Political Participation

Block objective 2: Understand conventional political participation.

  1. Definition: Common political behavior that uses the institutional channels of representative government, especially voting in elections.

  2. Examples: In addition to voting, there are other conventional ways to participate politically.

    1. Spectator activities: The simplest kinds of political activities that demand a minimal amount of effort and a correspondingly low amount of political resources. For example,

      1. wearing campaign buttons, putting signs in your yard, or putting bumper stickers on your car

      2. contacting public officials

    2. Activist activities: The more demanding types of political activities that demand more effort and more political resources. For example,

      1. contributing money to an individual, political party, or PAC

      2. attending political party meetings

      3. raising money for a campaign or a particular cause

      4. running for public office

      5. holding public office

  3. Factors affecting conventional participation

    1. Political apathy: The lack of interest in politics.

    2. Political efficacy: The belief that one can make a difference in the political realm. An election, for example, that people believe will be close will generate more interest and participation because voters think that their vote really counts.

    3. Extent of political resources: The means by which an individual or group can affect the political process. Political resources include money, time, communication skills, and personal connections. Typically, the political resources of women and members of minority groups are less than Anglo men.

    4. Political socialization: Some people have been brought up with attitudes that support political participation or they are in social situations, such as being members of service organizations, where some types of political participation are expected.

    5. The Media: The media's coverage or lack of coverage of certain topics and their endorsements of candidates can stimulate citizen interest in elections.

  4. Who participates?

    1. The elite:  Studies show that members of higher social classes participate more extensively and deeply in institutional politics than working classes. Two theories of conventional participation stress this.

      1. The individual-centered view of participation

        1. Higher income individuals have a greater stake and interest in the political system than lower income individuals.

        2. Higher income individuals have a higher level of education than lower income individuals.

        3. Consequently, people participate because of their high level of resources.

      2. The pluralist-centered view of participation

        1. Political parties are ineffective, or fail, to politically mobilize citizens.

        2. Thus, they target the wealthiest citizens to solicit funds and build political power.

    2. Anglo men

      1. Studies also show that Anglo men are more politically active than women and members of minority groups.

      2. Women and minorities have been excluded from the political system resulting in

        1. lower levels of political efficacy

        2. lower levels of political interest

        3. lower levels of political resources

    3. Not our youth

      1. America’s youth is not politically active.

      2. They, like women and minority group members, have been excluded from the political system.

  5. Levels of political participation:  Political scientists Sidney Verba and Norman Nie identified several levels of political participation.

    1. Inactives

      1. People who rarely vote, do not get involved in organizations, and do not even talk much about politics.

      2. They account for about 22 percent of the population.

    2. Voting specialists

      1. People who vote but participate in little else politically.

      2. They tend not to have much schooling or income, and to be substantially older than the average person.

    3. Parochial participants

      1. People who do not vote and stay out of election campaigns and civic associations.

      2. Willing, however, to contact local officials about specific, personal problems.

    4. Communalists

      1. People who tend to reserve their energies for local community political activities.

      2. Their education and income are similar to those of campaigners.

    5. Campaigners

      1. People who not only vote but like to get involved in campaign activities as well.

      2. They are better educated than the average voter, but what distinguishes them most is their interest in the conflicts of politics, their clear party identification, and their willingness to take strong positions.

    6. Complete activists

      1. Individuals who actively promote a political party, philosophy, or issue he or she cares personally about.

      2. They are also willing to hold political office.

      3. They account for about 12 percent of the population.