GOT(G)V – Get Out the Government Vote

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As federal employees, we have a big stake in the upcoming presidential election. Not only do we share the responsibility with the rest of America to elect a new world leader, but when we go to the polls, we are also voting for our future boss. No matter what agency you work for (federal, state, and local levels included), the president/governor/mayor we elect has the ability to appoint a number of his or her likeminded colleagues throughout the executive branch who will impact the work we do on a daily basis.

Government employees seem to understand the link between voting and their day jobs. Two researchers from Louisiana State University looked at voter turnout in the 1996 Presidential election and found that government employees had a turnout rate that was 12 percent higher than that of non-government employees.[1]

The researchers found that this difference could be attributed, in part, to the fact that government employees possessed certain characteristics normally associated with high voter turnout, such as being older, being female, and having higher levels of education, news readership, social capital, and satisfaction with democracy. Yet, even when the researchers controlled for these factors, they still found a significant correlation between public service and higher voter turnout. That is, there is something unique about public service that makes government employees vote at greater rates than those employed by the private sector. (We always new we were special, now we have the research to back it up!)

So what does this mean for young government leaders, besides the fact that we in the government community are in good company with voters and news junkies? Let’s break it down:

Young: In the 2004 election, turnout was highest among older Americans: about 70 percent of Americans age 45-55 turned out to vote, compared to only 56 percent of 25-34 year-olds and 47 percent of 18-24 year-olds.[2] The good news is that voter turnout among younger Americans has been increasing in recent years. As young government leaders, we have the ability to continue this trend. Our continued turnout will be especially important as the 69 percent of the federal labor force over the age of 40 retires in large numbers over the next few years. It’s our turn to represent, so bring it (well, bring yourself) to the polls this November!

Government: If the trends the LSU researchers observed in the 1996 election hold true, government employees’ votes are actually worth more than face value. Government employees are a smaller segment of the population, yet we turnout in higher rates than the country on average. The more government employees at the polls this fall, the bigger impact the “government vote” will have. So feel confident that your vote counts this Election Day!

Leaders: As leaders, we don’t take responsibility lightly. We embrace any opportunity to make a difference, set a positive example, and empower others to join us. As the current and future strategists, innovators, implementers, and evaluators of our country’s policies, we know that actions speak louder than words. So grab a public service colleague and register to vote, learn about the candidates, and locate your polling place.[3] Lead others to the polls and get out the (government) vote!

Now, before you rush off with American Flag in hand, there are two caveats you should know about as you get energized for Election Day. First, research shows that government employees as a group do not tend to favor one political party more than the other. So the “government vote” is unlikely to produce a mandate for any one candidate this fall. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, since – second caveat here – the Hatch Act and its 1993 amendments prohibit federal employees from engaging in certain political activities in the workplace (e.g. no soliciting political contributions at work and no wearing political buttons while on duty).[4] So embrace your nonpartisan exuberance for civic duty and, at the very least, celebrate one of the only times when we, as government employees, get a say in picking our new boss.

-Margie Watson

[1] This research can be found in Public Choice, Volume 111: pp. 259–283, April 2002.
[2] The Washington Post, May 2005:
[3] The voter registration deadline for DC and VA is Oct. 6; for MD it is Oct. 14.
[4] Office of Special Counsel booklet on the Hatch Act:

Photo Published Courtesy of Creative Commons License by Flickr user “d. rex”

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