AMERICANS are known for their relaxed attitudes toward voting. Nearly half the people eligible to vote regularly fail to cast a ballot. In 1988, when a presidential election would normally have drawn a higher percentage of voters, only 50.1 percent went to the polls.
The current campaign started with apprehensions that turnout could be even more dismal this time around. Stories about the public's cynical view of the political process were common. Few people were excited by the candidates.
Months later, those perceptions may linger, but citizens are coming to realize that a lot rests on this election - direction for an American economy that seems stuck in neutral, and leadership in a much-changed world.
The four debates over the past nine days, while they might not have changed a lot of minds, have given voters a better feel for the individuals competing to steer a course through the eventful years just ahead. There has been plenty of talk about the well-being of future generations of Americans, some of it campaign boilerplate. But issues like fiscal responsibility, economic revitalization, and peacemaking will indeed shape our future.
Indications are that increased numbers of Americans are getting ready to take part in the Nov. 3 decisionmaking. The League of Women Voters reports that its 1992 voter-registration drives have had a record number of co-sponors. League president Becky Cain says that with only a quarter of the 1,000 local leagues reporting results, 200,000 new voters have been signed up - a figure that already exceeds the totals of past years.
Voter registration is climbing in counties across the United States - from New York City, which has a 20-year high in registration, to Snohomish County, Wash. Applications for absentee ballots are way up from previous years.
Analysts of voting sometimes point out that many Americans don't vote because they aren't worried about the impact electoral outcomes will have on their lives - as distinct from Europeans who see sharp ideological differences in parties and candidates. Economic concerns work against indifference this year - and may the voting habit stick.