Utah conforms to a U.S. Census Bureau study showing that although the power of the ballot rests in the hands of all citizens, the rich use it and the poor don't, Census officials say.
A Census Bureau study conducted in 1984, the last presidential election year, found that among the nation's poor, few registered to vote and even fewer actually voted.In more affluent circles, however, more eligible voters registered and more voted, the survey found.
"There's no reason to think it's different in Utah," said Jerry Jennings, the Census Bureau official who conducted the survey.
Of those with family incomes under $5,000, 50 percent registered to vote and only 38 percent actually voted, he said.
Contrastingly, among those who made $35,000 or more, 81 percent registered and 74 percent voted, Jennings said.
A University of Utah professor points to voters' sense of efficacy, their education and their perceptions of the registration process as operative factors when deciding when or when not to vote.
"The most important issue is a sense of efficacy, a sense of what I do makes a difference," said political science Professor James Mayfield
"Self-interest" guides people to the voting booth, he said. If voters think they can favorably change or maintain their lives, they vote. If not, they don't, he said.
"People with low levels of income tend to have been through a socialization experience that says `no matter what I do, my situation won't change,' " Mayfield said.
"People with higher levels of income would tend to have the connections and contacts with the public officials" and view their votes as visibly forwarding their own objectives, he said.
Education, especially higher education, directly relates to numbers of voters, Mayfield said.
Additionally, the affluent, who typically seek advanced degrees, develop a sense of "civic obligation that somehow gets inculcated among college graduates," he said.
For the poor, this same obligation may exist in grade school and high school, which, unfortunately, some low-income people don't complete, thus prohibiting them from cultivating that obligation, he said.
"The tragedy is they will drop out so that there is a five- to 10-year gap between the school experience and the actual opportunity to participate in the civic experience (of voting)," he said.
Finally, the registration process, sometimes seen as a complex and elusive proposition, may discourage some poor, would-be voters while not daunting richer, educated voters, Mayfield said.
"Registration is perceived as a complicated process by the uneducated . . . but there is never much of a concern among people who fill out registration cards to go to school," he said.