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The Vanishing Voter

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About the Author

Thomas E. Patterson is the Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. For many years he taught at Syracuse University. He is the author of several other books on politics and the media, including Out of Order, which won the American Political Science Association's 2002 Doris Graber Award for the best book in the field of political communication, and The Unseeing Eye, which was named one of the fifty most influential books of the past half century in the field of public opinion by the American Association for Public Opinion Research. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.


In the year preceding the 2000 presidential election, scholars at Harvard University's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy conducted a study designed to uncover the reasons behind the growing national voter malaise. Based on the Vanishing Voter Project results, Patterson (Out of Order), who teaches at the Shorenstein Center, identifies and analyzes why voters have turned away from participatory politics. Although his conclusions will not surprise thoughtful observers, the painstakingly collected statistical support (the study queried almost 100,000 Americans) will add weight to his suggested solutions. In Patterson's view, media bias, the primary system, an endless campaign season, negative campaigning and institutional obstacles that have undermined the importance of individual voters all combine to deter Americans from voting. His considerations of the first two are the most original. Because voters faced with negative reporting disengage, he argues that the most damaging media bias is not in favor of liberals or conservatives, but in favor of negative reporting. The primary system is ineffectual because the results in early primary states determine ultimate results; voters in states with later primaries lose interest. Patterson offers suggestions to political parties, the press and public officials about how to increase voter participation. Among them: shorten campaigns; provide more prime-time coverage of primary debates and conventions; and add Election Day to the list of national holidays. This straightforward analysis of the difficulties inherent in keeping voters informed and involved and the pragmatic suggestions for overcoming them should be of interest to politicians and private citizens alike. (Sept. 18) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

"A refreshing book. . . . Exceedingly thorough. . . . Patterson puts forth a cogent, well-documented case." -The New York Times "A wise and skeptical account of the contemporary electorate." -The Washington Post Book World "Engaging. . . . Provocative . . . required reading for the public-policy--minded." -Kirkus Reviews "Thought-provoking." -Los Angeles Times Book Review "A multifaceted treatment of a continuing public problem. . . . Readable and important." -Greensboro News & Record "Valuable. . . . Patterson's clearly written book offers a menu of sound . . . measures to help solve these problems." -Columbia Journalism Review "Well-reasoned. . . . Offering pragmatic reforms, Patterson's descriptions and prescriptions merit mulling by politically minded readers." -Booklist "Patterson's book . . . isn't just another tired lament about the lameness of the political process. It's an extension of the Vanishing Voter Project, designed to discover 'what draws people to a campaign and what keeps them away.' " -The Washington Monthly "Outstanding. . . . A well-documented project that leads the reader through what works and what fails in our system, and how we can continue our representative republic and make it more responsive to the wishes of the electorate in the future." -The Decatur Daily

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