To be clear, the point of the paper is to describe how the Internet can be used for involving youth in the political process of the state. It is not to describe experimental democratic spaces (e.g. VeniVidiVoti). -- SunirShah
Declining voter turnouts among the younger generations seem to lead to the conclusion that youth are apathetic when it comes to government issues. Escalating amounts of youth protests against political issues would indicate otherwise; these protests seem to indicate that youth are displeased with the governmental process. This paper examines how these two phenomena feed each other and how online engagement is an ideal solution that has the potential to reverse both of these trends and lead to greater government-citizen communication. It also describes how the ability to self-publish-in the form of blogs, wikis, and personal websites-grants youth a sense of empowerment. Shah adds that there is a danger in the current state of youth dissent and that the Internet environment is capable of both exacerbating and eliminating this problem. Available in English only.
Abstract kindly written by Betty-Jane Horton.
Over the past decade, the Internet has surfaced as the dominant medium of discourse in the country and the world. With it came a lot of expectations and assumptions, some of which have actually panned out. It is undeniable that the Internet has connected the citizens of this country, including and especially the youth, to more information than ever before. It is true that the Internet has connected the youth together in unprecedented degree. And it is true that the governments of Canada have become far more accessible to the public than ever before.
What then can we make of youth interaction with the political process in this country? [Voter turnout] in Canada has been dropping over this same period, and it seems readily apparent that youth remain disinterested in the mainstream political process. On the other hand, for the first time in years, youth have organized vibrant protest movements mostly through the Internet. We have seen the rise in Canada of the anti-globalization movement over this same period most visibly during the FTAA protests in Quebec City. Certainly youth have not been entirely idle.
It seems that despite the incredible effort the government has put towards publishing material online, many youth feel that their perspectives are not reflected in the mainstream political process. They have instead found it easier and more appealing to lend their attentions and their efforts to the counter process in this country. This may be the natural course of affairs in democratic societies, however the disruptive nature of these counter movements lends question to whether or not they demand more direct redress. While many will point to the small minority of people who incite violence through "direct action" campaigns, most famously citing the Black Bloc, the difference between the G8 Summit in Halifax in 1995 and the FTAA Summit in Quebec City in 2002 is troubling. A breakdown of order like that questions the long-term efficacy of our democratic society. We might suggest these major contributory factors to the above breakdown:
All of these need to be addressed by the government to ensure continuing stability in our country.
On the other hand, the Internet has also afforded a number of positive improvements to the democratic process in this country. Greater connectivity has opened a wider and deeper dialogue between citizens of not just our own country but to those all around the world. It is now possible to read news sources from around the world, including such topical sites as the Afghan Online Press (http://www.aopnews.com), and Al Jazeera (http://english.aljeezera.net). During the war in Serbia, the world maintained access to the underground Belgrade radio station B92 through the Internet (http://www.b92.net) even though Serbs did not.
It is possible to communicate directly with people from countries around the world on a one-to-one basis. Through e-mail, instant messaging, discussion forums, and weblogs people from all around the world have been communicating with each other. Perhaps less dramatically, though possibly more importantly, people from all around our own country have also been communicating. For a country as large as ours and as sparsely populated as ours, that level of interaction is invaluable. Moreover, for a federation of differing cultures, talking to each other is the first step in understanding each other's positions. While this may be a seemingly pat point, the ability to ask questions directly instead of relying on a filtered mass media has a strong appeal.
Even from the publishing side alone, the Internet has lowered costs of publication to very low levels. We live in a day and age where every serious organization requires a website. We all know about the Government On-Line project (http://www.gol-ged.gc.ca); the government of Canada has set a goal of becoming fully accessible by 2005. The same is true of politicians and political groups. Certainly each party necessarily has their own website, and many politicians have started their own personal websites. Non-profit organizations and non-government organizations have also necessarily gotten online.
The real news, though, is that as publishing has become affordable by most Canadians, the rise of self-publication has led to new magnitudes of political discussion. Although perhaps the most famous alternative political source on the Internet is http://www.indymedia.org, created during the WTO Protest in Seattle, alternative political discussion on the Internet has spread throughout the political spectrum. Although the trend in Canada is far behind that of the United States by several magnitudes, political weblogs have begun to take root in Canada. Some good examples include http://www.canoe.blogspot.com, http://davidartemiw.com, and http://armchairgarbageman.blogspot.com. Although normally the purview of the political hobbyist, they have begun to attract the interest of the political savvy, including such as Warren Kinsella (http://www.warrenkinsella.com) and Michael Wilson (http://michaelwilson.blogspot.com). These websites provide a forum for their authors to describe their perspectives on the world's happenings to anyone who would listen to them, and consequently come as close to Thomas Jefferson's ideal of universal popular press as ever before. Democratizing the press can have a greatly positive effect on the public's overall perspective. After all, as Joseph Pulitzer warned in 1904, "Our republic and its press will rise or fall together. A cynical mercenary press will produce in time a people as base as itself."
While greater public dialogue is an interesting phenomenon, it is outside the government's jurisdiction to control. That, however, is a critical point to its success. What it suggests is that the government can no longer look at centrally controlled mass media as the primary and unitary source of information of its constituencies. The citizenry are now fully capable of lateral communication amongst themselves, sharing knowledge and concerns across a much larger contingent--a voting contingent. Coupled with greater access to information provided by the governments' online initiatives, not to mention direct access to public servants, the public policy and the public administrative processes have to change.
Thus, we have the following new pressures coming from the public:
While some segments of our society have lauded the large-scale violent protests since the WTO summit in Seattle as shining examples of democratic action, it is questionable whether this is actually the case. As one commentator says of the security precautions, "The ten-foot fence became a larger-than-life symbolic divide, in essence demanding, 'Which side are you on?'" (Cindy Milstein, "Something did start in Quebec City". http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/a20/start.htm. Transmitted on September 5, 2003.) While to many on the outside of the fence this may have been how they felt, this perspective neglects the historical circumstances that led to the installation of the infamous fence. Violent protests begat the fence which begat violent protests.
This is a cycle of anger, hate, and fear that can only be broken through dialogue. However, it is very difficult to dialogue with the motley band of anti-globalization protesters as they are very decentralized, lack cohesion, and are prone to great internal disagreements. Rather than having a single institution like a union organize its membership towards a single goal, these protests were organized ad hoc through websites, mailing lists, small cells of affinity groups, and in many cases, the general knowledge that there was going to be a big protest in Quebec City on that date. Addressing their anger demands a massive communications effort on the part of the government, as trying to build relationships with hundreds of thousands of youth, each with a personal and distinct political perspective that needs to be addressed separately, is no small task. Traditional models of engagement breakdown in this environment.
One way of considering the situation is to recognize how perspectives of identity have changed in the past decade. With the advent of the Internet, people (especially youth) have begun to demand personalized one-on-one "retail" relationships with second parties. After all, on the Internet you can custom tailor your purchases, interactions, and information sources to suit yourself. This is termed "narrowcasting" by some, but it scales in aggregate to the whole mass of the populace. While it would be untenable for people in an organization to manage this scale of customized relationships, it is not impossible provided information consumers are capable of deriving the necessary information or customization by themselves, say through a computerized library. Although public servants have balked at having to deal with the massive increase in personal communication they are now forced to deal with the advent of e-mail and web interfaces, this is because they are trapped in an old policy of answering each missive dating back to the less voluminous paper-based mail of previous decades. If they could take a page from modern retail, often-inaccessible customer service forces customers to search themselves in online reference material for the answer to their questions. While the ethics of voice mail continue to be debated, this approach certainly could be taken for non-critical political communications. Thus, if we consider that if the politicians cannot cross the fences, at least the wires can, a strategy of publishing comprehensive responses to common concerns will help alleviate much of the confusion in the street.
That is easier said that done, of course. Media savvy youth are not prone to accepting political spin. Not only are individuals sceptical and media literate, but the Internet provides them the ability to also collaboratively counter spin. One must remember that although the one-to-many perspective of government publication worked well when the "many" audience remained fairly disconnected, say during the era of television, radio, and newspapers, the current situation is one where the audience has many lateral links. Thus, when one critic notices a concern with the publication, she may gain a large counter-constituency pushing back against the publisher. Furthermore, since written information on the Internet can be modified, the counterspin can experience a "ratchet effect" as it is continuously "upgraded". Thus, the small number of people inside the government may become outmatched by the large number of people outside the government they publish to.
This may seem problematic, and it may leave hapless public servants with the belief that publishing nothing would be better; however, in a democracy the government must remain transparent, so it must publish. Nonetheless, the government also has the ability to modify its electronic documents. Each criticism it entertains is valuable as an impetus for improvement. Thus, although initially the cynical public may cavil at thin political spin, over time a listening government can round out its position in response to public pressure. For many in opposition, this would satisfy their concerns as they would feel their voice was heard.
This process is an ideal. It is unreasonable to suggest that it will be this easy. The first problem is actually engaging the public in this process. There are two main directions of action. On one hand, the government has to facilitate interaction with the public. On the other hand, the government must be aware of what the public thinks. The latter is actually much easier since the advent of the Internet than the former. Passive observation of the political thinking of the country has always been central to crafting policy. Politicians have been reading newspapers and magazines since before confederation. However, this material represents only a very small percentage of the population, biased heavily by economic or other political aims. At any rate, it does not represent the "average citizen"'s opinions. But now that the average citizen, or something closer to him, has been publishing his opinions en masse on the Internet, it's only a matter of reading it. And although there is a lot more of this information, information architects are eager to design better technical tools to organize this information such as search engines and content aggregators. Therefore, the government officials need only "surf the web" to keep an ear to the ground.
The former, the process of engaging the citizen, is much harder. It's not a simple matter of opening communications channels either. Unless the youth trust the government, they will not voluntarily engage the government. If they do, they will do so in a hostile manner. This is not conducive to dialogue.
Government accessibility is fundamental to trust. Unless youth feel like they have a voice in the process that governs their lives, they will feel out of control, and therefore they will not trust the outcomes made in their names. They will certainly not trust officials making decisions against them without their consultation. Although a country such as Canada has a relatively accessible political structure, youth's voice is disadvantaged. As youth are not yet established in life, they do not have access to extensive resources of money and social networks. They are also inexperienced, so they make a number of mistakes when attempting dialogue, such as tending towards extreme action. Thus, their influence in political life in this country is (justifiably) limited. Notable exceptions to this process are the youth wings of the political parties, though few youth consider these organizations to be representative of the youth as a whole. Nonetheless, we may rely on the Internet to provide an easy means to cross these artificial boundaries by simply allowing politicians to talk directly to youth. Although seemingly simplistic, online youth chats can go a long way towards providing youth time with their politicians, especially for youth dispersed in rural areas that would otherwise be unable to gain access.
Government transparency is also a fundamental aspect of trust. This is well known, and it certainly is a major impetus behind the Government On-line project mentioned above. But having a lot of information available does not help if it is not understood. Inexperienced youth do not have a basis by which they can navigate the jungle of documents the government has put online. Often they could address their own concerns if they could only find the appropriate document and digest it. This is a serious problem in all large information systems, and it demands a greater involvement by government librarians in the publication process; however, the Internet provides alternative solutions. Perhaps it would be possible for the citizens of the country to communicate amongst themselves? When one person asks a question, a hundred others wonder about it silently. It may be worth exploring such collaborative solutions as wikis, as exemplified by Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org), a collaboratively edited encyclopedia. More research in this field is needed.
A much more effective tool is teaching youth how to organize in a positive manner instead of letting them find expression through disruptive counter-establishment movements. The government could take a proactive role in pulling youth (and other citizens) into the process.
Now that the youth have access to a wide array of sources providing an even wider array of information, it is natural that they are forming a very wide array of opinions. Each person brings a unique perspective to the table. And although it may seem that the youth are not politically active, certainly for many (or even most) disengagement from the process is an active choice rather than simple apathy. For those who decide that doing nothing is insufficient, they will look for avenues to express themselves.
As described in the above section, these avenues can often be cynical and disruptive. Cynicism is a great concern to a functioning democracy as it prevents the dialogue and empathy necessary to come to resolutions to complex problems. We have discussed the cycle that leads to ever increasing violent protests. Clearly better solutions need to be found.
The question really is why are youth not interested in mainstream or civil methods of changing public policy? As we have said, that is simply that they do not feel like their opinions matter in that forum. They do not think they could really make an impact. Certainly they could be forgiven for having this opinion. Even when the youth are listened to, their opinions are rarely have demonstrable effect. As future voters in an age of voter decline, it seems like a good investment to teach that active citizenship has its merits.
Why are their voices rarely effective? Perhaps, again it may be that due to their inexperience, their opinions are ill considered. Policy issues are after all very complicated. Certainly it does take a certain maturity and nuance to come to appropriate conclusions, and it would likely be the case that youth lack the level of maturity of those older than them. However, as youth are exposed to greater amounts of political opinions from the Internet and beyond, they are becoming increasingly sophisticated--perhaps not to the point where they conceive of their own policies, but at least to the point where they can take up the cause of a sufficiently convincing argument. Underestimating the sophistication of youth has often been the fatal mistake in history, so let's assume for the moment that youth's opinions are not ill considered. Even if they were, to the youth holding them, they do not consider them ill considered, and their sentimentality counts.
Then the other option is that their opinions are considered irrelevant. For the voting block with the lowest voter turnout, this seems appropriate. If you don't vote, you can't speak. Still, youth will grow older into hopefully increasingly voting age brackets. Teaching cynicism at an early age will affect citizen participation at a later age. Thus, much as marketing agencies have discovered, it's important to form lifelong patterns in your market while they are young. But it's not entirely the fault of the government for not listening to the youth. Although they are very well organized, they are not effectively organized to change policy. It's probably undeniable that youth movements in general tend towards extreme action. It's a cliché that the most violent and extreme protesters are "student protesters." Though this paper does not seek to deny the effectiveness of extreme protest, it does seek to limit the necessity for such action.
Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of the policy makers to lead youth (and other citizens) into a positive policy process. After all, the government can no longer count on its constituencies remaining disconnected in darkness. They will organize to solve their problems (i.e. the government), and due to the persistance of digital media, they will experience a "ratchet effect" in their abilities to understand, probe, analyze, and deconstruct the government. It's not useful to let people do this on their own because they will only do it in opposition to the government (as that is the motivation of those who care). Instead, it's vital to the interests of the government to get involved and direct the organization of the citizens of the country to be more involved with the government, such as by teaching youth directly how to understand, probe, analyze, and deconstruct the government in order to engage more adequately in the political process. While this may result in some painful backfiring, the alternative is worse.
How does the government do this? Governments have been experimenting with providing citizens access to officials throughout the bureaucracy, including those involved in setting policy. This creates an interesting ethical problem by circumventing the parliamentary process. Currently policy decisions are vertically accountable from the bureaucrat making the decision to the Minister in charge, who in turn is accountable to the public. Now with pervasive public involvement, one questions how a Minister maintains political control over his portfolio, which is his elected responsibility? That likely will not be a serious issue as the final decision making power is not wrested away from the Minister; it will simply be informed at a greater level by direct citizen involvement. In many ways this is just simply a more direct and democratic process that the current system of polling and employing focus groups.
Yet as a process it's not efficient to let citizens e-mail each bureaucrat directly: e-mail will be sent to the wrong people, they will have irrelevant content, they will be redundant, and otherwise cause disruption. public sevants are certainly unhappy with the prospect of fostering personal one-on-one relationships en masse to complete strangers. Other solutions have been sought. Some have tried participating in organized policy fora once in a while, such as an online chat, or an online discussion board. Elisabeth Richard describes in "Lessons from the Network Model for Online Engagement of Citizens" (http://www.comnet-it.org/egovernment/lessons-ntwkmdl.pdf) just what kinds of problems those discussion boards have presented in the past. Either the volume of traffic has been too low, or the quality of the discussion is poor. These can be alleviated, she says, by increased marketing efforts as well as guaranteeing involvement by the government officials (i.e. guaranteeing 48-hour response times). Another effective strategy is let the policy makers monitor the forum, but encourage the participants to answer their peers' questions. Often online discussions will find certain altruists volunteering to help others if they are given the opportunity to do so. It's valuable to take advantage of that. Still, creative uses of Internet "many-to-many" discussions is a whole field of study deserving its own research. The particulars of which technology and techniques to employ in a given situation need to be studied. As a learning organization, the government should not be afraid to experiment with these new technologies to build a tailored community of practices within the bureaucracy. Certainly the pressures within the government are different than the ones in the private sector.
This approach forgets a fundamental component of our democratic system though. The politicians do not come from within the bureaucracy, but they come from the party system in our electoral process. The electoral process that our country engages in perhaps provides the most flexible space for decentralized political involvement. And while many youth are sceptical of the value of joining a party, they are not forced to do so in order to get involved. In fact, it is another aspect of decentralized process that they can have their voice without acceding to membership.
Take a famous recent example: Howard Dean's Democratic nomination bid in the United States. He has successfully used the Internet to catapult himself from the back of the pack to the frontrunner in the race. His campaign is unique in that he gave up centralized control, yet he remained in control by providing genuine leadership. He provides clear messages which provide focus to the campaign. He pays attention to what his supporters are doing so he can address their concerns or mistakes. And for the most part he lets them lead each other, confidant that for the most part they can handle themselves.
In many ways he has been forced to do this. Television campaigns in the modern era have become very expensive. Not only are the advertisement spots costly, but the number of advertisementss necessary to get the attention of a solid cross-section of the constituency has grown considerably. The top prime time TV shows today only draw 10 to 15 million viewers, whereas in earlier times they would garner 30 million. The national news reaches only 20 million viewers, a third of what the ratings were in previous decades. Crushed between the cost of advertising on one hand and his original lack of funding on the other, Dean's campaign had to look for cost effective strategies for campaigning.
Consequently, his campaign opted to hoist costs onto third parties, especially his own supporters. One interesting strategy his campaign employed was to disseminate the electronic proofs of their campaign posters, recognizing that by now many of American homes possess colour printers. One does not need to solicit a greater donation from a supporter if she pays for her own poster printing. People are much more likely to use their own resources to get the word out than to donate money into a centralized war chest, if only because they do not perceive it as a donation. It's just direct political action, but it does serve to reduce the overall costs to the campaigna headquarters.
Now, since the campaign no longer paid for the poster printing, they gave up control over the posters. Supporters are able to e-mail each other the poster proofs instead of having to come to a campaign office (or website) to acquire them directly. This takes great advantage of people's existing social networks--i.e. it is "viral marketing"--and is throw to the original model of politicking: "pressing flesh". Furthermore, because his supporters had the electronic proofs of the posters, they were free to modify them in any way they wished, thus giving them an ability to tailor the message to their likings. More often than not, people chose to be humourous, thus personalizing the campaign for each person and consequently building an emotional bond with each person. In order to encourage this type of behaviour, the campaign asks supporters to post pictures of their campaign posters on the website, thus catalyzing the process as well as fostering cross-national bonds between the otherwise disparate regional campaigns. And although many might be concerned that the messages on the posters may turn negative, there are only a very small number of those. After all, if a person does not like a candidate, they are far more likely to not care about the candidate than to actively rise against him, and even of those few would be willing to subvert his campaign poster. Thus, negative messages are drowned out by overwhelmingly positive messages.
Using free third party services has been another effective strategy that the Dean campaign has used to lower their costs. The Internet is replete with free services constructed during the dot.com boom and afterwards. Many are now familiar with Yahoo! groups, newsgroups, discussion forums, blogger.com, livejournal, and so on. All of these can be used to organize communication, provided the campaign is willing to give up central brand control. As it is probably more convincing to talk to someone than to flash a logo, this strategy is probably worthwhile.
One particular free service deserves a mention, however. Meetup.com is a free service designed to organize face-to-face meetings between groups of people who have met on the Internet. At the back end, Meetup has an extensive location-based database complete with many venues like restaurants, bars, and halls. At the front end, anyone can sign up with their location and their e-mail address and then join whatever groups of similar interest they desire. If and when someone from one of these groups decides to host a meeting at a particular restaurant or bar, everyone within a given radius is notified. In this way, the hard work of organizing campaign events is offloaded from the campaign office onto Meetup. Meetup is capable of organizing events much more efficiently, deciding who is available for what events and where to host them. Plus, Meetup enables anyone to call an event rather than relying on the campaign headquarters to plan each event. Thus, if a particular person feels like hosting a pro-Dean barbeque, he can simply ask Meetup to invite people. These kinds of bottom up events are a great help to an otherwise overworked campaign staff.
Just to indicate how successful Meetup has been for the campaign, Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager, said that "The largest component spreading the word - both in money and organization - are the Meetup folks." As of September 9, 2003, they had 109 300 members in the Howard Dean group, which account for one sixth of Meetup's total membership.
This new style of campaigning does not demand a large degree of involvement on behalf of the participants. First, anyone can participate to the level of their own desire, even if it is so much as forwarding campaign e-mail to their friends. Due to the exponential nature of social networks, this gives even youth who have small networks a powerful voice in politics, closing the gap with those already well established in life. Since each youth also has one vote, mobilizing their peer networks may be sufficient to force their common issues onto the agenda.
Second, monetarily, the campaign succeeds by soliciting many small donations instead of a few big donations. For instance, as of June 4, 2003, Meetup had collected almost $400 000 USD for the campaign out of a grand total of $1.25 million USD collected online. These donations consisted of small $10.01 donations (the extra penny was for tracking). Perhaps more telling, in one weekend, his campaign collected more than $500 000 USD in Internet contributions from nearly 10 000 donators, doubling the $250 000 Vice President Dick Cheney raised at a luncheon in South Carolina. For resource-starved youth wishing to get involved in the political process, a campaign of raindrops over buckets provides the necessary end run around "big money" interests.
Once taught the basic techniques of cost-effective political campaigning, youth are free to start their own campaigns for their own issues. As they gain experience with the art of politics using the Internet, and as the growing body of practice teaches us more about campaigning in this environment, the effectiveness of citizen-led actions will grow. Thus, the "big politics" Internet strategies of the major parties will have a secondary effect of channelling youth dissent into a constructive process rather than the dystopically violent protest movement.
Of course, this may also raise the cacophony of voices to consider; after all, as the level of involvement is small, the level of commitment required is also small, providing flexibility to would-be single issue political organizers. Already we see single issue "flash campaigns" starting in the United States, perhaps most famously exemplified by moveon.org. MoveOn started as a bipartisan movement to bring closure to the Clinton impeachment trial. It generated 100 000 signatures for a digital petition in one week, and then proceded to flood Washington with e-mails and phone calls. They even garnered $5 million USD in pledges to support the anti-impeachment lobby. Having learnt how to run a flash campaign, MoveOn has begun to organize other flash campaigns on other issues; for instance defeating the California gubernatorial recall this year. We expect to see more "flash" single issue campaigns, particularly those driven by youth movements. This may be preferable to the alternative method of getting attention.
So although the government itself has a responsibility to respond to the mounting pressure on the outside, the public will continue to organize itself despite of government actions. Although this will undoubtedly force a reorganization of the government bureaucracy to reflect this change in media and society, the must faster process of adapting the political wing of government will lead the way into the future. As a result, despite best efforts by bureaucrats to interface more closely to the citizen, the elected political process will likely remain central--and possibly become more important--as time goes on.
If one looks at the overall map of the political terrain today, one can see the mounting rise of cynicism and disengagement. The root cause suggested here is one of a lack of communication. But that does not call for more of the same type of communication. More centralized messages disseminated through a homogeneous mass media will not resonate with the new youth identity of personalized and tailored messages. Nor will a centralized message survive long in the turbulent sea of popular criticism, now that the "many" end of the one-to-many are no longer divided to be conquered. To resolve this rising tension, it is necessary for the government to go with the flow, so to speak. It must match the mentality of its citizens by employing the same techniques as its citizens.
More than that, it must shape those techniques for its citizens. The dissenting voices are a motley and loosely connected band, incapable of forming focused and directed inquiries into a topic. The government on the other hand is a cohesive unit (relatively speaking). Between the two ends of the tether, the government provides the anchorweight for its society. Thus, it is the government's responsibility to break through the circle of animosity and find new solutions to the problem.
Fortunately, the government can draw upon the experience of its politicians to teach politicking. And while this may seem like a conflict of interest for the government bureaucracy to rely so heavily on the private campaign machinery of its elected officials, it may serve as the most effective tool available. Plus, relying on the electoral process is truly democratic, which may not be a bad thing.
Elections Canada (2003). Voter Turnout at Federal Elections and Referendums, 1867-2000. Retrieved November 1, 2003 from the World Wide Web: http://www.elections.ca/content.asp?section=pas&document=turnout&lang=e&textonly=false
While in general voter turnout had progressively increased from the turn of the 20th century, during the seventies it began to drop, most notably and acceleratedly in the eighties and nineties. The election of 2000 resulted in the lowest voter turnout ever in Canada.
Note: I have arbitrarily fit the data to a sixth order polynomial regression because it best illustrates the drop off. I have elided the 1898 National Prohibition Referendum and the 1992 Charlottetown Accord Referendum from the dataset. I have rounded election dates to the years in which they were conducted. -- SunirShah
International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (2003). IDEA: Voter Turnout from 1945 to 1997: North America & the Caribbean: United States of America. Retrieved November 1, 2003 from the World Wide Web: http://www.idea.int/voter_turnout/northamerica/usa.html
Note: actual voting statistics is not generally available in sane ways from the Web. U.S. voting statistics and elections have changed considerably over time as well. Compilations of U.S. statistics generally exist to contrast against "low voter turnout" today without providing sufficient historical clarity to make a meaningful contrast.
 provides a basic summary with a lot of good video clips.
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Click on Democracy
You can no longer count on your constituencies remaining disconnected in darkness. They will organize to solve their problems (i.e. the government), and due to the persistance of digital media, they will experience a ratchet effect in their abilities to understand, probe, analyze, and deconstruct the government. It's not useful to let people do this on their own because they will only do it in opposition to the government (as that is the motivation of those who care). Instead, it's vital to the interests of the government to get involved and direct the organization of the citizens of the country to be more involved with the government, such as by teaching them yourself how to understand, probe, analyze, and deconstruct the government in order to engage more adequately in the political process. While this may result in some painful backfiring, the alternative is worse.