Voter turnout in the United States has been declining for six decades and will likely continue to do so. And the dirty little secret is, the politicians prefer it this way, because a smaller electorate is more predictable and reliable, say two Johns Hopkins professors who have authored a new book on the declining role of ordinary citizens in the United States.
It wasn't always that way. For more than two centuries, the ordinary American citizen played an important role in the state. In order to govern, to raise taxes and to raise armies, the government needed to engage the ordinary citizen to generate mass support. In exchange for this participation, the citizen received benefits such as legal rights, pensions and the right to vote.
But as Benjamin Ginsberg and Matthew Crenson, professors of political science at The Johns Hopkins University, point out in a new book, Western governments have found ways to raise armies and taxes that do not require much involvement from its citizens, rendering people into customers rather than engaged citizens.
"The major change is that organizing citizens, who used to loom large in the political process, just don't matter much anymore," said Ginsberg, who co-authored with Crenson, "Downsizing Democracy: How America Sidelined Its Citizens and Privatized Its Public." (Johns Hopkins, 2002).
Through the use of the courts and by executive branch administrative regulations, politicians have managed to govern without actually needing popular support from citizens. Although many were ready to help fight the war on terrorism, the president's only demand was for people to continue to shop, notes Ginsberg and Crenson.
As the election draws near, Ginsberg and Crenson could add valuable perspective to the state of the ordinary American citizen and why she no longer votes or is engaged. To set up an interview, please contact Glenn Small at email@example.com or at 410-516-6094. A limited number of review copies of the book are available to the media only.
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