12/08/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Slaying Apathy with Ineptitude

President George W. Bush, saviour of democracy.

The current economic meltdown, a fumbled response to Hurricane Katrina and a banner reading "Mission Accomplished" are but a few of the things that will make up Bush's legacy. But it can be argued that through his ineptitude, Bush has shaken the electorate out of their apathetic daze, and in doing so, strengthened democracy in the United States.

How's that for irony?

Voter turnout in the United States has been on the decline since the 1960's. There have been a few small spikes along the way, but a significant increase was observed in 2004, and judging by the snaking lineup we saw on Tuesday, the numbers will be similar, if not higher, this year.

President-elect Barack Obama's historic run for the White House excited many Americans and was a major factor in the increase in interest in this election.

However, the catalyst for this political renaissance was Dubya.

Deep polarization over Bush sent 60.9 percent of the eligible electorate to the polls in 2004, the highest turnout rate since 1968.

That spike in participation included an 11 percent jump in the number of young voters (aged 18-24). This was especially encouraging considering that turnout among young voters had been declining dramatically, down 16 per cent between 1972 and 2000.

The rise in public interest continued in the 2006 mid-term elections, and the indicators suggest that Tuesday's election saw another big turnout.

According to the Center for the Study of the American Electorate (CSAE), participation in this year's primaries was the second-highest on record, only half a percentage point less than in 1972.

And in a report released by the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of Americans polled said they have given "quite a lot" of thought to the election, up from only 46 percent in 2000.

There are a variety of reasons why participation is on the rise, economic concerns have always proven to be an election driver, and Obama has reached out to previously disengaged sections of the electorate. But it is Bush's unmitigated disaster of an administration that has shaken many Americans from their apathy toward politics.

"I didn't vote in 2000. It didn't really seem to matter then," says Jack Lyons, a 27-year-old master's student from Duluth, Minn. "But I'm definitely voting this year. The last eight years have shown me what a bad decision on election day can do."

This opinion is echoed across the country. There is a renewed sense among Americans that their vote does matter and a commitment to their democratic duty. What remains to be seen, however, is whether or not this resurgent interest in politics will last.

Curtis Gans is the director of the CSAE and considered to be a leading expert on voter turnout in America, having studied voting trends for 25 years. And while he expects participation to meet or perhaps exceed 2004 levels, he is quick to temper any expectations of permanent political interest.

"We've had spikes in turnout before, but then we returned to low levels of participation quickly after. The spike in 1992 had vanished by 1994. The next administration might very well do things to help keep people interested in politics, but there is currently no evidence that participation will remain strong after this election."

That responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Barack Obama.