Voter Turnout

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The only thing consistent about voter turnout has been its decline. We're voting at historically low rates. The lack of interest is the subject of Harvard professor Thomas Patterson's new book. He spoke to an audience at Rockford College Thursday about "the vanishing voter.”

When the polls open November 2, don't count on Jake Rippentrop to be there. When asked if he was going to vote, he replied, “probably not."

And that's been the trend. Harvard professor Thomas Patterson told a Rockford College audience Thursday that we've been losing voters for the past 40 years. In his new book, "The Vanishing Voter", Patterson says negativity on the campaign trail has a lot to do with the lack of interest.

"It's not that you can't move votes with negative advertising, you can. It's effective in that sense, but it's also a turnoff for a lot of voters," says Patterson.

The media may also play a role. Patterson says some journalists act more like critics. He says negative coverage has jumped 300 percent in the last few decades. However, it may not matter as much this year. He believes this election will be different.

"More than half of Americans think that this is the most important election of their lifetime and there are a lot of big issues," explains Patterson.

Issues like the war in Iraq, which seems to have sparked interest in younger voters.

"I care what happens in the country," says Cynthia Almond.

"Absolutely, I think voting is very important and there's a lot going on this year to get young people to vote," adds Ezio Marino.

So come November, Patterson expects the polls to be packed and he's made a prediction about which candidate will benefit most.

"This year it looks like the Democrats are the benefactors; the registration surge is more on the Democratic side than the Republican side," says Patterson.

But unless something changes, Patterson says come 2008 we may revert back to the norm with even more voters vanishing.

Patterson is a Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.