and supports the other, as we tried to show in our earlier work.
There are, for example, ways in which electoral politics suppresses
the possibilities for collective protest. The elaboration of electoral
arrangements entails a system of powerful meanings and rituals
that define and limit the appropriate forms of political action.
The very availability of the vote, and of the social ritual of
the periodic election, is like a magnet attracting and channeling
popular political impulses. Other forms of collective action,
and especially defiant collective action, are discredited precisely
because voting and electioneering presumably are available as
the normative ways to act on political discontents. In addition
to constraining the forms of popular political action, the electoral
system tends to limit the goals of popular politics, and even
the orientations of popular political culture, to the political
alternatives generated by the dominant parties. Further, involvement
in electoral politics exposes people to the fragmenting influences
associated with electioneering, and can thus weaken the solidarities
that undergird political movements, a development that takes its
most extreme form under clientelist or machine modes of appealing
to voters. And, finally, electoral political institutions generate
seductions that distract people from any kind of oppositional
politics. People are hypnotized by the circuses of election campaigns,
while their leaders are enticed by the multiple opportunities
to gain (often trivial) positions in the electoral representative
system. In short, involvement in electoral politics channels people
away from movement politics.
Despite the zeal and overstatement with which this sort of
view is sometimes expressed, it is supported by a long and serious
intellectual tradition. Reinhard Bendix, for example, argued that
the class consciousness of European workers was enhanced precisely
because they were barred from electoral participation during most
of the nineteenth century; Ted Robert Gurr and some other movement
analysts explicitly posited that electoral institutions channel
people away from protest; 3 and Murray Edelman stressed the symbolic
manipulation associated with electoral participation. And there
is clearly some broad historical "fit" between the idea
that electoral arrangements constrain protest movements and the
actual course of movements in American history. For instance,
as electoral participation expanded in the first third of the
nineteenth century, and particularly with the emergence of machine-style
political organization, early workingmen's insurgencies did, in
fact, tend to become absorbed in regular party politics. And,
at the end of the nineteenth century, the Populist movement was
fragmented, diminished, and ultimately destroyed by its venture
into national electoral politics. Much of the momentum of the
labor movement of the 1930s was lost as it became absorbed in
Democratic party politics. Similarly, the black movement dissipated
as it turned "from I protest to politics" in the 1 970s.
The bearing of electoral politics on movement politics is
more complicated, however. Some aspects of the electoral environment
nurture rather than suppress movements. True electoral politics
usually absorbs political activism so that people do not turn
to protest. Nevertheless, the idea of popular rights associated
with democratic electoral arrangements encourages the belief that
change is possible, and by the efforts of ordinary people. This
is the implication of the core democratic idea, the idea that
ordinary people have the right to participate in governance by
choosing their rulers. Furthermore, movements also may be nurtured
by the protection that electoral politics provides. The anticipation
of adverse voter reactions often restrains state leaders from
the use of repression as a way of dealing with political defiance.
... in the United States, the formal right to the franchise is
virtually universal, a condition much celebrated in the political
culture. Only those who are aliens, or felons, or not yet of age,
or undomiciled are denied the vote as a matter of acknowledged
policy. At the same time, the ability of large numbers of people
to act on the right to the franchise is impeded by a series of
procedural obstructions embedded in the voter registration process.
Those obstructions are selective in that they are more likely
to interfere with voting by the poor and unlettered than by the
better off and educated. Still, they do not bar entire categories
of the population, and the method by which people are barred remains
obscure. People often fail to register precisely because they
do not know much about the requirement or how to complete it,
and under these circumstances they do not know just why they do
not have access to the ballot. It is in the nature of these barely
comprehended procedural obstructions that people tend to blame
themselves for their failure to comply. In these cases, the idea
that voting and elections provide the means for acting on political
grievances remains largely intact, even though the means are not
in fact available to tens of millions of people. The demobilization
of large sectors of the American electorate has thus been secured
at relatively little cost to the legitimacy of electoral processes
as the prescribed avenue for political change.
... protests from below are more likely to arise in the first
place when contenders for office are forced to employ rhetoric
that appeals to less-well-off voters, and thus give courage to
the potential protesters. Such movements are more likely to grow
when they are at least somewhat secure from the threat of state
repression because political leaders are constrained by fear of
adverse reactions by workingclass or lower-class or minority electoral
supporters ... protesters are more likely to win when the issues
they raise stir support among significant numbers of these voters,
threatening to lead to voter defections. The complementary dynamic
between movements and electoral politics thus depends both on
the composition and orientation of movements and on the composition
and orientation of significant blocs in the electorate. In other
words, the sharp underrepresentation of poorer and minority people
in the American electorate creates an electoral environment that
also weakens their ability to act politically through movements.
This is one important way that massive nonvoting has shaped American
Nonvoting has influenced American politics in other ways as
well, and that is why the question of who shall vote has been
at the volatile core of American politics for over a century.
It may bear on our political future as well.
The Politics of Nonvoting
The right to vote is the core symbol of democratic political
systems. Of course, the vote itself is meaningless unless citizens
also have the right to speak, write, and assemble; unless opposition
parties can compete for power by offering alternative programs
and leaders; and unless diverse interest groups can also compete
for influence. And democratic arrangements that guarantee formal
political equality through the universal franchise are inevitably
compromised by sharp social and economic inequalities. Nevertheless,
the right to vote is a basic feature of the democratic polity
that makes all other political rights significant. "The electorate
occupies, at least in the mystique of [democratic] orders, the
position of the principal organ of governance."'
Americans generally take for granted that ours is the model
of a democratic polity. Our leaders echo this conviction when
they regularly proclaim us as the world's leading democracy, and
assert that other nations should measure their progress toward
democracy by the extent to which they develop electoral institutions
that match our own. At the core of this self-congratulation is
the belief that the right to vote is indeed firmly established.
... the United States is the only major democratic nation
in which the less well off are substantially underrepresented
in the electorate.
The basic facts of contemporary nonvoting are undisputed.
The universe of actual voters in the United States is shrunken
and skewed compared with the universe of formally enfranchised
citizens. Only a little. more than half of the eligible population
votes in presidential elections, and fewer still vote in off-year
elections. As a result, the United States ranks at the bottom
in comparison with other major democracies... Moreover, those
who vote are different in important respects from those who do
not. Voters are better off and better educated, and nonvoters
are poorer and less well educated. Modest variations notwithstanding,
this has been true for most of the twentieth century, and has
actually worsened in the last two decades. In sum, the active
American electorate overrepresents those who have more, and underrepresents
those who have less.
... at the beginning of the twentieth century, at the historical
moment when the working classes in other Western countries were
winning the franchise and even becoming contenders for state power,
a series of changes in American electoral arrangements sharply
reduced voting by the northern immigrant working class and virtually
eliminated voting by southern blacks and poor whites. By World
War I, turnout rates had fallen to half the eligible electorate
and, despite some vacillations, they have never recovered.
... the distinctive pattern of American industrial capitalist
development at least partly stems from the fact that the United
States was not a democracy, in the elementary sense of an effective
universal suffrage, during the twentieth century.
The contemporary business mobilization also illustrates the pivotal
role of nonvoters. Numerous commentators have pointed out that
American corporations have become more explicitly political than
ever before. True, large corporations have always maintained a
political presence to guard their particular interests in legislative
and bureaucratic spheres, drawing on a repertoire of familiar
techniques ranging from personal influence to campaign funding
to public relations to vigilant lobbying. The economic instabilities
of the past two decades, however, have goaded business leaders
into more focused and coordinated political activity. They have
tried to shore up sagging and uncertain profits by reorienting
policies ranging from taxation to regulation to labor relations
to social welfare to military spending. Given the scale of the
changes contemplated, this sort of agenda demanded a new and broad-ranging
electoral mobilization by business. The usual methods of political
influence had worked well enough to promote and protect business
interests under more stable economic conditions, but they were
not equal to the boldness of the new goals being pursued, which,
after all, entailed dismantling the programs won by working people
through a history of protest and politics. Accordingly, in the
1970s, American business set out to create a vast political infrastructure
capable of conducting national election campaigns. Business leaders
revived and financed the sluggish U.S. Chamber of Commerce to
reach and influence small businesses to enter the electoral arena
in a concerted way; trade associations were similarly activated;
new think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute and
the Heritage Foundation, were established to influence public
opinion by articulating and legitimating the business program;
meanwhile, corporate leaders also began to coordinate their political
contributions in order to centralize control over a rejuvenated
... a fair amount of academic work has been directed to explaining
why nonvoting should not be considered a problem at all. In one
major tradition, nonvoting is defined as a kind of voting, a tacit
expression of consent and evidence of satisfaction. Since many
people are so satisfied, their abstention actually demonstrates
the strength of the democratic polity. Of course, no one has satisfactorily
explained why "the politics of happiness" is so consistently
concentrated among the least well off.
Another variant on this theme asserts that nonvoting contributes
to the health of a democratic polity, not because the abstainers
are necessarily so satisfied, but because mass abstention reduces
conflict and provides political leaders with the latitude they
require to govern responsibly. A functioning democracy, the argument
goes, requires a balance between participation and nonparticipation,
between involvement and noninvolvement. The "crisis of democracy"
theorists, for example, reason that an "excess" of participation
endangers democratic institutions by "overloading" them
with demands, especially popular economic demands. This rather
Olympian view of the democratic "functions" of nonvoting
generally fails to deal with the decidedly undemocratic consequences
of tempering the demands of some strata of the polity and not
A bolder but kindred argument fastens precisely on the characteristics
of nonvoters-on their presumed extremism and volatility-to explain
why their abstention is healthy for the polity. To cite one classic
example, Lipset draws on evidence that nonvoters are more likely
to have antidemocratic attitudes. Similarly, George Will, writing
"In Defense of Nonvoting," says that "the fundamental
human right" is not to the vote but "to good government,"
and he points to the high turnouts in the late Weimar Republic
as evidence of the dangers of increased voter participation, an
example widely favored by those who make this argument. Will's
point of view is reminiscent of nineteenth-century reformers who
proposed various methods of improving the "quality"
of the electorate by reducing turnout. Consider, for example,
the New York Times in 1878: "It would be a great gain if
people could be made to understand distinctly that the right to
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness involves, to be sure,
the right to good government, but not the right to take part,
either immediately or indirectly, in the management of the state."
Existing registration arrangements are taken for granted as natural
and inevitable. In fact, American registration procedures are
Byzantine compared with those that prevail in other democracies.
The major difference is that governments elsewhere assume an affirmative
obligation to register citizens. People are certified as automatically
eligible to vote when they come of age and obtain identity cards,
or government-sponsored canvassers go from door to door before
each election to enlist voters. The United States is the only
major democracy where government assumes no responsibility for
helping citizens cope with voter registration procedures. In 1980,
30 to 40 percent of the American electorate was unregistered,
or more than 60 million in an eligible voting age population of
159 million, and two out of three of the unregistered resided
in households with incomes below the median. Furthermore, the
significance of low registration is suggested by the fact that
once people are registered, they overwhelmingly vote. In 1980,
more than 80 percent of registrants went to the polls, and the
turnout among those with little education and income was only
marginally lower. Consequently, when turnout in the United States
is calculated just for registered voters, the rate here is comparable
to rates in other democracies with more or less automatic registration
... voter registration arrangements came to carry much of the
burden of sustaining a system of limited electoral participation.
State and local officials preside over "voluntary" procedures
that place the burden of navigating the often difficult process
on the citizen. And elections officials are relatively free to
manipulate registration procedures so as to limit voting by poorer
and minority groups.
New Constituencies, New Politics
At the close of the nineteenth century, the nation had reached
a turning point. Enlarging state intervention in economic relations
had become inevitable, given the requirements of a developing
industrial capitalism. But what form that intervention would take,
who would benefit, and who would bear the costs were not dictated
by economic forces. Business mobilized on an unprecedented scale,
overwhelming Populist demands and the protests of the new industrial
workers, so that farm families and the working class paid the
price for the transition to industrialism. The partial disenfranchisement
of the northern working class and the more or less complete disenfranchisement
of southern blacks and poor whites were crucial to this outcome.
By reproducing in the twentieth century the class restrictions
on the suffrage of a predemocratic age, economic elites ensured
that they would encounter little political resistance as they
moved to shape government policies in their interests.
The persistence of these disenfranchising measures has without
doubt been the most remarkable feature of twentieth-century American
electoral arrangements. It helps to explain why the United States
followed a political path so different from Western Europe. There
the consolidation of the industrial working class was coterminous
with the winning of the suffrage, and with the subsequent emergence
of labor-based political parties to compete for influence on the
state. Under these conditions, increasing economic concentration
precipitated a political struggle over the terms of state intervention.
Working-class parties were able to force substantial political
accommodations, including the right to unionize, limitations on
working hours, less hazardous working conditions, and substantial
welfare state protections.
In the United States, the working class did not win important
concessions until the tumultuous events of both the 1930S and
the 1960s produced an expansion of the electorate and correlative
changes in the party system and in domestic policy. Even so, American
workers still lag behind the workers in European industrial nations,
especially in respect to social welfare protections.
Much about the current political situation in the United States
is reminiscent of the closing years of the nineteenth century.
A rapidly changing economy has once again made shifts in state
policy inevitable. Now, as a century ago, the question is how
government will intervene and who will benefit. Business has again
mobilized on a huge scale to influence electoral politics; it
has once again realigned in support of the Republican party; and
it is again pressing for a series of radical changes in public
policy that would depress workingclass living standards.
Business claims that existing labor policies and regulatory
policies impede the capacity of the United States to adapt to
the imperatives of international markets. This analysis is intended
to persuade people of the narrow limits within which they can
think and act politically. Invoking international market forces
(especially cheap labor in the Third World) induces a sense of
fatalism; there is presumably no option except to give way to
business demands in the name of restoring competitiveness. But
in fact, some industrial nations have forged different solutions.
Sweden and Austria, for example, have so far managed to maintain
low unemployment and high social benefits by enacting government
policies oriented to improving competitiveness by promoting capital-intensive
and high-wage economic restructuring while at the same time protecting
the living conditions of workers during the transition. At the
other extreme, England has responded to the same international
pressures with policies that impose high unemployment, an increasingly
polarized wage structure, and deteriorating social services. Whether
the English approach to restructuring-and the relatively similar
approach in the United States-will succeed over the longer run
remains to be seen. Policies that sustain profits by driving down
living standards may well be shortsighted and anarchic. In any
case, what is clear is that this approach to the pressures of
global economic change imposes the full costs of restoring competitiveness
on the working class.
There is also the distinct possibility that, no matter what
policies are adopted, the dominance of the world economy by Western
industrial nations may finally be ending, with a consequent shift
in the global distribution of wealth and a long-term decline in
Western living standards relative to those in emerging industrial
nations. If so, efforts to increase U.S. competitiveness will
merely slow the drift toward relatively lower living standards.
The resulting political issue is obvious enough. How should the
inevitable costs of economic restructuring be allocated among
the classes? And, if living standards cannot be maintained, how
should the costs of economic decline be allocated? Who will be
protected, and who will pay?
Once more, the political alignments that will determine our
response to economic change are not foretold. Whether a majority
coalition will be formed that might temper the current business
program depends on two important conditions. One is the extent
to which voting preferences among both southern and northern white
workers will continue to be strongly influenced by racism; the
other is the extent to which the ranks of the new working class
are mobilized for electoral participation.
Much has been made of the realignment of southern whites,
at least in presidential elections. As southern blacks began moving
into the electoral system and the Democratic party after World
War II, many whites deserted to the Republican party, which has
come to embody the legacy of the region's racism and conservatism.'
Lower-stratum whites are now divided evenly between the parties
in the Deep South, and favor the Democrats only by a slight margin
in the Border States.
The future of alignment of the South obviously depends upon
the continuing ability of the Republican party to induce lower-stratum
whites to coalesce with middle- and upper-class whites. A century
ago, poor southern whites permitted themselves to be duped into
giving up the franchise in order to ensure that blacks would be
deprived of it. Now that they have the vote, the question is whether
they can continue to be duped, this time by joining permanently
in alliances with better-off whites to offset black electoral
influence. However, racial animosity may not be adequate to the
task of keeping southern whites aligned against their own interests.
Phillips warns that "the social-issue constituency has a
New Deal economic past," and the data show that voters are
volatile and shift their allegiances in response to economic conditions.
The possibility of change in southern electoral politics is suggested
by the increased liberalism of southern Democratic congressmen
who now depend on the support of blacks and moderate whites.
Meanwhile, the decay of the industrial working class continues,
and this fact has profound implications for the future of the
American parties. The transition to postindustrialism is being
ushered in with a vast proliferation of low-paid jobs that are
being filled by minorities and women. Bluestone and Harrison report
that the rate of growth in low-paying jobs in the United States
during the period from 1979 to 1985 was twice as high as it had
been from 1963 to 1979. Many of these jobs are part-time or temporary,
and pay few if any benefits, and most service workers are not
unionized. Women and minorities are coming to constitute a new
and unprotected service sector proletariat.
At a comparable stage in their evolution as a class, industrial
workers in the United States were partially disenfranchised. Service
workers are also being disenfranchised by an oligarchic Democratic
party apparatus riddled with race and gender conflict. Formed
in the 1930s on an older white male industrial working-class base,
the Democratic party has not reorganized to incorporate the women
and minorities who make up the new working class being created
by the shift to a service economy. In the meantime, the Republican
party has made some gains among the old industrial working class,
whose loyalty to the Democratic party has been strained by race
and gender conflicts and by the failure of the party to protect
their interests. The resulting division and paralysis among the
Democratic party constituency organizations smooth the way for
increasing business influence.
The usual strategy to overcome this paralysis is to call for
new leaders and new programmatic initiatives. But neither can
be wished into existence. At those junctures in our history when
political leaders have mattered, when they have reached beyond
party platitudes and self-interested business programs to arouse
popular hopes, it was because they were confronted by new voters
or by unrest among existing voters, and by protest movements that
gave those voters voice and leverage. In any case, programmatic
initiatives are likely to evolve gradually and experimentally.
And it will matter crucially whether they are formulated and implemented
in an electoral context that is supportive of the interests of
lower-stratum people. A "New Politics," in short, requires
new constituencies. Throughout this book, we have emphasized the
dynamic interaction between the shape of the electorate and party
organization. As new constituencies enter the electoral system,
the parties adapt, and their adaptations then also affect turnout.
By this reasoning, a substantial influx of new voters can be expected,
over time, to exert pressure for new leaders and programmatic
appeals that reflect their interests. Widening access to voter
registration could thus be the key to orienting the Democratic
party toward the new service proletariat.
Although the Democratic party remains immobilized, the possibilities
for a new stage in the metapolitics of participation are large.
Voter turnout is down to almost half, mainly as a result of falling
participation by minorities and lower-stratum whites in the North.
If substantial numbers of these nonvoters were enlisted, the potential
for a major electoral convulsion is evident, a convulsion that
might eventually result in a party system capable of articulating
the issues that divide American society.
Whether a more representative electorate eventually would
lead to parties reorganized by class will, of course, be debated.
On one side of the argument, there is survey evidence suggesting
that political attitudes are not strongly differentiated by class
in American society. On the other side, however, there is the
experience of other countries, which suggests that political attitudes
are not formed simply as a reflection of an objective class position.
Rather, political attitudes are crucially shaped by the socializing
influences of political parties competing to assemble majorities.
In the United States, where many in the working class did not
have the vote during the twentieth century, there was less reason
for the political parties to play this role by projecting class
Finally, there is the evidence of the outlooks of elites.
The history of conflicts over the franchise suggests that dominant
groups are not confident of their capacity to manipulate the attitudes
of the electorate or to subvert electoral decisions. Consequently,
they have exerted themselves to forge and maintain electoral institutions
that have kept the franchise limited to those who were at least
somewhat better off. Elites are confirmed structuralists. If that
were not so, they would have long since acquiesced to the universal
registration of American citizens in the sure confidence that
nothing would change.
Whether an enlarged electorate would transform American politics
can only be known, finally, by obliterating the remaining obstacles