Chat: Voter Turnout Expert Curtis Gans

With the presidential race tighter than at any time in a generation, turnout could be the crucial factor in determining who wins. Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, joined an online Election Night discussion on voter turnout. Look below for a transcript of the chat.

Moderator

Curtis Gans, an expert on voter participation and turnout now joins our live discussion. Gans is director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. Thanks for joining us.

Moderator

Do you expect turnout to be higher today than in recent elections because the presidential race is so close?

Curtis Gans

The way I want to answer that question is -- because I really do wait until the numbers come in and don't look at early polls -- if turnout is up, why is it up? First, I think all those polls that people hate make them feel the election was very close, and that their vote did make a difference. Secondly, I think because of that, undecided voters unenamoured of either candidate, decided not to stay home, but to make their choice. Third is an historic perspective, namely that during 40 years of declining participation, there have been individual elections in which we have had substantial rises in turnout and they all had one thing in common-- Jane Byrne vs Michael Bilandic in Chicago, and the races that involved Washington Dinkins and Stokes, the genteel Sandford when David Duke ran-- people felt there was something important to decide. At the end of this campaign, despite indications of disinterest, people decided there was something important to decide. We won't know quite what that decision was until the results are in.

Moderator

Are any particular issues that have motivated voters in this election?

Curtis Gans

I think it really depends on the person and the place. Bush supporters are essentially voting character, his basic theme of ending gridlock, and confidence in leadership and a conservative view of government. Gore's pitch appealed to minorities and union members. But people make decisions on complex motivations, and I don't think you could pick one determining issue in this election. There were negatives, like the Vice President's authenticity, but with the exit polls, I don't think we'll know what issue drove people to what vote.

Moderator Which groups did each candidate need to win over?

Curtis Gans

The group that both candidates fought hardest for was the elderly. The aim of both candidates was to maximize their base votes-- Christian and secular conservatives, small businessmen, farmers, and Big Business on the Republican side. African-Americans, Latinos, Jews, labor unions, and environmentalists on the Democratic side. And gun-owners on the Republican side as well!

Steven asks:

Why hasn't the Electoral College converted to a percentage basis so that the electoral vote is more representative of the popular vote? It makes more sense that if a candidate wins 60% of the popular vote in a particular state, he should get 60% of the electoral votes.

Curtis Gans

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