Barry Rundquist , Sharon Fox, Gerald Strom
Department of Political Science University of Illinois at Chicago
This paper describes the Illinois Voter Project (IVP) conducted by the Illinois League of Women Voters and the University of Illinois at Chicago during the 1994 Illinois gubernatorial election. It summarizes the project’s approach to increasing voter participation, some of its research on citizen views regarding problems in the state, and the evaluation of the impact of the IVP on voter participation.
The problem the IVP addressed is nonvoting. It is often observed that voter turnout in the United States is lower than in other democracies and is declining. A variety of solutions to nonvoting, focusing mainly on easier registration processes and civic education, have been suggested. The question addressed by the IVP is whether increasing citizen involvement in defining what issues receive media coverage and candidate discussion during an election might increase voter participation.
The IVP generated a considerable amount of media coverage of citizens’ policy views and the citizens’ agenda, conducted a statewide poll showing that most Illinoisans agreed with proposals in a “citizens’ agenda,” and hosted a televised Town Hall Meeting in which citizens and reporters asked questions of candidates Dawn Clark Netsch, the Democratic challenger, and Jim Edgar, the Republican incumbent.
Did the IVP work? A post-election survey suggests that, depending on the measures used, the IVP reached anywhere from one-sixth to one-third of the eligible (over age 18) electorate. It also reached disproportionately more traditional non-voters (less educated, poorer citizens) than traditional voters. Moreover, the evaluation survey found that people reached by the IVP were more likely to have voted than were people unfamiliar with the IVP. This voting effect was apparent between different socioeconomic groups and among citizens with varying levels of information about the election.
The paper concludes that involving citizens in issue definition and discussion and the creation of a citizen-initiated policy agenda should be considered in future efforts to stimulate voter participation.