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Voting rights and models of voting behavior: lesson overview

A high-level overview of how people get involved in the political process through voting.
A number of factors influence political participation—defined as the ways that voters get involved in the political process—including political ideology, efficacy, structural barriers, and demographics. Political scientists also use models of voter behavior to describe different motivations driving candidate choice.

Key terms

Fifteenth AmendmentExtended suffrage to African American men.
Seventeenth AmendmentEstablished the popular election of US senators.
Nineteenth AmendmentExtended suffrage to women.
Twenty-fourth AmendmentDeclared poll taxes void in federal elections.
Twenty-sixth AmendmentExtended suffrage to people aged 18-20 years old by lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.
Voting Rights Act of 1965Legislation designed to help end formal and informal barriers to African American suffrage.
National Voter Registration Act of 1993Also called the "Motor Voter Act." Makes it easier for voters to register to vote by requiring states to allow citizens to register when applying for or renewing their driver's license.
Rational choice votingVoting based on what is perceived to be in the citizen’s individual interest.
Retrospective votingVoting to decide whether the party or candidate in power should be re-elected based on the recent past.
Prospective votingVoting based on predictions of how a party or candidate will perform in the future.
Party-line votingSupporting a party by voting for candidates from one political party for all public offices at the same level of government.
Poll taxA fixed-sum tax payable by all relevant individuals, such as all residents of a state; used historically by some US states as a precondition to registering to vote in order to discourage certain groups from participation (for example, African Americans).

Key takeaways

Voting rights protections eliminating structural barriers to voting: When the Constitution took effect in 1789, senators were not directly elected (instead, state legislatures chose them) and only white, land-owning men could vote.
Over time, the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-sixth Amendments to the Constitution, respectively, extended voting rights to people of all races and colors; women; and 18-20-year-olds. The Seventeenth Amendment allowed for the direct election of senators, and the Twenty-fourth Amendment outlawed the use of non-payment of poll taxes and other taxes to deny citizens the right to vote.
How do people vote? Political scientists have defined several models of voter behavior in an attempt to explain the different motivations of voters:
  • Rational choice theory describes someone voting in their best interest, supporting the candidate whose platform will give them the most favorable outcomes.
  • Retrospective voting describes voting based on the recent record in office of a candidate or others in their party.
  • Prospective voting describes voting based on how a citizen thinks a candidate will act and perform if elected to office.
  • Party-line voting describes consistently voting for candidates of the same political party at all levels of government.

Review questions

What is one amendment that extended suffrage to a new group of people?
What is the rational choice model of voting?
How are retrospective and prospective voting different?

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