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Voter Turnout in US Expected to Rise This Year

A veteran American election watcher says he expects voter turnout for next week's U.S. presidential election to be higher than the last one four years ago.

Curtis Gans, who has been the director of the non-partisan Committee for the Study of the American Electorate for 28 years, says in the past, he has had negative assessments of shrinking voter turnout in the United States.

He even goes so far as to compare himself to a childrens' character called Chicken Little, who runs around lamenting that the sky is falling. The difference this time, though, Mr. Gans says, is that he expects American voters to show up to vote in higher numbers than in the last election.

"I am not Chicken Little this time around," he said. "We had a turnout in 2000 of about 106 million people, at a rate of 54 percent of the eligible citizens in our society. My belief is that we will have a turnout rate of 58 to 60 percent, or 118 to 121 million people, which is an increase of 12 to 15 million people over what we had in 2000. And an increase of eight million more than our eligible population growth."

Mr. Gans says his conclusions are based three developments.

"One, based on the voter interest figures in reputable polls rival 1992," he says. "1992 turnout was 58 percent. The viewership of debates was slightly lower, but we had less coverage of the debates because Fox [broadcast network] didn't cover at least two of them. And the third is the intensity level in this election, which is the highest in my, at least since 1968, in my recollection."

But the non-partisan election watcher is less optimistic about the longevity of an increase in voter turnout, which he describes as a temporary development in this election year. He blames this on long-term social issues, including what he sees as the American public's lower level of trust in their leaders, the fragmenting of information and a decline in civic education.