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16 October 2014
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Reference - The peopleOverview
There are many ways in which the people of the United States can participate in the political process. At federal level, they can vote for senators and members of the House of Representatives. They also vote for the president. At state level, they vote for governors and members of the state assemblies. At the local government level, they vote for mayors and many other elected officials such as members of school boards. For this reason, the USA is often cited as the most democratic country in the world.

The American people have many opportunities to vote, but with all this democracy available to the American voter, it is interesting to note that turnout rates at elections tend to be low, particularly at mid-term elections in which voters elect members of Congress. In the 1996 presidential election, only 49.1% of people of voting age turned out to vote. In 2004, the figure was slightly higher, at 55.3%. Only 37% turned out at the mid-term congressional elections in 2002.

The USA is large and there are many social, ethnic and cultural groupings to be represented. People who stand for election must take into account the interests of their own particular voters so there’s a huge variety amongst politicians, even if they sit under a broadly Democratic or Republican banner.

A Democratic candidate in the vast, wilderness and pro-gun state of Alaska, for example, would require a different take on certain political issues compared with one in Los Angeles or New York. The same would be true for a Republican standing in a traditionally liberal north eastern state. He or she would need to develop a platform which took account of attitudes in that area.

Voters have a stronger hold on Representatives than Senators, in part, because Representatives face elections every two years. They are seen to be more accountable.

The relationship between the people and Senators is more distant. Senators face election every six years and have much larger constituencies to represent. The “folks back home” don’t have such a close, direct connection with their Senator.

People living in the small states tend to be over represented in the Senate. For example, the two senators from Wyoming each represent just under half a million people; their two California colleagues each represent 34 million people. In 2002, the 18 senators from the most populous states represented over 50% of the population of the United States.

Interest Groups
Another method of political participation which voters and non-voters can use to make their views known is to use an interest group. These are groups which are formed around a single issue or particular social group and which work to promote their cause by lobbying elected officials and publicising their aims through the media.


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