Sunday, October 31, 2010

Time Pressure and Voting

I wrote yesterday that I expect higher than average voter turnout in the U.S. elections that take place on Tuesday. There are also forces working against voter turnout, particularly that of time pressure.

Traditionally, college students are under the most intense time pressure, but that pattern is changing as people take on more and more interest and activities in their personal lives. The most common pattern is that people accumulate more things to do over time, but this then reaches a peak around the age of 60, after which people start to take on a degree of self-restraint when it comes to their schedules. Of course, part-time workers and retirees may have much less time pressure than full-time workers.

This profile of time pressure corresponds in a very rough way to demographic voting patterns. College-age voters vote in notoriously small numbers, while retirees are the most reliable voters.

If there is a long-term trend in time pressure affecting voter turnout, though, I am unable to find it in the data. It may be that election day comes infrequently enough to be exempt from time pressure calculations in people’s minds.

In this year’s election, the large number of unemployed and underemployed workers — about 15 percent of eligible voters — could correspond to an increase in voter participation, if time pressure is a factor. If employed workers turn out less than unemployed workers, this could indicate a time pressure effect. I would be surprised, though, if this effect is large enough to measure.