Poll: Americans Oppose Compulsory Voting

ByABC News
June 10, 2004, 8:04 PM

June 11, 2004 -- Regardless of the closeness of the last presidential go-round, the freedom to stay home on Election Day is one right most Americans don't want to surrender.

Just as they did 40 years ago, most Americans by far reject the idea of requiring all citizens to vote, according to a new ABC News poll.

The poll found that 72 percent of respondents oppose a law that would require all eligible citizens to vote in national elections and levy a small fine on non-voters who do not have a good excuse for skipping the polls. Just 21 percent said that enacting a law that makes voting compulsory would be a good idea.

The results are almost identical to those found in Gallup polls in 1965, when 69 percent opposed such a law. Opinions haven't changed, even though voter turnout has slipped from about 63 percent of eligible voters in 1964 to 55 percent in 2000.

A new book by political scientists Louis Massicotte, André Blais and Antoine Yoshinaka reports that of the 63 democratic countries studied, 18 required citizens to vote, including 11 in which nonvoters face sanctions such as fines. The book, Establishing the Rules of the Game: Election Laws in Democracies, estimates that such laws increase turnout by 8 percent to 15 percent. Mandatory-voting nations include Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Italy, Portugal, Panama and Venezuela.

In the ABC News poll, majorities across all demographic groups oppose mandatory voting, with some differences in degree. A third of people in the lowest-income households call it a good law to have in the United States (despite the fine). That compares with fewer than two in 10 in the highest-income households. And a third of non-whites support the law, compared with just 16 percent of whites.


This ABC News poll was conducted by telephone June 2-6 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation were done by TNS of Horsham, Pa.