WASHINGTON -- More than 80 percent of Americans who have had a chance to vote this year in a presidential primary have turned down the offer.
"Not voting isn't passive any more. Not voting is a way of voting against the political system," said David Mathews, president of the Ohio-based Kettering Foundation.
Still, the political apathy doesn't spread to other areas, according to Rich Harwood, a Maryland consultant. The Kettering Foundation commissioned his public research firm to spend 13 months talking to people around the country about their political attitudes and concerns.
Mr. Harwood said he found "the level of civic energy" and involvement in community or professional activities very strong.
Gallup polls show that more than half of Americans do volunteer work for an average of more than four hours a week.
But many of those people have become anti-partisan and "do not want to be associated with 'politics' in any way," said Mr. Harwood. They view politics, particularly at the national level, as aimless, negative and useless.
"They hear empty debates and see attack ads that are leaving them more frustrated and angry, I suspect, than they were six or nine months ago," Mr. Harwood said. "People aren't expecting answers, but they are yearning for hope that we can manage our problems. They're not getting a sense of that at all."
In the first 14 presidential primaries, 10.3 million people voted in a Democratic or Republican contest. But 43.3 million people in those states who were old enough to vote didn't go to the polls.
In Maryland, 82.6 percent of the voting-age population failed to -- vote in the primary March 3, according to the Associated Press.
The highest turnout was 40 percent of the voting-age population in the first primary state, New Hampshire, on Feb. 26. For weeks, New Hampshire was the focus of intense media and candidate attention.
The low point was reached Tuesday in Rhode Island, where less than 9 percent of the eligible population went to the polls.