Research Project

This investigation studied the question: can perceived polarization be maximized to elicit an optimal level of voter turnout? Polarization is defined as the extent to which the ideologies between parties and their members differ from each other. A certain level of polarization is not only inevitable but is also encouraged because it has positive effects on democracy, including fostering political participation, simplifying the voting process, and thus encouraging individuals to vote. However, when political parties become too polarized in their ideologies, it can have detrimental impacts on democracy, including less willingness to negotiate and compromise, and a greater willingness to allow antidemocratic principles to persist as long as it comes from your own party affiliation. Although there are many studies that depict the positive and negative impacts on democracy, there are few studies that have studied the impact of political polarization in U.S. national elections on voter turnout, and the studies that have been done relating polarization and voter turnout have yielded mixed results. Given that voter turnout is one valuable measure of democratic success, this investigation sets out to answer the question of what level of perceived polarization is optimal in a democracy, to maximize voter turnout. It was hypothesized that when polarization reaches levels that are too high, individuals will lose faith in democratic institutions, thus deterring them from voting and decreasing voter turnout. However, the results of this study found that among the years between 2008-2020 in which national elections were held, the correlation between voter turnout and perceived polarization was highest during the 2020 election, when perceived polarization was also the highest; however, the correlation was also noticeably high during the 2008 election in which the perceived level of polarization was at its lowest among the national election years used in this study. Once again, this study corroborated the mixed results yielded from previous studies, that in some cases polarization has more influence on voter turnout than others. Moreover, the findings suggest that further studies should be done to observe how perceived polarization works in conjunction with other influences on voting behavior, because ultimately, it is a combination of factors that encourage people to come out to vote. The extent to which these factors influence voting likely differ in each national election.