Government and Politics

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a political issue or problem. The failure of most Americans to become involved in political parties has serious implications for the functioning of our democracy. Within the political system of the United States, the political party serves as an intermediary between people and government.

Through competition in regularly scheduled elections, the two-party system provides for challenges to public policies and for an orderly transfer of power. An individual dissatisfied with the state of the nation or a local community can become involved in the political party process in many ways, such as by joining a political club, supporting candidates for public office, or working to change the party’s position on controversial issues. If, however, people do not take interest in the decisions of major political parties, public officials in a "representative" democracy will be chosen from two unrepresentative lists of candidates.

In the 1980s, it has become clear that many Americans are turned off by political parties, politicians, and the specter of big government. The most dramatic indication of this growing alienation comes from voting statistics. Voters of all ages and races appear to be less enthusiastic than ever about American elections, even presidential contests.

For example, almost 80 percent of eligible American voters went to the polls in the presidential election of 1896. Yet, by the 1984 election, voter turnout had fallen to less than 60 percent of all adults. By contrast, elections during the first half of the 1980s brought out 85 percent or more of the voting-age population in Austria, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Sweden.

Declining political participation allows institutions of government to operate with less of a sense of accountability to society. This issue is most serious for the least powerful individual and .

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