Title page for ETD etd-11102009-020048

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Aughenbaugh, John M.
URN etd-11102009-020048
Title An explanation of declining voter turnout :the case of Richmond, Virginia, 1880-1913
Degree Master of Arts
Department Political Science
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Hult, Karen M. Committee Chair
Alstrup, Joseph A. Committee Member
Walcott, Charles E. Committee Member
  • Richmond (Va.)
Date of Defense 1992-07-10
Availability restricted

Voter turnout in the United States began to decline at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, and since then, turnout has not returned to the high percentages that were commonplace in the 1860s and 1870s.

Numerous scholars point to the late 1800s and early 1900s as the era when significant changes in voting, turnout, and political party competition took place. Many of these same scholars contend that the consequences of these changes, such as continuing low voter turnout, can be seen today. Yet, scholars have made very few efforts to connect what happened in the past to what is happening today.

In this thesis I attempt to examine the root causes of declining voter turnout in the United States at the turn of the 20th century. The significance of this examination rests with the thought that if we can understand why voter turnout began to fall we may then have a clearer sense of why low voter turnout persists today.

Specifically, this study tests two competing theoretical models, one by V.O. Key and Walter Dean Burnham and the other by Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, that claim to explain how and why turnout began to fall in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Both models use the same variables -- voting statutes, political party competition, and voter turnout -- to explain this fall, but the models place these variables in different time sequences..

This thesis tests the models by examining dynamics found in a single city -- Richmond, Virginia. Richmond affords an opportunity to inspect dynamics of voter turnout at the turn of the 20th century in a geographic area of the country that neither model used as a basis for its theoretical propositions.

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