In this article the term “political participation” will refer to those voluntary activities by which members of a society share in the selection of rulers and, directly or indirectly, in the formation of public policy. The term “apathy” will refer to a state of withdrawal from, or indifference to, such activities. These activities typically include voting, seeking information, discussing and proselytizing, attending meetings, contributing financially, and communicating with representatives. The more “active” forms of participation include formal enrollment in a party, canvassing and registering voters, speech writing and speechmaking, working in campaigns, and competing for public and party office. We shall exclude from this discussion such involuntary activities as paying taxes, serving in the armed forces, and performing jury duty.
Why do social scientists study political participation? To begin with, participation is an ingredent of every polity, large or small. Whether the society is an oligarchy or a democracy, someone must make political decisions and appoint, uphold, and remove leaders. Those who fail to participate, whether out of neglect or exclusion, are likely to enjoy less power than other men. Although not all who participate possess effective power, those who do not participate cannot exercise or share power.
As these observations imply, the right to participate is an essential element of democratic government, inseparable from such other attributes of democracy as consent, accountability, majority rule, equality, and popular sovereignty. Indeed, the growth of democratic government is in part measured by the extension of the suffrage and the correlative rights to hold office and to associate for political purposes. Whereas traditional monarchies restrict power and participation largely to the nobility and their agents, democracies have in principle transformed these prerogatives into rights enjoyed by everyone.
This expansion of participation was partly stimulated by the desire to give meaning and force to the principles of consent, accountability, and political opposition. Participation is the principal means by which consent is granted or withdrawn in a democracy and rulers are made accountable to the ruled. Since men can be equal and free only if they share in the determination of their own affairs, participation has been viewed as a means for realizing these democratic objectives as well. [SeeDemocracy.]
From Aristotle to John Dewey, political philosophers have extolled popular participation as a source of vitality and creative energy, as a defense against tyranny, and as a means of enacting the collective wisdom. By involving the many in the affairs of the state, participation should promote stability and order; and by giving everyone the opportunity to express his own interests, it should secure the greatest good for the greatest number. The community should gain, furthermore, by drawing upon the talents and skills of the largest possible number of people. Some philosophers have claimed, in addition, that participation benefits the participants as well as the larger community. It ennobles men by giving them a sense of their own dignity and value, alerts both rulers and ruled to their duties and responsibilities, and broadens political understanding.
Ought participation, however, to be open to all, or restricted to those who know how to use it wisely? On this question, political philosophers and statesmen have often disagreed. Some have maintained that men are not equally worthy of being consulted about their opinions. Some have held that men should be excluded because of caste, race, religion, poverty, or other presumed marks of irresponsibility and moral deficiency. Some have argued that men who lack property or education have no “stake in society,” are likely to be swayed by demagogues, and will use the opportunity to participate merely to register their envy and recalcitrance.
Arguments like these lay behind the exclusion of slaves and aliens from Athenian democratic processes; of commoners and Jews and other nonCatholics from participation in medieval principalities; and of Catholics from governments formed in the wake of the Reformation. Even the American constitution, as originally framed, implicitly sanctioned prohibitions against voting or holding office for reasons of race, property, religion, or sex. At the present time, the suffrage in some parts of the United States is, in law or in fact, denied to aliens, illiterates, paupers, criminals, Indians, and Negroes. Nevertheless, as democratic institutions have advanced, the trend has been for such barriers to be dropped.
Despite their historical association, widespread participation is not peculiar to democracy. Even greater emphasis is placed upon participation by the modern mass dictatorships, both communist and fascist. Their desire to involve every citizen in political affairs is evident not only in their efforts to achieve unanimous voting in elections but also in their organizaton of the masses into an elaborate network of youth groups, mass parties, trade unions, people’s councils, cooperatives, recreational and cultural societies, study circles, conferences, rallies, parades, demonstrations, and staged mass demonstrations.
Whether these efforts represent participation in the sense in which we have been using that term is open to question. Much of this activity is involuntary, and none of it is designed to allow the masses to wield influence over policy or the selection of rulers. On the contrary, it is manipulated by the self-appointed political elite so as to exploit the democratic mystique, make the masses accessible to the regime’s propaganda, harness their energies in the building of the state, and lend the regime an appearance of legitimacy. Thus, the attempt to involve the people in the achievement of the state’s programs is calculated to strengthen the dictatorship rather than to bring it under popular control. [SeeDictatorship.]
Despite its importance to democracy, the right to participate is not exercised by all who possess it. The number of nonparticipants varies with time, place, and circumstance, and also with the type of participation.
More people discuss politics than vote, and many more vote than join parties or work in campaigns. Approximately three-fourths of the Americans surveyed during recent national elections reported that they had discussed the campaign with other people. The number of eligible Americans who have actually voted in presidential elections since World War Ii has ranged from 51.5 per cent in 1948 to 63.8 per cent in 1960 (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1965, p. 384). Turnout in off-year elections to the House of Representatives during the same period has ranged from 37.6 per cent in 1946 to 48.9 per cent in 1962 (U.S. President’s Commission … 1963, p. 66). Approximately one-fourth of the electorate professes to have proselytized others on behalf of one of the parties or candidates (Michigan … 1960, p. 91). Some 15 per cent say they have worn a campaign button or displayed a sticker (Milbrath 1965a, p. 19), and almost the same number claim to have written or wired their congressmen or senators on some occasion (Public Opinion: 1935–1946 1951, p. 703). An even smaller number (roughly 10 per cent) claim to have contributed campaign funds (Alexander 1966, p. 69), while 7 per cent assert that they have attended political meetings, rallies, or dinners (Michigan … 1960, p. 91). From 3 to 5 per cent maintain that they participated actively in recent national campaigns (Lane 1959, p. 53), while only 2 or 3 per cent claim membership in political clubs or organizations (Michigan … 1960, p. 91). The number who run for political office or hold influential posts in the parties is, of course, even smaller—only a fraction of 1 per cent.
Even these figures are probably inflated, for more people tend to report political activity than actually engage in it. The figures cited may also vary, depending upon the time of polling (e.g., whether during or between campaigns) and the type of election: more people vote in national than in local elections, in presidential than in off-year elections, in partisan elections than in primaries, and in elections involving candidates than in referenda involving issues.
Political interest and awareness are related variables that are even more difficult to assess than participation, because their manifestations are less overt. Roughly one-third to one-half of the respondents surveyed during the 1956 election had no opinion or information on 16 well-known political issues (ibid., p. 174). Approximately one-third of the adult public expressed little or no interest in the 1948 and 1952 elections, while another third were only “moderately” or “somewhat” interested (Berelson et al. 1954; Campbell et al. 1954). Even fewer have the interest or capacity to arrive at a coherent set of opinions (Converse 1964).
The attentive public, thus, is distinctly a minority. As Bryce observed ( 1931, vol. 2, pp. 157 ff.), only a small group gives constant attention to politics, a slightly larger group is interested but comparatively passive, while the mass of men are largely indifferent. A contemporary writer, Milbrath (1965a, pp. 16–22), employing a similar classification, stratified the electorate into “gladiators” (the small number of party actives and officeholders), “spectators” (who seek information and vote), and “apathetics” (who participate only passively, if at all). Although all such classifications are arbitrary, they point up the tendency for various forms of political involvement and indifference to cluster: people who engage in one of the more “active” forms of participation (say, canvassing) are inclined to be active in other ways as well (say, the collection of money); whereas people who habitually fail to vote will usually avoid such other minimal activities as reading the political news. Milbrath suggests that the various forms of political involvement fall into a hierarchy or continuum according to the cost in time and effort that each demands. But other variables, such as political articulateness, saliency, and interest— which can only partially be reckoned into the “costs”—also affect the frequency of the various forms of participation.
These patterns of political activity are also subject to considerable variation. Many people vote habitually, but others vote only intermittently. Although reliable figures are not available, there is considerable fluctuation from one election to another among those who participate actively, as candidates, issues, and political conditions change. A party that is out of power or that has little hope of winning elections is particularly vulnerable to such shifts. Turnover seems to be especially rapid at the lower party levels, among political amateurs and volunteers, who have neither office nor emoluments to sustain them.
Variations are also to be found in the rates and patterns of participation from one era to another and from one nation to another. In the United States, participation appears to have declined sharply at the end of the nineteenth century. Although turnout for presidential elections in the decades following the Civil War had averaged more than 75 per cent, the rate fell steadily during the early years of the present century to an average of 51.7 per cent in the 1920s, rose again in the 1930s, and in the 1960s averaged slightly above 60 per cent (Burnham 1965; U.S. Bureau of the Census 1965). Even within the United States, regional variations in participation are great in any given year: in 1960, for example, the turnout ranged from 30.4 per cent in Georgia to 80.7 per cent in Idaho (U.S. President’s Commission … 1963, p. 67).
Equally striking are the differences in the rates of political activity from one country to another. Despite the greater incidence of education, urbanization, affluence, and mass communication, turnout in the United States has generally been lower than in other modern democracies. Turnout in Italy and Belgium in the years since World War ii has approximated 90 per cent; in Denmark, West Germany, and Great Britain, 80–85 per cent; and in Canada, Norway, Finland, and Japan, 70–80 per cent. The few cross-national studies conducted so far indicate, however, that despite the low turnout, other indexes of participation—political interest and awareness, expressed party affiliation, sense of political competence, etc.—tend to be higher in the United States than in many other countries, such as France and Italy (U.S. President’s Commission … 1963; Almond & Verba 1963; Lipset 1960).
These findings suggest that the interrelations among the several forms of participation found in the United States are not universal. No one has yet discovered any overarching principle to explain the varying ways in which these phenomena are ordered in different countries. Some of this variation is surely due to the familiar determinants of participation (education, access to information, etc.). But important weight must also be given to factors peculiar to individual countries—traditions, history, access to the governing institutions, the particular forms of political competition, or, as in Italy, special inducements to vote. The systematic investigation and weighting of these factors in various countries remains one of the urgent research tasks.
So far we have treated participation as though it were a unidimensional variable. This may be a questionable assumption, however, for although all instances of nonvoting are overtly the same, they may spring from different motivations and may represent quite different acts. Thus, in general, two classes of apathetic individuals can be distinguished: those who fail to participate out of political indifference, exclusion, or incapacity; and those who consciously choose not to participate. Although no precise information is available as to their frequency, the first is plainly the larger of the two classes. It includes the habitual nonvoters who have little knowledge of issues or candidates and are mystified by political events. Rarely are they able to connect what happens “out there” with the events of their own lives. Apathy of this type abounds among the uneducated, the inarticulate, the parochial, the isolated, and those who occupy roles in which political passivity is perceived as the norm, e.g., women in political systems heavily dominated by men (Bell et al. 1961; Lipset 1960). As these findings signify, political participation is not “natural,” but must be learned; and for learning to occur, one must have capacity, motivation, and opportunity. In some strata of the society, all three preconditions are missing.
The second class of apathetics, though small, is far more diverse. It includes those who disdain politics because it seems to them self-serving and corrupt. Some adopt this view as a projection of their own hostility or dissatisfaction with their own lives; others, out of misplaced idealism and the inevitable disappointment with human imperfection; some, out of a generalized cynicism toward mankind and all his arrangements; and some, merely because they are prey to prevailing stereotypes. Still others are disenchanted either because the system serves them badly or because politics does not seem to them sufficiently “meaningful.” Some— the “realists”—have concluded that their chances of influencing the gigantic and remote political system are too slight to warrant the investment of time and energy. Others believe that the system offers no genuine alternatives and that all efforts to change the outcomes are idle and self-deluding (Almond & Verba 1963; Campbell in Rokkan 1962a; Erbe 1964; Rosenberg 1954). Still others, while aware of politics and convinced of its importance, simply find the entire subject dull.
Nor are the forces that lead to withdrawal in all respects “negative.” In certain subgroups of the society, apathy is positively reinforced. Among those who have attempted to set up their communities outside the prevailing culture—for example, certain “bohemian” subcultures—conventional political activities are frequently regarded as foolish and unbecoming, while political indifference. is esteemed. The same holds, though less consciously and articulately, for certain deprived minorities, who perceive participation as useless, dangerous, or as an affectation. For them, the “affirmative” act is to express one’s contempt by withdrawing. [SeeAlienation; Radicalism.]
Social scientists aim to develop general theories of human behavior that will account for as many relevant facts as possible with the smallest number of assumptions and explanatory variables. So far no general theory of participation even approaches this ideal. Participation appears to be a complex phenomenon that depends on a great many variables of different relative weights. This does not necessarily mean that no conceptual model can be employed to explain it. For one can at least group the relevant independent variables into those influences which are essentially internal (psychological and cognitive) and those which derive from the individual’s external environment, social and political. Any model employing these broad categories is bound to be oversimplified. One may nevertheless reason that (a) individuals are embedded in a matrix of social forces (status, education, religion, etc.) that orients them toward or away from political participation; (b) in addition, characteristic differences in drives and capacities will cause individuals to vary in their readiness to respond to political stimuli; and (c) the degree to which these social and psychological predispositions find expression as political activity depends partly on the nature of the political environment itself—including the political structure and institutions, the party system, and the pattern of political values and beliefs. The three sets of variables are closely linked and intermingled. A change in any of them can, therefore, increase or decrease participation, and an analysis based on only one of them is bound to be misleading and incomplete.
The social environment
The elements that compose the social environment include education, occupation, income, age, race, religion, sex, mobility, and residence. Research in the United States and elsewhere shows that most of these variables correlate to some degree with participation. In general, participation tends to be higher among the better-educated, members of the higher occupational and income groups, the middle-aged, the dominant ethnic and religious groups, men (as opposed to women), settled residents, urban dwellers, and members of voluntary associations.
It should be emphasized, however, that the correlations between participation and some of these variables are low and unstable and that they may vary from one cultural-political context to another. Thus, education and socioeconomic status and participation correlate strongly in the United States but weakly in Norway. Urban-rural differences in participation occur in some elections but riot in others. City dwellers, with their increased exposure to mass media, higher education, and greater predisposition to form voluntary associations, characteristically participate more than those who live in rural communities in the United States; yetsome farm states, such as Idaho, Utah, and South Dakota, have significantly higher turnouts than some industrial states, such as California, New York, and New Jersey. Likewise, in some countries that have long traditions of communal leadership or cooperative forms of agricultural organization, participation is greater in rural than in urban areas—e.g., Japan, France, Arab villages in Israel, and parts of Scandinavia (Lipset 1960; Milbrath 1965a). Church attendance correlates positively with political participation in the United States, scarcely at all in Great Britain, and negatively in Germany and Italy. Some ethnic minorities in the United States (e.g., Negroes) have very low turnout rates, while others (e.g., Jews) have among the very highest.
These deviations suggest several observations about the relation of the social environment to participation. First, the variables in this category are so broad as to be fairly limited in their explanatory power. Often they represent configurations of more exact and dynamic variables, but the configurations are not always identical. Political apathy of Negroes in the United States reflects in large measure not just their position as a minority but also their status as a deprived minority—poor, uneducated, rural, parochial, etc.; this, in turn, has gradually led to the widespread acceptance by both whites and Negroes of the Negro’s role as that of nonparticipant. At the other end, the greater participation of high-status groups in most societies is due partly to their superior education and partly to their enhanced opportunities to acquire firsthand knowledge of and to influence politics by greater access to political leaders and to the sources of political decision making.
Since the relevant variables are subject to interaction effects, the same demographic factors may have dramatically different consequences in different political-cultural contexts. Social class differences, for example, may signify powerful inequalities in one culture and trivial differences in another. The disparity in the correlations between occupational level and participation in Norway and the United States, for instance, results partly from the greater political and ideological organization of the Norwegian working class than the American working class (Campbell & Valen 1961). The inverse relationship between correlations for church attendance and voting turnout for the United States and Italy reflects primarily the differences in education and economic status of churchgoers in the two countries.
Despite these qualifications, categoric variables are not only heuristically useful but sometimes can actually influence participation. Thus, education offers high and reliable correlations with participation, partly because it helps to develop a sense of civic duty, political competence, interest, and responsibility, as well as personality characteristics of self-confidence, dominance, and articulateness. Furthermore, the schools themselves serve as settings in which the skills of participation are acquired: one learns to join organizations, fulfill duties, participate in meetings, discuss broad social questions, and organize to achieve group goals. Finally, the more educated are better able to transmit their political interest and knowledge to their children and, hence, to perpetuate the relationship between education and participation.
In the example of education we thus see at work three of the most powerful influences affecting participation: articulateness, sensitivity to one’s self-interest, and effective socialization by the political culture. While these influences bear even on differences in voting frequency, they are especially significant in differentiating the politically active from ordinary citizens. These same factors also help to explain the findings on participation yielded by research on other categoric variables. The higher turnout among, say, Congregationalists than Baptists is a function, in part, of their greater articulateness. The greater activity and ideological solidarity of higher-status occupations can be traced in part to their superior capacity for perceiving the relation of their own interests to governmental decisions. The higher frequency of voting among the middle-aged compared with young adults reflects the need for time and experience in order for politicization to take effect; and the same principle applies to the greater turnout and activity of settled residents as against transients. The greater political activity in the cities, compared with rural areas, testifies to a higher level of articulateness there. The greater political activity of members of voluntary associations reflects in some measure the effects of all three influences: articulateness, awareness of self-interest, and greater exposure to the agencies of socialization.
Through such variables as these, and through other general constructs of a more dynamic nature (e.g., power, influence, motives, pressures, drives), we may eventually succeed in developing models that refine demographic variables into their appropriate units, equivalent over time and across cultures. When these components are isolated and appropriately weighted, predictions about participation under varying conditions should become much more accurate. [See Socialization, article onPolitical socialization.]
Participation survives by virtue of its capacity to provide rewards for those who engage in it. Political observers throughout the ages have variously attributed man’s political activity to his need for power, competition, achievement, affiliation, aggression, money, prestige, status, recognition, approval, manipulation, sympathy, responsibility—in short, to virtually every need that impels human behavior. Unfortunately, systematic data on the relative frequency and influence of any of these motives are extremely sparse. Nor do we know whether political participation gratifies certain needs that are not satisfied by other kinds of endeavor, or whether the motives that induce active or psychologically costly forms of participation (such as managing a campaign) differ from those which prompt simpler, less arduous activities like voting.
In addition to the active versus passive distinction, one may classify participation in terms of its goals: i.e., instrumental as opposed to consummatory or expressive (Davies 1963; Milbrath 1965b). Instrumental political activities are primarily oriented toward concrete goals, such as party victory, the passage of a bill, or the enhancement of one’s own status, influence, or income. Consummatory or expressive activities are aimed at more immediate satisfaction or release of feeling: thus, voting may be a consummatory rather than an instrumental act for those who care less about the outcome than about the positive feeling they get from casting their ballots; like parading or saluting the flag, it may become a ritualistic form of rewarding behavior. For other people who are mainly concerned with achieving certain goals, the same act of voting would be instrumental. Most behaviors embody both instrumental and consummatory purposes to some degree.
In general, psychological variables may be thought of as those stemming from individual personality traits (whether primarily constitutionalgenetic or primarily learned) and from cognitive structures, which in this case represent certain characteristic ways of conceptualizing the self and the surrounding sociopolitical world. [SeePersonality, Political.]
Available evidence suggests that a number of the more basic or genotypic personality traits—rigidity, guilt neurasthenia, intolerance of ambiguity, manic-depressive tendencies, manifest anxiety—do not correlate highly with political participation. The weakness of these relationships is particularly evident at the more passive end of the participation continuum. Thus, voters scarcely differ from nonvoters on the traits mentioned above. However, apathetic individuals tend to be slightly more aggressive and paranoid than voters. In general, the more active participants exhibit less hostility than the general population, except in the case of activists who belong to extreme or messianic movements. Participants in such movements, which aim at quick and drastic refashioning of the world, are frequently motivated by rage and paranoia and find that participation gives them a legitimized context for discharging their aggression (Almond 1954).
Although basic personality dimensions such as guilt and rigidity do not adequately distinguish participants from nonparticipants, they do differentiate somewhat the less active from the more active, the inactives exhibiting these traits in greater measure. The correlations are not high, but one would not expect them to be. Participation is so complex a phenomenon that the connection between any particular activity (e.g., voting) and any source trait (e.g., rigidity) is bound to be extremely tenuous. Then, too, for many people—especially the more passive participants—the psychological investment in politics is so slight that one would be surprised to discover that deep-seated motives were attached to a given activity. Furthermore, the “distance” between a basic personality trait and a specific manifestation of political activity is too great and the route between them too circuitous for the one to be directly engaged by the other. Nevertheless, correlations do turn up between certain personality traits and participation that appear to be due mainly to the impairment of social functioning induced by personality disturbances. An individual who scores high on measures of paranoia, inflexibility, guilt, hostility, and so on will ipso facto function less effectively in many social contexts. He will be less able to perform tasks that require accurate appraisals of reality and may find threatening such political activities as organizing, deciding, bargaining, interacting, cooperating, debating, and proselytizing.
Similarly, research has shown (Gough et al. 1951; Milbrath 1965a) that personality traits which are particularly influenced by social learning—such as dominance, social responsibility, and self-confidence—are positively associated with political participation. It is not so much that these signs of ego strength are sufficient to inspire political participation, but that individuals who lack them are more likely to avoid active involvement.
Although the correlations between psychological traits and participation are modest, their direction largely refutes much of the folklore about political practitioners as highly ambitious, exhibitionistic, “folksy,” narcissistic, driven, enthusiastic, materialistic, authoritarian, and power-hungry. Research in the United States (very little has been conducted on the subject elsewhere) indicates that politicians and other active participants do not possess these traits in greater measure than do nonparticipants or members of other professions (Hennessy 1959; McClosky & Schaar 1965). American data on social responsibility, authoritarianism, and related measures suggest that participants are more likely than nonparticipants to show social conscience and concern and affirmative attitudes toward mankind.
Participants are also distinguished from nonparticipants by such cognitive variables as belief in one’s own adequacy and in the amenability of the social order to change. Even the elementary forms of participation, such as voting, may present some people with threatening questions about their ability to understand and affect external institutions that strike them as bewildering or remote. An individual’s sense of his own personal competence tends to color his judgment of his political effectiveness, which in turn strengthens his motivation to participate. Confronted with the challenge of trying to change political and social conditions, lower-status groups and the psychologically handicapped are prone to feel bewildered and helpless; they are, in general, more susceptible to feelings of alienation, anomie, and pessimism—both personal and political (McClosky & Schaar 1965). In their view, the social-political system is hostile and inaccessible. They find few of the personal rewards received by the politically active (approval of friends, being “on the inside,” the “excitement” of politics, and so on). Accordingly, they not only vote less frequently but also are less interested and personally involved in politics, have fewer and less. coherent opinions, and are less concerned with issues and with the outcome of elections (Michigan … 1960; Eulau & Schneider 1956).
While the relations between the cognitive states of low self-esteem and feelings of pessimism and alienation from society are strongly correlated with political apathy, one cannot be certain which way the causal arrow is pointing: i.e., alienation may lead to nonparticipation; nonparticipation may encourage alienation; or both may be correlates of a more basic variable, such as ignorance, which breeds fear, mistrust, and avoidance of situations that might turn out to be threatening. Similarly, the relationship of participation to actual or imagined efficacy can be demonstrated, but here, too, the influence patterns are somewhat circular: one who participates has a greater incentive to learn how the system works and how to function effectively within it; a sense of efficacy, in turn, may predispose one toward further participation. [SeePolitical efficacy.]
These psychological variables, and especially the degree to which political participation is felt to be rewarding or nonrewarding, are powerfully mediated by the individual’s reference groups. Many of the values and habits of participation are instilled by the family and sustained by peers and other primary groups (Almond & Verba 1963; McClosky & Dahlgren 1959). Any such group for which politics is highly salient will reward its members for participation or punish them for nonparticipation by granting or withholding approval and affection. Intermediate groups as well as primary groups may help prepare their members for citizenship by alerting them to their own interests, developing their social skills, and instructing them in the techniques of public activity. Membership in trade unions, service clubs, and other voluntary associations has repeatedly been found to correlate significantly with political participation.
The influences exerted on a given individual by his various reference groups may be aggregative or may cancel each other out, depending on how consonant the groups are. Conflict or cross pressure among one’s membership groups may dilute the reinforcement pattern or cause the individual so much pain that he refuses to vote or avoids participating in other ways. Cross pressures, of course, may also result from holding conflicting beliefs, from attempting to serve conflicting interests, or from harboring opinions that are manifestly discrepant with reality. [SeeCross pressure.]
The political environment
Much is asserted but little is reliably known about the political correlates of participation. Political apathy is alleged to be affected by the size, remoteness, and complexity of modern political systems and, more specifically, in the United States by the frequency of elections, the number of offices to be filled, the length of the ballot, and the necessity for observing and making decisions about four levels (municipal, county, state, federal) and three branches (executive, legislative, judicial) of government. Widespread participation is presumably further discouraged when the major parties are large, loosely knit brokerage agencies which lack enrolled memberships, effective discipline, or vital centers for adopting party policy. In the light of these conditions, many observers have suggested that largescale political participation may be an unrealistic goal. A few studies have indicated that such institutional barriers as complicated election codes and nonpartisan forms of the ballot somewhat reduce turnout (Michigan … 1960; Tingsten 1937). On the other hand, participation is highest among the very individuals who are most articulate and most capable of perceiving the ambiguities and complexities in the system. Would the inactives be less apathetic if government were simpler and more comprehensible? We cannot tell. One difficulty in resolving this question is that those who have little initial interest in politics often rationalize their inactivity by seizing upon any potential obstacle, while the highly motivated have relatively little difficulty in surmounting the informal barriers to participation thrown up by the system (Michigan… 1960; Almond & Verba 1963).
Obstacles to participation may also take more narrow and prescriptive forms: cumbersome registration procedures, literacy tests, poll taxes, residence requirements, inadequate provision for absentee voting, inaccessibility of polling places, and so on. Residence requirements alone may disenfranchise as much as 5 to 10 per cent of the eligible electorate (U.S. President’s Commission … 1963, chapter 1). Except for a few restrictions designed to disqualify specific groups (e.g., literacy tests and poll taxes in the South), these obstacles chiefly impede those who are least motivated to vote in any case.
In the United States, only a modest effort is made by government or the parties to register and instruct potential voters. While voting is widely encouraged, mere exhortation appears to have little effect, except perhaps on professed attitudes toward voting. Thus many more people—nonvoters as well as voters—believe that everyone ought to vote or participate than actually do so. Conversely, the citizens. of some nations with typically higher turnouts than the United States nevertheless admit to a weaker sense of civic duty (Almond & Verba 1963). Like feelings of political efficacy, professed belief in civic duty is significantly influenced by education, status, and general articulateness, as well as by the cultural norms.
The situational factors that predispose people toward political activity are no better understood than are the legal and institutional barriers to participation. For example, the commonly held belief that great national or international crises awaken the impulse to participate has not been systematically tested. Scholars favoring this hypothesis can point to the increase in election turnout during the last years of the Weimar Republic, the early days of the New Deal, and similar isolated examples; but one can find as many instances that support a contrary interpretation: Turnout did not increase during the depression of 1932 or the recession of 1958. In wartime, voting tends to decline rather than to rise—partly, however, because many young voters are away from home. Thus, turnout increased slightly in 1940 over 1936, but dropped in 1944. In 1948—a time of momentous decisions and cold war tensions—the proportion of eligible voters who cast their ballots fell to 51.3 per cent, the smallest percentage for any presidential election since 1924. The relative unpopularity of the candidates seems to have had far greater weight than the urgency of international events. In 1956, a comparatively placid year, the presidential vote represented 60.1 per cent of those eligible—a relatively high proportion for the United States. It may even be that unusually grave or ambiguous problems tend to paralyze rather than to activate voters. Such anecdotal data, unfortunately, do not tell us much. What is needed is a series of cross-cultural investigations in which the meaning of such terms as “crisis” and “important” are operationally defined a priori, rather than rationalized in post hoc interpretations by either the respondents or the investigators.
In addition to the general variables touched on, the party system, the nature of the campaign, and issues and ideology are three areas that shape participation in modern societies.
The party system. Of all political influences on participation, the party is probably the most potent. Its role is partly expressive and partly instrumental. The party resembles the nation or the church both in its symbolic force and in its capacity for arousing affection, devotion, and sacrifice on the part of its loyal members. The vast majority of the party faithful would no more think of switching parties than of changing their nationality or religion. The party inspires in its members feelings of belonging and, equally, of opposition to those in other parties. While membership in cognate social groups may strengthen party influence on participation, the party is a powerful reference group in its own right. Indeed, it may help to solidify attachments to other social groups. This mystique keeps large numbers of people persistently active even though they have only a slim chance of affecting the outcome of important public events.
The parties also perform a number of instrumental functions. Despite their many derelictions, the American parties contact and register voters, select candidates, organize the campaign, and tell supporters what to believe on issues and how to vote. Accordingly, people who affiliate with a party vote more often than those who do not; and those who are strongly attached are more active in discussions, listen to more speeches, and respond more positively to their party’s views than do those who are weakly attached. Again, these are correlates, and one cannot always be certain whether party affiliation causes participation or the reverse. Furthermore, even these correlations are far from perfect. Many voters have only a marginal preference for one party over the other, while many nonvoters report strong party loyalties (Michigan … 1960, p. 97). In France and some other European countries, party affiliation is less common than in the United States, but electoral turnout is higher (Converse & Dupeux 1962).
Many students of politics believe that participation in the United States would be greater if the competition between parties were more intense— that is, if they were more equally matched in the number of their adherents or more sharply divided in ideology. There is some empirical support for the belief that owing to greater incentives, turnout increases as the number of supporters of the competing parties becomes more equal (Milbrath 1965b). But closeness of competition appears to exercise most of its effect on those with strong party identifications (Michigan … 1960, p. 99).
More debatable is the claim that greater ideological cleavage between parties increases participation. The argument rests principally on the assumption that those who see the parties as diverging are more likely to find the election important and will therefore be more strongly motivated to work and vote for their party. Support for the hypothesis can be gleaned from several sets of findings: turnout in regular elections is almost invariably greater than turnout in primaries; voters in some countries with typically heavier turnouts than the United States (e.g., Norway) see their parties as more divergent ideologically than do Americans (Campbell & Valen 1961); and within the United States, active party workers are more likely than ordinary citizens to regard the parties as differing sharply on issues (McClosky 1964). But another set of observations can be adduced to support the opposite view: Many voters support their party without reference to the stand it takes on issues (McClosky et al. 1960), and only a minority accurately perceive the degree of intellectual cleavage that already exists between the major American parties. In some countries with high turnout, such as France and Italy, voters do not see the parties as very divergent ideologically. Nor has participation declined in countries that are alleged to have experienced “depoliticization,” or a so-called “end of ideology” (Himmelstrand in Rokkan 1962a; Lipset 1960), even though they may have undergone a reduction in the amount of political controversy and agitation among intellectuals. It is also possible that when party positions become polarized, some people will shrink from having to choose between extreme and unpalatable alternatives. [See Parties, Political.]
The campaign. The effort made by the parties to involve the electorate in the political contest is concentrated in the campaign itself. Something has been learned about the effects of campaigns on polarizing party attachments, reinforcing candidate preferences, and switching votes (Berelson et al. 1954). But little is reliably known about the effects of different kinds of campaign techniques on participation. One can assume that even the most listless campaign will succeed in arousing some people who might not otherwise think of attending a political meeting, listening to a political speech, or carrying a banner. Such findings as we do have suggest that the campaign chiefly reaches the faithful, crystallizing partisanship and reinforcing the intention of committed party adherents to vote and to persuade others to vote (ibid.). When the campaign ends, most of the participants revert to their relatively passive roles.
Which campaign techniques are most effective in stimulating citizen participation? All forms of persuasion and publicity probably have some effect, however minuscule. The most dramatic results, however, appear to be achieved through face-to-face communication with potential voters. This contact can be made formally, through designated party canvassers, or informally, through politically interested friends and opinion leaders (Lazarsfeld et al. 1944; Cutright & Rossi 1958; Katz & Lazarsfeld 1955). The relative effectiveness of these communicators depends on their ability to command the attention of the people they seek to contact, to represent themselves as trustworthy sources of information, to enforce moral or psychological pressures, and to convey campaign messages in meaningful language (Cohen 1964).
The effect of the campaign on participation depends not only on campaign techniques but also on the popularity or charisma of the candidates. Intuitive or anecdotal data suggest that candidates with strong personal appeal can significantly increase the interest of typical nonparticipants and quicken the fervor and activity of party regulars. But in the few elections on which we have data, most voters were unable to discriminate clearly the personality attributes of the candidates (Pool 1959; Davies 1954).
Issues and ideology. A sizable body of research has shown that participation is associated with political awareness, that is, actual knowledge of political affairs. (Awareness, of course, is in turn highly correlated with interest.) As we have seen, the number of citizens who can be described as “aware” in any sophisticated sense is extremely small. As many as half or three-fourths of the electorate are unable to define terms common to ordinary political discourse—e.g., “monopoly,” “plurality,” “left,” “right,” “balanced budget” (see Key 1961). Many cannot identify the reference groups that speak for their interests, cannot classify themselves accurately as liberal or conservative, and cannot describe the differences between their party and that of the opposition. Striking as these findings are for the United States, they are even clearer for other countries where education and dissemination of public information are less widespread.
Awareness affects both the amount and the quality of participation. If the unaware participate at all, they tend to do so in a random, inconsistent way that may actually work against their own stated aims. Data indicate that the politically aware are usually better able to relate their social values to their political opinions; to achieve stable, internally consistent belief systems; and to comprehend and act upon the constitutional “rules of the game” (McClosky 1964; Prothro & Grigg 1960; Stouffer 1955).
Issues also play a role in participation. Although voters may lack knowledge of the array of issues being contested in a given election, some are strongly motivated by a single issue or class of issues that are for them particularly salient. For some purposes, then, the electorate can be thought of as constituting “issue publics”—e.g., Negroes (civil rights), the elderly (Medicare), trade unionists (the closed shop), young men of draft age (the war in Vietnam), and so on. The activity generated within such publics by the surfacing of the appropriate issue may be critical both for the outcome of the election and for the adoption of government policies. But self-testimony about the important issues can be deceptive: Although some people may actually be moved to vote by the issues they name as decisive—e.g., the Korean conflict in 1952— (Campbell et al. 1954), others may be motivated largely by their preference for a candidate and, when asked, merely name the issues stressed by him.
Evidence suggests that the party actives are more likely than ordinary voters to be aware of and motivated by issues. In the United States the active members of the two parties differ sharply on a wide range of issues, while their respective followers tend to agree on all but a few issues (McClosky et al. 1960). These disagreements in the issue outlook of party elites furnish motive force, help to define the parties’ images, and determine whom the parties recruit and activate.
In principle, any issue can be a powerful stimulus to participation; in practice, some issues are so narrow, technical, or esoteric that they have little chance of capturing the interest of a large public. “Position” issues (the so-called bread-and-butter issues) are generally thought to have a better chance of interesting would-be voters than “style,” or symbolic, issues (Berelson et al. 1954). Such position issues as social security, minimum wages, and Medicare are presumably easier to understand, even for the uneducated, and promise more tangible rewards. Style issues, such as civil liberties and many foreign policy questions, are presumably more complex and abstract and, hence, less compelling. Obviously there are important exceptions to these generalizations: for example, civil rights is for most Americans a style rather than a position issue, but during the 1960s it has probably inspired more activity than any other domestic issue.
There are severe limitations on the degree to which issues of any type can stimulate interest and participation among large segments of the population. The distance between the individual’s behavior and the eventual reward (i.e., effective government action on the issue) is typically very great, and the reinforcement pattern sporadic and uncertain. The wonder, then, is not that people do not participate, but that they do.
Political factors, thus, may cause participation rates to vary, but one must keep in mind that the over-all rate of participation for a given country in a given era tends to remain fairly stable and that changes in the rates of participation from one election to another are usually small. This suggests that the broad social and psychological predispositions earlier discussed set severe limitations on the play of political and situational elements.
What do the findings on participation mean for the theory and practice of democracy? According to the textbook model of democracy, an alert, informed, and wise citizenry rationally assesses the men who offer themselves for election, chooses the best, and removes or reappoints them after carefully weighing their performance. As we have seen, the portrait bears little resemblance to reality. How should this picture be revised in the light of the findings on participation? Does the evidence render traditional notions of democracy untenable, requiring a reformulation of its basic assumptions and claims? These questions have stirred considerable controversy (Dahl 1966; Walker 1966).
Much of the argument has centered on what the widespread failure to participate means for democratic government. While some observers have felt that universal participation is neither possible nor especially desirable, none has proposed restricting the practice of universal suffrage. The issue, rather, is the assessment of the consequences of political inactivity among certain sections of the electorate and the amount of participation that reasonably can or should be expected of citizens in a democracy. The answers to these questions, many believe, will shape the nature and quality of the democracy a society enjoys.
The arguments of those who are not severely troubled about the dangers of political apathy may be summarized as follows:
(1) Little is gained, and something may be lost, by encouraging the involvement of men and women who are politically uninformed and uninterested. Such people are likely to misperceive their own and society’s best interests. They are likely to have the poorest understanding of the requirements of a democratic system (civil liberties, tolerance of nonconformity, etc.) and are most susceptible to misleading propaganda and the appeals of popular but inappropriate leaders. Encouraging them to participate may actually cause harm to democratic government.
(2) To insist that all must participate because all are affected by politics is to substitute piety for judgment. Little is gained merely by increasing the number of voters. Political activity may be addressed to undesirable as well as to desirable ends. A vote may be used to elect a Hitler as well as a Roosevelt or a Churchill. In a democracy, moreover, a citizen has the right to disdain politics if he chooses. Better apathy than heedless participation.
(3) Since even under optimal conditions the great mass of the electorate can never possess the awareness that complex political judgments now demand, the business of politics might better be turned over to those active minorities who, by virtue of their interest, knowledge, and judgment, have shown that they are capable of governing in a democracy. As a safeguard in this kind of government-by-minority, the would-be rulers must, of course, be drawn from all segments of the society, must compete among themselves for office, and must account to the voters for their actions.
(4) Widespread political activity, while desirable in some respects, also carries disadvantages. A “too active” electorate may impede those who rule from making the decisions they are best qualified to make. A highly politicized electorate may lead to excessive controversy, fragmentation, and instability. The existence of a large number of “indifferents” among the electorate lends flexibility to the system by permitting power to shift from one administration (or party) to another without generating unusual tension or anger; the decisions of the new officeholders are thus more easily accepted and accommodated. Any sudden upswing of political interest and activity is likely to herald a condition of disturbance or crisis in the system and the emergence of new and profound cleavages.
While some observers remain fairly sanguine about the incidence of nonparticipation, others are deeply troubled (Walker 1966; Lane 1959). Typical of their arguments are the following:
(1) Those who fail to participate are not properly represented. Government is thereby deprived of its broadest possible assessment and of the benefit of whatever these nonparticipants have learned from their experience. In a democracy, participation is power. Rulers can therefore afford to ignore the needs and interests of nonparticipants. By neglecting to avail themselves of the reinforcements contingent upon participation, the apathetic are further discouraged from bothering to formulate political opinions and demands. Ignorance thus accumulates, and the general level of political vitality and vigilance declines. In practice, it will typically be the poor and the socially deprived who are most likely to be unrepresented—those who most need to be represented.
(2) Widespread apathy increases the chances that government will be dominated by men who are unresponsive, self-aggrandizing, and unscrupulous; participation, on the other hand, reminds those who govern that they must attend to their duties and serve the electorate. Whenever apathy prevails, it becomes more difficult to organize and maintain a political opposition—an essential ingredient of the defense against tyranny and the abuse of political power.
(3) Even if the opinions of the nonparticipants are presently ill-informed, there is no better way to improve the quality of their judgment than by the experience of participation. In the course of participating, one is impelled to acquire the knowledge needed for sound judgment, to become aware of one’s best interests, to learn how the system works and what principles and beliefs it values. Voters looking for guidance are prompted to seek out information, to discuss politics with others, and so on. Therefore, participation not only stimulates political learning but also heightens responsibility, deepens awareness, and increases one’s sense of political effectiveness.
(4) Apathy is a symptom as well as a cause of weakness in the system. It signifies a failure to involve all members of the society in their own governance, a failure to inspire interest and loyalty. Such failures may be dangerous to democracy, for whenever a large number of people exist outside the normal channels of politics and are unable to share in the decisions that shape their lives, the political atmosphere becomes potentially explosive.
The cogency of some of the foregoing arguments on both sides of the issue indicates that the relationship of participation to democracy cannot be understood simplistically. To claim that more participation is always preferable is to blind oneself to the possible disadvantages of enlarging participation under certain circumstances. To contend, on the other side, that any increase in participation will invariably serve to enshrine mediocrity and to debase the quality of political life is to ignore the powerful considerations for giving everyone who wants it a role in the collective decision process. Most of the disputants, fortunately, would be unwilling to press their arguments to these extremes. Nothing is to be gained by converting participation into either a fetish or a taboo. It seems plain enough that in itself it is neither good nor bad, but that it takes its character from the social and political contexts in which it occurs, as well as from the motivations of the participants.
Both participation and apathy, then, are complex phenomena which resist easy characterization and analysis, not only for the reasons just given but also because many of their correlates are still unknown. Although much has been learned in a relatively short time, the relationship between participation and its social, psychological, and political correlates is far from being understood in a systematic way. The explorations that need to be undertaken might be much more useful if both participation and its correlates were broken down into their principal components, so that the influence process—whatever the direction of its flow— might be understood more dynamically. Once identified, these components need to be systematically explored in different social contexts and across cultures to determine their relative explanatory power under varying combinations of forces.
[See alsoAccess to politics; Elections; Representation, especially the article onrepresentational behavior; Voting. Directly related are the entriesDemocracy; Elites; Interest groups; Majority rule; Oligarchy; Parties, political; Political clubs; Political efficacy; Political financing; Totalitarianism. Other relevant material may be found in Political behavior; Political socialogy; Public opinion; Social movements; Socialization, article onpolitical socialization; Voluntary associations, article onsociological aspects.]
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"Political Participation." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 22, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/political-participation
"Political Participation." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved February 22, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/political-participation
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Sidney Verba and Norman Nie define political participation as, “those activities by private citizens that are more or less directly aimed at influencing the selection of government personnel and/or the actions they take” (1972, p. 2). This definition is broad in that it takes into account many activities beyond voting in elections, including being active in organizations, working on campaigns, contacting officials, attending political meetings, and being a member of a political organization (Verba and Nie 1972, p. 31). Other scholars adopt broader definitions. For example, Lester Milbrath (1965) incorporates passive behavior (i.e., taking part in ceremonial activities), some psychological orientations (i.e., becoming informed about politics), and protests and demonstrations. Scholars of nondemocratic systems include legal and nonlegal participation and mobilized participation, as well as activities more appropriate to these contexts, such as complaining through bureaucratic channels (Friedgut 1979; Huntington and Nelson 1976; Shi 1997).
Milbrath (1965) was the first to argue that political participation follows a hierarchical structure in that individuals who engage in activities at the top level also engage in activities at lower levels. The bottom rung includes those who do not engage in any type of activity. The “spectator” level consists of activities such as voting, exposure to political stimuli, and talking to others about politics. The “transitional” level includes attending meetings, donating money, or contacting an official. And the “gladiator” engages in activities such as running for office, soliciting funds, and working on a campaign.
Another way to look at the various types of participatory actions is with respect to the level of input required from citizens, the type of information the act conveys to leaders, and how much pressure they place on policymakers to pay attention (Verba and Nie 1972; Verba et al. 1995). Working on a campaign and directly contacting officials requires a great deal of initiative, while activities like voting do not entail as much time or energy. Direct contact sends a clear message to leaders about a citizen’s preferences, whereas voting only conveys an ambiguous message. Finally, activities vary with respect to the pressure they put on leaders, with voting exerting a high degree of pressure since electoral support is necessary for reelection.
A prominent finding in the early literature, especially in the United States, was that socioeconomic factors, such as income and education, have the strongest effects on increasing the likelihood of turnout (Campbell et al. 1960). With respect to a broader range of participatory activities, those higher in socioeconomic status (SES) are also more likely to engage in the more difficult and time-consuming participatory activities (Milbrath 1965; Verba and Nie 1972), including nonconventional forms of participation such as demonstrations (Barnes et al. 1979). However, Verba, Nie, and Jae-On Kim (1978) find that the relationship between SES and voting is not as strong across all countries, which they attribute to differences in institutions and social cleavages. Furthermore, in authoritarian regimes, individuals higher in SES are actually more likely to abstain from political participation, since abstention can be a form of protest (Shi 1997).
One of the problems with the SES explanation is that it does not explain why those lower in SES do participate in politics. Verba, Kay Schlozman, and Henry Brady (1995) provide answers to this puzzle in their civic volunteerism model. They argue that participation is a function of three factors—resources, psychological engagement, and recruitment—with resources being further divided into time, money, and civic skills. Civic skills are “the communications and organizational abilities that allow citizens to use time and money effectively in political life” (Verba et al. 1995, p. 304) and that can be obtained on the job, in nonpolitical organizations, and in church. It is especially in this latter domain that individuals lower in SES obtain civic skills. The authors find that civic skills play the biggest role in time-based participatory activities, such as contacting officials, while they are not as important for other participatory activities, such as voting, in which SES and psychological engagement play a more important role.
Steven Rosenstone and John Mark Hansen (1993) propose mobilization as another factor that can help resolve the puzzle of why those low in SES may be inclined to participate. They argue (and find) that direct contact by political elites, such as direct mail or door-todoor canvassing, has a positive influence on the likelihood of turnout, and that this effect is more pronounced among those least likely to vote, since mobilization offsets the costs of participation. Rosenstone and Hansen also find positive effects of mobilization with respect to working on a campaign, donating money, and trying to persuade others to vote a certain way. Many scholars have subsequently demonstrated that direct contact increases the likelihood of turnout among minority groups (Leighley 2001) and is more effective than other types of mobilization, such as mailings and phone banks (Gerber and Green 2000).
Normatively, political participation has a long tradition of being considered important to the concepts of legitimacy and authority in democratic political systems. Whether one assumes an authorization view of representation, in which a leader is accountable to those who selected or appointed him or her, or an accountability view, in which the representative is bound to a free public, the standards for achieving both in a democracy are free and fair elections (Pitkin 1967). Thus, a political system is considered legitimate only given the participation of citizens in the voting booth. One problem with this conceptualization is that it tends to consider democracies as the only political system that provides legitimate representation (Rehfeld 2006). Participation is still relevant to the legitimacy of nondemocratic regimes, since citizen support is often necessary for the proper functioning of the system (e.g., Davis 1976; Friedgut 1979; Shi 1997).
Empirically, participation is important for the quality of representation in democratic systems: “democratic responsiveness depends on citizen participation, and equal responsiveness depends on equal participation” (Verba 1996, p. 2). Thus, inequality with respect to who participates can lead to biases in representation (Lijphart 1997). For example, scholars find that counties with higher turnout rates receive more appropriations from Congress (Martin 2003), and states with higher levels of upper-class representation have lower levels of welfare spending (Hill and Leighley 1992). Finally, Senator roll-call votes are responsive to the ideology of voters in a state, but not to nonvoters (Griffin and Newman 2005).
SEE ALSO Autocracy; Citizenship; Democracy; Electoral Systems; First-past-the-post; Parliament, United Kingdom; Parties, Political; Pluralism
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Martin, Paul S. 2003. Voting’s Rewards: Voter Turnout, Attentive Publics, and Congressional Allocation of Federal Money. American Journal of Political Science 47 (1): 110–127.
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Rehfeld, Andrew. 2006. Towards a General Theory of Political Representation. Journal of Politics 68 (1): 1–21.
Rosenstone, Steven J., and John Mark Hansen. 1993. Mobilization, Participation, and Democracy in America. New York: Macmillan.
Shi, Tianjian. 1997. Political Participation in Beijing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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Verba, Sidney, Kay Lehman Schlozman, and Henry E. Brady. 1995. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Verba, Sidney, Norman H. Nie, and Jae-On Kim. 1978. Participation and Political Equality: A Seven-Nation Comparison. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
"Participation, Political." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 22, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/participation-political
"Participation, Political." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved February 22, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/participation-political
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A truly postethnic America would be one in which the ethno-racial component in identity would loom less large than it now does in politics.
—David A. Hollinger in Postethnic America (New York: Harper-Collins, 1995)
To be eligible to vote, a person must be a U.S. citizen and at least eighteen years of age. In a report to Congress, The Impact of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 on the Administration of Elections for Federal Office, 2003–2004 (June 30, 2005, http://www.eac.gov/docs/NVRA-2004-Survey.pdf), the Federal Election Commission states that in 2004 there were 221.3 million total citizens eighteen years and older in the United States. Of that number, 174.8 million, or about 79%, were registered to vote. However, a significant number of these registrants, 19.5 million, were considered inactive, meaning they had not recently participated in election voting and in many cases had moved to other jurisdictions. Each state determines for itself how long an individual may remain on the list of registered voters without voting.
Minority groups have traditionally trailed behind whites when it comes to registering to vote and actually voting. In 1993 Congress enacted the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA; PL 103-31), which became popularly known as the "Motor Voter Act," because it included provisions to enable driver's license applicants to simultaneously register to vote. According to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the NVRA was adopted "to enhance voting opportunities for every American and to remove the vestiges of discrimination which have historically resulted in lower voter registration rates of minorities and people with disabilities. The NVRA has brought new voices to the political process by making it easier for all Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote." In "Big Increase in New Voters" (October 15, 1997, http://www-cgi.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1996/news/9610/15/motor.voter/), CNN reported that in the two years after the law went into effect (in January 1995) nine million people had registered to vote.
In 2004 there were 151.4 million non-Hispanic whites age eighteen and over, and of that number, 111.3 million (73.5%) were registered to vote. Of 24.9 million African-Americans age eighteen and over in 2004, only sixteen million (64.4%) were registered to vote. Of 9.3 million Asian-Americans age eighteen and over, only 3.2 million (35%) were registered to vote in 2004. Of 27.1 million Hispanics age eighteen and over in 2004, only 9.3 million (34.3%) were registered to vote in 2004. (See Table 8.1.)
One reason registration levels are so low among Asian-Americans and Hispanics is that lower proportions of their voting-age population are citizens and eligible to vote. While 97.9% of white, non-Hispanic adults in the United States are citizens and 93.7% of adult African-Americans are citizens, only 67.5% of adult Asian-Americans and only 59.3% of adult Hispanics are citizens. Still, that does not explain entirely the low rate of voter registration among Asian-Americans and Hispanics; among Asian-American citizens, only 51.8% were registered in 2004, and among Hispanics only 57.9% were registered to vote.
Minority voter registration habits tend to vary by region. African-Americans in the Midwest are more likely to register to vote than African-Americans in other regions. Approximately 71.6% of African-American citizens in the Midwest were registered to vote in 2004, compared with 54.9% in the Northeast, 65.3% in the South, and 64.3% in the West. (See Table 8.2.)
Since the 1960s the number of minority registered voters in the South has increased. This increase is due, in large part, to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (PL 88-362) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (S 1564– PL 89-110). These laws removed voting restrictions and led to often volatile and dangerous voter registration campaigns conducted during the 1960s and 1970s. Before these changes many southern states enforced poll taxes, charging citizens for the right to vote and knowing that many poor African-Americans could not afford to pay. Some southern states had "grandfather clauses" that permitted voting rights only to those whose grandfathers had been able to vote. Many elderly African-Americans were the grandchildren of slaves who had not been able to vote, so these clauses restricted their rights. Furthermore, since they did not have the right to vote, their own children and grandchildren were also prevented from voting under the grandfather clauses. It took more than laws to open voting booths to southern African-Americans—it took marches, demonstrations, and the loss of a number of lives.
|Reported voting and registration, by race and Hispanic origin, November 2004|
|State, sex, race, and Hispanic origin||Population 18 and over||Total citizen||Total registered||Total voted|
|Total||Percent citizen (18+)||Total||Percent registered (18+)||Total||Percent voted (18+)|
|source: Adapted from "Table 4a. Reported Voting and Registration of the Total Voting-Age Population, by Sex, Race and Hispanic Origin, for States: November 2004," U.S. Census Bureau, May 25, 2005, http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/voting/cps2004.html (accessed January 30, 2006)|
|White non-Hispanic alone||151,410||148,159||97.9||111,318||73.5||99,567||65.8|
|Hispanic (of any race)||27,129||16,088||59.3||9,308||34.3||7,587||28.0|
|White alone or in combination||179,050||165,244||92.3||121,527||67.9||107,930||60.3|
|White non-Hispanic alone or in combination||153,399||150,128||97.9||112,703||73.5||100,726||65.7|
|Black alone or in combination||25,510||23,908||93.7||16,408||64.3||14,324||56.1|
|Asian alone or in combination||9,721||6,686||68.8||3,508||36.1||2,980||30.7|
Asian-Americans living in the West were most likely to be registered to vote in 2004; still, only 38.2% were registered there. In the Northeast 32.1% of Asian-Americans were registered to vote, in the Midwest 31.7% were registered to vote, and in the South 30.5% were registered to vote. In the Northeast 38.2% of Hispanics were most likely to be registered to vote in 2004. Only 36% of Hispanics were registered in the South, 34.6% in the Midwest, and 31.6% in the West. (See Table 8.2.)
Registering to vote is one thing, but actually going out to the polls on election day is another, Often, people will register to vote but fail to exercise their right to vote when the time comes.
While African-Americans are somewhat less likely to vote than whites, both groups are much more likely to vote than Hispanics and Asians and Pacific Islanders. In 2004, 65.8% of non-Hispanic whites voted, compared with 56.3% of African-Americans, 29.8% of Asian-Americans, and 28% of Hispanics. (See Table 8.2.)
Just as African-Americans in the Midwest were more likely to be registered to vote in 2004, they were more likely to vote than African-Americans in other parts of the country. Almost two-thirds (64.7%) of African-Americans in the Midwest voted that year, with the lowest turnout in the Northeast, where only 48.4% voted. Hispanic turnout was best in the Northeast, where 31.4% of Hispanics voted in 2004, while the lowest turnout of Hispanics was in the West, where only 26.7% voted. Asian-Americans living in the West were most likely to vote—32.8% voted in 2004—while the lowest turnout of Asian-Americans was in the South, at 25.7%. (See Table 8.2.)
Not everyone in the voting-age population can vote. The Census Bureau's voting-age population estimates include those who are eligible to vote as well as those who are not eligible to vote, such as noncitizens, convicted felons, and prison inmates. Americans living overseas who are of voting age are also missing from these estimates.
A General Decline in Voting Participation
Since 1964 there has been a decline in the percentage of Americans who vote in presidential elections. The
|Reported voting and registration, by race, Hispanic origin, and region, November 2004|
|Race, Hispanic origin, age, and geography||Total||Total population||U.S. citizen||Not a citizen|
|Reported registered||Not registered||Reported voted||Did not vote||Reported registered||Not registered|
|Note: "Not registered" includes "did not register to vote," "do not know," and "not reported." "Did not vote," includes "did not vote," "do not know," and "not reported."|
|source: Adapted from "Table 3. Reported Voting and Registration, by Race, Hispanic Origin, and Age, for the United States, Regions, and Divisions: November 2004," U.S. Census Bureau, May 25, 2005, http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/voting/cps2004.html (accessed January 30, 2006)|
|White non-Hispanic alone|
|Hispanic (of any race)|
Census Bureau (November 1964, http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/voting/p20-143/tab01.pdf; February 2002, http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/voting/p20-542/tab02.pdf) reports that in 1964, 69.3% of the voting-age population voted, compared with 54.7% in 2000. In 2004 this rate increased to 58.3%. (See Table 8.1.)
A general decline in the proportion of Americans who vote was also seen in the various racial and ethnic groups. In Historical Voting and Registration Reports (2004, http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/voting/past-voting.html), the Census Bureau reports that only among non-Hispanic whites (who were counted separately from Hispanic whites starting in 1980) did the percentage of the voting-age population that votes rise; after dropping from 62.8% in 1980 to 60.4% in 2000, it rose to 65.8% in 2004. In 1968, the first year that African-Americans were counted separately from other races, 57.6% of the African-American voting-age population voted. That percentage dropped to 53.5% in 2000, but rose again to 56.3% in 2004. Among Hispanics, 37.5% of the voting-age population voted in 1972, while in 2000 only 27.5% voted—and that percentage rose only slightly, to 28%, in 2004. The number of Asian-Americans who vote has been tracked only since the 1992 presidential election. In 1992, 27.3% of the Asian voting-age population voted, down to 25.4% in 2000 but up to 29.8% in 2004. (See Table 8.1.)
2000 Presidential Election
One reason the general decline in voting participation seems to have reversed somewhat in the 2004 presidential election was the close and controversial results of the 2000 presidential election. That election between Republican candidate and Texas Governor George W. Bush and Democratic candidate and Vice President Al Gore was one of the most controversial presidential elections in history. The election remained undecided for five weeks, after the vote was too close to call and hinged on the number of ballots each candidate received in the state of Florida. In several precincts ballots were recounted by hand, a project that sparked even more controversy as hole-punched ballots that were only partially punched through were viewed differently by different people. The election was eventually decided when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the recount would stop, and the election went to Bush, who was leading the recount vote in Florida at the time.
There were many accusations made of voting problems and irregularities in precincts throughout Florida that had large numbers of African-American voters. Following the election, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) held hearings during which African-American residents of Florida testified about voter intimidation and such irregularities as polling places being moved and registered voters being told that they could not vote. Because African-Americans tend to vote for the Democratic Party, many groups charged that Gore would have won the election had the minority vote not been compromised. The complaints led the NAACP to file a lawsuit against the state of Florida over the election and resulted in widespread calls for election reform. Settling the lawsuit out of court in 2002, the state agreed to change voter registration procedures, improve maintenance of the list of eligible voters, better train poll workers, and improve communication between precincts and election headquarters.
Reasons for Not Voting
Age seems to affect one's likelihood to vote. Traditionally, the demographic group between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four has the lowest percentage of voters. In 2004 only 41.9% of young adults between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four voted, up from 32.3% in 2000 as reported by the Census Bureau (February 2002, http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/voting/p20-542/tab01.pdf). As citizens age, however, they are more likely to vote. In 2004, 52.2% of the voting-age population between the ages of twenty-five and forty-four voted, 66.6% of those between the ages of forty-five and sixty-four voted, and 70.8% of those between the ages of sixty-five and seventy-four voted. (See Table 8.3.) The percent that voted was up in all age groups since 2000.
According to the Census Bureau, the number-one reason people gave for not voting in the 2004 presidential election was that they were too busy, an excuse given by 19.9% of registered nonvoters polled. Other leading reasons were illness or disability (15.4%), no interest (10.7%), dislike of candidates or campaign issues (9.9%), and out of town (9%). (See Table 8.4.)
AFRICAN-AMERICAN POLITICAL PARTICIPATION
The number of African-Americans elected to public offices at all levels of U.S. government has increased significantly since the 1980s. The largest gain has been in city and county offices, which include county commissioners, city council members, mayors, vice mayors, and aldermen/alderwomen. Barack Obama became only the fifth African-American to serve in the U.S. Senate and only the third since the Reconstruction period after the Civil War (1861–65) when he was sworn in as a senator from Illinois on January 4, 2005. He had received international media coverage after delivering a stirring keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
|Reported voting and registration of the total voting-age population, by age, November 2004|
|State and age||Population 18 and over||Total citizen||Total registered||Total voted|
|Total||Percent citizen (18+)||Total||Percent registered (18+)||Total||Percent voted (18+)|
|source: Adapted from "Table 4b. Reported Voting and Registration of the Total Voting-Age Population, by Age, for States: November 2004," U.S. Census Bureau, May 25, 2005, http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/voting/cps2004.html (accessed January 30, 2006)|
|18 to 24||27,808||24,899||89.5||14,334||51.5||11,639||41.9|
|25 to 44||82,133||71,231||86.7||49,371||60.1||42,845||52.2|
|45 to 64||71,014||67,184||94.6||51,659||72.7||47,327||66.6|
|65 to 74||18,363||17,759||96.7||14,125||76.9||13,010||70.8|
African-Americans and Political Parties
According to a Pew Research Center report, The 2004 Political Landscape (2003, http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=196), African-Americans are the strongest supporters of the Democratic Party. In 2004, 64% of African-Americans described themselves as Democrats, another 21% said they leaned toward the Democratic Party, and only 7% identified themselves as Republicans. While the rest of the country shifted toward the Republican Party after the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 (9/11), African-Americans did not. The Pew Research Center reports that across regions, socioeconomic groups, and ages, the preference for the Democratic Party among African-Americans is uniform; the most affluent African-Americans' party affiliation is almost identical to the least affluent, and the Democratic advantage is only slightly smaller among younger people.
The traditional African-American political goals, as presented by the thirteen original members of the Congressional Black Caucus (founded in 1969), are to "promote the public welfare through legislation designed to meet the needs of millions of neglected citizens" (2005, http://www.cbcfinc.org/About/CBC/index.html). Government participation has not only been welcomed but also actively sought to correct the ills of the disadvantaged, many of whom are minorities. Some African-Americans are turning away from this position and aligning themselves with the Republican Party, which believes in less government involvement.
As the African-American middle class continues to grow, party loyalties may change. Some younger professional African-Americans who may not have experienced poverty or the deprivation of the inner cities may be attracted to the Republican Party platform of less government and lower taxes. A vast majority of African-Americans embraced the programs of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society and his War on Poverty in the 1960s. Today, a small minority believe that reliance on government has actually disempowered many African-Americans and other underprivileged people.
HISPANIC POLITICAL PARTICIPATION
Factors Contributing to Low Political Participation
There was a tremendous increase in the Hispanic population in the United States during the late twentieth century, resulting in a population of 41.3 million Hispanic people in the United States in 2004. However, the Hispanic community has not attained political power equal to its proportion of the population. Two characteristics of Hispanic demography help to account for this. First, although the Hispanic voting-age population grew during the 1970s and 1980s, Hispanics have a young population, with many in the eighteen- to twenty-four-year-old category—the age group least likely to vote. In addition, a smaller proportion of Hispanics than of society as a whole are in the fifty-five and older category—the age group most likely to vote. The second and perhaps more important characteristic is the issue of U.S. citizenship. More than four in ten adult Hispanics living in the United States are not U.S. citizens, thus eliminating more than eleven million potential Hispanic voters. (See Table 8.2.)
Civil rights gains of the 1960s, such as the Twenty-fourth Amendment eliminating the poll tax, the extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the Southwest, and the elimination of the English literacy requirement, helped a number of Hispanics attain political office. During the 1970s both major political parties started wooing Hispanic voters and drafting Hispanic candidates.
|Reasons for not voting, by sex, age, race and Hispanic origin, and educational attainment, November 2004|
|Characteristic||Total||Percent distribution of reasons for not voting|
|Illness or disability||Out of town||Forgot to vote||Not interested||Too busy, conflicting schedule||Transportation problems||Did not like candidates or campaign issues||Registration problems||Bad weather conditions||Inconvenient polling place||Other reason|
|source: "Table 12. Reasons for Not Voting, by Sex, Age, Race and Hispanic Origin, and Educational Attainment: November 2004," U.S. Census Bureau, May 25, 2005, http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/voting/cps2004.html (accessed January 30, 2006)|
|18 to 24 years||2,695||2.8||12.8||6.1||10.0||23.2||1.9||6.4||8.2||0.1||2.5||10.8|
|25 to 44 years||6,525||7.4||8.1||3.4||10.3||27.6||1.5||10.0||8.6||0.3||3.3||11.8|
|45 to 64 years||4,333||15.6||10.7||3.0||11.0||17.2||1.5||12.9||5.5||0.4||3.0||10.6|
|65 years and over||2,781||45.8||4.5||1.7||11.6||2.9||4.6||8.4||3.7||1.2||2.5||9.0|
|Race and Hispanic origin|
|White non-Hispanic alone||11,752||16.2||9.9||3.0||10.8||18.9||1.9||11.1||6.2||0.5||3.2||10.8|
|Hispanic (of any race)||1,721||10.7||6.3||6.1||10.5||23.5||1.6||7.3||10.9||0.2||1.5||11.6|
|White alone or in combination||13,597||15.5||9.4||3.4||10.8||19.3||1.8||10.7||6.8||0.4||2.9||10.9|
|White non-Hispanic alone or in combination||11,977||16.1||9.9||3.0||10.8||18.9||1.9||11.2||6.2||0.5||3.1||10.8|
|Black alone or in combination||2,084||16.5||5.9||3.9||9.9||20.6||4.1||6.6||7.3||0.3||2.6||9.5|
|Asian alone or in combination||528||7.2||10.5||2.1||7.7||31.2||1.2||5.4||5.7||1.3||5.0||13.7|
|Less than high school graduate||3,437||25.7||5.5||4.1||12.2||14.4||4.1||8.7||4.5||0.9||2.4||10.3|
|High school graduate||6,286||15.1||7.0||2.5||12.5||20.2||2.0||11.3||6.2||0.2||3.1||11.2|
|Bachelors degree or more||2,099||11.2||16.0||3.1||6.3||22.3||0.4||8.5||10.5||0.9||2.8||10.3|
Advocacy groups, such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Southwest Voter Registration Project, and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund, were formed. All these helped develop the political influence of the Hispanic community.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) is a research, policy, and education organization dedicated to "developing and implementing programs that promote the integration of Latino immigrants into American society, developing future leaders among Latino youth, providing assistance and training to the nation's Latino elected and appointed officials and … conducting research on issues important to the Latino population" (2002, http://www.naleo.org/). In 2004 the NALEO Educational Fund announced that it was collaborating with Univision Communications Inc. in a program aimed at mobilizing Hispanic voters throughout the United States. The "Voces del Pueblo" campaign included nonpartisan public service announcements on radio and television as well as voter education forums, phone contact, and targeted mailings. According to Ivelisse Estrada of Univision, "with the significant growth of the Latino population in the U.S. and the increasing number of Latinos registering to vote, the U.S. Hispanic community's ability to influence the course of our nation can no longer be ignored. Now more than ever, Latinos are demonstrating that they are key players on the political stage. With this campaign we have the opportunity to listen to Latino voters and identify their concerns" (March 5, 2004, http://www.univision.net/corp/en/pr/Los_Angeles_05032004-2.html). The program was an attempt to mobilize Hispanic voters and develop the political influence of the Hispanic community.
Hispanics and Political Parties
Hispanics as a group have been important supporters of the Democratic Party, but like many other Americans in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, many Hispanics shifted their party affiliation to the Republican Party. The Pew Research Center reports in the 2004 Political Landscape that while Democrats outnumbered Republicans among Hispanics by more than two to one in the 1990s, after 9/11 Democrats led by a smaller margin—36% to 22%. Among Hispanics, party affiliation varies by region. In the Northeast Hispanics did not shift to the Republican Party after the terrorist attacks. However, in Florida Republicans gained a slight advantage over Democrats in the Hispanic community after 9/11.
The Republican Party has not only courted African-Americans but has also turned its attention to Hispanic voters, who are an increasing proportion of the voting public. The party is appealing to traditional family values that are important to Hispanic families. Cuban Americans, spurred by anticommunist sentiment against the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, have long tended to be Republicans, but as the Pew Research Center report shows, other Hispanic voters have also begun to show more interest in the Republican Party.
RACE, ETHNICITY, AND ELECTORAL DISTRICTS
The design of electoral districts can have tremendous impact on the political power of minorities. Depending on how the lines are drawn, an electoral district might have a large concentration of minorities, enhancing their political power, or minority populations may be split up between many electoral districts, weakening their political influence.
Designing electoral districts to favor one group over another is known as gerrymandering, named after the Massachusetts governor Eldridge Gerry, who became notorious for the salamander-shaped district he approved in 1812. In the first half of the twentieth century, gerrymandering was widely used as an attempt to prevent African-Americans and other minorities from gaining true political representation. Another practice was to create at-large districts, in which the entire population of a large area would elect several representatives. The alternative, having several smaller districts that would each elect only one representative, would have allowed concentrated populations of minorities to elect their own representatives.
Under the requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, jurisdictions with a history of systematic discrimination (such as a poll tax or literacy test) must create districts with majorities of African-Americans or Hispanics wherever the demographics warrant it. At the same time, they must avoid weakening existing "minority-majority" districts (i.e., districts "in which a majority of the population is a member of a specific minority group"). This law helped to eliminate some districts that had been designed to favor whites. At the same time, however, it superseded the traditional criterion of compact districts and made for some oddly defined districts in the name of creating Hispanic- or African-American-majority districts.
With computer software, gerrymandering in the twenty-first century has become highly sophisticated. Redistricters can now incorporate a variety of information—party registration, voting patterns, and ethnic makeup—from a variety of sources, including census data, property tax records, and old district lines. This information allows them to produce a number of potential scenarios in an instant. Contemporary gerrymandering techniques are called "packing" (concentrating a group of voters in the fewest number of districts); "cracking" (spreading a group of voters across districts); and "kidnapping" (remapping so that two incumbents from the same party are now located in the same district and vying for the same seat). Gerrymandering in the past was essentially self-correcting; by attempting to control as many districts as possible, parties risked losing, should a small percentage of voters shift allegiances. Contemporary software, however, has become so sophisticated, and politics have become so partisan, that the idea of self-correction is no longer applicable. As a result, few seats in the House of Representatives are now competitive, with incumbents enjoying a locked-in advantage that is almost impossible to overcome.
Challenges to Electoral Districting
Redistricting has become a major source of contention between Republicans and Democrats since the 2000 census. One notorious case took place in Texas. Texas lawmakers were unable to agree on new congressional districts because the Republicans controlled the state senate and the Democrats controlled the state house of representatives. A compromise plan was forced on the parties by a panel of federal judges, essentially leaving the current partisan balance in place. After Republicans took control of the state house in 2002, however, they sought to reopen the redistricting question, breaking an unwritten rule that remapping was to be a matter dealt with once every ten years to avoid incessant wrangling on the subject. To resist, Democrats in both the state house and senate fled to Oklahoma and New Mexico to prevent the creation of a quorum (the minimum number of representatives present to conduct business) and thwart the ability of the Republicans to push through their redistricting plan.
In the end, the Democrats gave in and the congressional districts were redrawn, with the potential that the Republicans would pick up seven seats in the 2004 elections. Staff lawyers in the Justice Department approved the plan, even though lawyers for the department had concluded that the redistricting plan undercut minority voting rights. In fact, Republicans won twenty-one of Texas's thirty-two seats in the House of Representatives in 2004, up from fifteen. The Supreme Court announced on December 12, 2005, that it would consider the constitutionality of the redistricted congressional map.
A redistricting effort in Pennsylvania also drew a great deal of attention, and the Supreme Court's upholding of the resulting congressional map in Vieth v. Jubelirer (541 US 267) provides some indication of how the Court might rule in the Texas case. After losing two seats in Congress because of a drop in population, Pennsylvania redrew its districts, a process that the Republican majority in the General Assembly openly sought to benefit their party through the latest techniques in gerrymandering. Some of the unusually shaped districts that resulted were called the "supine seahorse" and the "upside-down Chinese dragon." Even though a Democrat won the governor's race in Pennsylvania in 2002, Republicans took twelve of the nineteen House seats.
Vieth v. Jubelirer contended that Republicans went too far in their efforts to favor their own party in redrawing congressional lines. However, the Supreme Court upheld the Pennsylvania map in a 5-4 decision in May 2004. Justice Antonin Scalia and others of the majority opinion maintained that it was the responsibility of Congress and not the Court to define fair districting practices. Justice John Paul Stevens, a minority opinion holder, characterized the decision as "a failure of judicial will to condemn even the most blatant violations of a state legislature's fundamental duty to govern impartially."
"Political Participation." Minorities: Race and Ethnicity in America. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 22, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/news-and-education-magazines/political-participation
"Political Participation." Minorities: Race and Ethnicity in America. . Retrieved February 22, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/news-and-education-magazines/political-participation
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A truly postethnic America would be one in which the ethno-racial component in identity would loom less large than it now does in politics.
—David A. Hollinger in Postethnic America (New York: Harper Collins, 1995)
To be eligible to vote, a person must be a citizen of the United States and at least eighteen years of age. In a report to Congress on The Impact of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 on the Administration of Elections for Federal Office 2001–2002, the Federal Election Commission reported that in 2002 there were 215.5 million total citizens eighteen years and older in the United States. Of that number, 168.4 million, or about 78 percent, were registered to vote. However, a significant number of these registrants, 20.6 million, were considered inactive, meaning they had not recently participated in election voting and in many cases had moved to other jurisdictions. (See Table 9.1.) Each state determines for itself how long an individual may remain on the list of registered voters without voting.
Minority groups have traditionally trailed behind whites when it comes to registering to vote and actually voting. In 1993 Congress enacted the Nation Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which became popularly known as the "Motor Voter Act," because it included provisions for driver's license applicants to simultaneously register to vote. According to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the NVRA (PL 103-31) was adopted "to enhance voting opportunities for every American and to remove the vestiges of discrimination which have historically resulted in lower voter registration rates of minorities and persons with disabilities. The NVRA has brought new voices to the political process by making it easier for all Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote."
In 2000, the last year for which detailed demographic statistics are available that examine election participation, there were 144.7 million non-Hispanic white citizens, and of that number, 103.6 million, or 71.6 percent, were registered to vote. Of 22.8 million African-American citizens in 2000, only 15.3 million, or 67.5 percent, were registered to vote. Among the Asian/Pacific Islander (API) population, 2.5 million, or 52.4 percent, of 4.7 million citizens were registered to vote in 2000. Among Hispanics, 7.5 million, or 57.3 percent, of 13.2 million citizens were registered to vote in 2000. (See Table 9.2.)
Minority voter registration habits tend to vary by region. African-Americans in the Midwest are more likely to register to vote than African-Americans in other regions. Approximately 71 percent of African-American citizens in the Midwest were registered to vote in 2000, compared to 64.4 percent in the Northeast, 68 percent in the South, and 62.4 percent in the West. (See Table 9.2.)
In 1966 only 44 percent of minorities who lived in the South were registered (until the late 1960s the U.S. Bureau of the Census did not keep separate statistics for African-Americans), but by 1992, 65 percent of southern African-Americans were registered. This dramatic increase was due, in large part, to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (PL 88-362) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (PL 89-110). These laws removed voting restrictions and led to often volatile and dangerous voter registration campaigns conducted during the 1960s and 1970s. Before these changes, many southern states enforced poll taxes, charging citizens for the right to vote, knowing that many poor African-Americans could not afford to pay. Some had "grandfather clauses" that permitted voting rights only to those whose grandfathers had been able to vote. Many elderly African-Americans were the grandchildren of slaves who had not been able to vote, so these clauses restricted their rights. Furthermore, since they did not have the right to vote, their own children and grandchildren were also prevented from voting under the grandfather clauses. It took more than laws to open voting
|Totals for all states|
|source: "Table 1. Voting Age Population and Voter Registration," in The Impact of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 on the Administration of Elections for Federal Office 2001–2002, Federal Election Commission, Washington, DC, 2003 [Online] http://www.fec.gov/pages/nvrareport2002/nvrareport2002.pdf [accessed May 4, 2004]|
booths to southern African-Americans—it took marches, demonstrations, and the loss of a number of lives.
Roughly 56 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander citizens in the Northeast were registered to vote in 2000, compared to 55.9 percent in the Midwest, 52.3 percent in the South, and 51.5 percent in the West. Among Hispanics, 60.4 percent of citizens in the South were registered to vote in 2000, followed by 57.5 percent in the Midwest, 56.7 percent in the Northeast, and 54.6 percent in the West. (See Table 9.2.)
Registering to vote is one thing, but actually going out to the polls on Election Day is another. Often people will register to vote but fail to exercise their right to vote when the time comes.
While African-Americans are somewhat less likely to vote than whites, both groups are much more likely to vote than Hispanics and Asians and Pacific Islanders. Among non-Hispanic whites, 61.8 percent of citizens voted, compared to 56.8 percent of African-Americans and 45.1 percent of Hispanics. Among Asians and Pacific Islanders, only 43.3 percent reported that they had voted. (See Table 9.2.)
African-Americans in the Midwest were more likely to vote in 2000 than African-Americans in other parts of the country. Approximately 61.7 percent of African-American citizens in the Midwest voted that year, with the lowest turnout in the West, where only 50.6 percent voted. Among Hispanics, those in the Midwest were also more likely to vote. Roughly 48 percent of Hispanic citizens in the Midwest voted in 2000, compared to 44.7 percent in the South. APIs were also more likely to vote in the Midwest, where 49.1 percent voted in 2000, compared to 42 percent in the South. (See Table 9.2.)
Not everyone in the voting-age population can vote. The Census Bureau's voting-age population estimates include those who are eligible to vote as well as those who are not eligible to vote, such as noncitizens, convicted felons, and prison inmates. Americans living overseas who are of voting age are also missing from those estimates.
There are more noncitizens in the voting age population among Hispanics and APIs than among non-Hispanic whites and African-Americans. In 2000, 41.3 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the voting-age population were not citizens. Approximately 39.1 percent of voting-age Hispanics were not citizens. In comparison, only 5.7 percent of voting-age African-Americans were not citizens and 2.2 percent of voting-age whites were not citizens. (See Figure 9.1.)
|Reported registered||Reported voted|
|Characteristic||Total population||Total citizen||Number||Percent||Number||Percent|
|Total, 18 years and over||202,609||186,366||129,549||69.5||110,826||59.5|
|Race, Hispanic origin, and sex|
|Asian and Pacific Islander||8,041||4,718||2,470||52.4||2,045||43.3|
|Hispanic (of any race)||21,598||13,158||7,546||57.3||5,934||45.1|
|18 to 24 years||26,712||23,915||12,122||50.7||8,635||36.1|
|25 to 34 years||37,304||32,233||20,403||63.3||16,286||50.5|
|35 to 44 years||44,476||40,434||28,366||70.2||24,452||60.5|
|45 to 54 years||37,504||35,230||26,158||74.2||23,362||66.3|
|55 to 64 years||23,848||22,737||17,551||77.2||15,939||70.1|
|65 to 74 years||17,819||17,233||13,573||78.8||12,450||72.2|
|75 years and over||14,945||14,582||11,375||78.0||9,702||66.5|
|Less than 9th grade||12,894||8,784||4,655||53.0||3,454||39.3|
|9th to 12th grade, no diploma||20,108||17,801||9,235||51.9||6,758||38.0|
|High school graduate or GED||66,339||62,426||39,869||63.9||32,749||52.5|
|Some college or Associate|
|Annual family income|
|Total family members||152,294||140,079||99,950||71.4||86,443||61.7|
|Less than $5,000||2,230||1,834||981||53.5||628||34.2|
|$5,000 to $9,999||4,242||3,623||2,068||57.1||1,470||40.6|
|$10,000 to $14,999||7,286||6,197||3,631||58.6||2,745||44.3|
|$15,000 to $24,999||14,600||12,337||8,013||65.0||6,330||51.3|
|$25,000 to $34,999||17,692||15,629||10,788||69.0||9,026||57.8|
|$35,000 to $49,999||22,349||20,759||15,007||72.3||12,853||61.9|
|$50,000 to $74,999||28,144||26,683||20,775||77.9||18,341||68.7|
|$75,000 and over||35,030||33,442||27,450||82.1||25,060||74.9|
|Income not reported||20,721||19,574||11,237||57.4||9,990||51.0|
|In the civilian labor force||138,378||126,863||88,575||69.8||75,802||59.8|
|Not in the labor force||64,231||59,503||40,974||68.9||35,023||58.9|
|No cash rent units||2,773||2,561||1,653||64.5||1,302||50.8|
|Reported registered||Reported voted|
|Characteristic||Total population||Total citizen||Number||Percent||Number||Percent|
|Duration of residence|
|Less than 1 month||3,009||2,520||1,363||54.1||915||36.3|
|1 to 6 months||17,389||14,797||8,929||60.3||6,682||45.2|
|7 to 11 months||8,435||7,180||4,426||61.6||3,405||47.4|
|1 to 2 years||28,856||24,948||17,475||70.0||14,482||58.0|
|3 to 4 years||26,003||23,327||17,508||75.1||14,806||63.5|
|5 years or longer||99,886||96,192||78,767||81.9||69,638||72.4|
|Region and race and Hispanic origin|
|Asian and Pacific Islander||1,533||682||382||56.0||313||45.9|
|Hispanic (of any race)||2,978||1,930||1,094||56.7||873||45.2|
|Asian and Pacific Islander||881||456||255||55.9||224||49.1|
|Hispanic (of any race)||1,561||870||500||57.5||418||48.0|
|Asian and Pacific Islander||1,322||698||365||52.3||293||42.0|
|Hispanic (of any race)||7,859||5,045||3,048||60.4||2,257||44.7|
|Asian and Pacific Islander||4,305||2,852||1,469||51.5||1,214||42.6|
|Hispanic (of any race)||9,201||5,314||2,904||54.6||2,386||44.9|
|source: Amie Jamieson, Jennifer Cheeseman Day, and Hyon B. Shin, "Table B. Reported Voting and Registration by Selected Characteristics: November 2000," in Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2000, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, February 2002|
Decline in Voting Participation
Since 1964 there has been a decline in the percentage of Americans who vote in presidential elections. In 1964, 69.3 percent of the voting-age population voted, compared to only 54.7 percent in 2000. (See Table 9.3.)
A general decline in the proportion of Americans who vote can also be seen in the various racial and ethnic groups. Among non-Hispanic whites (who were counted separately from Hispanic whites starting only in 1980), the percentage of the voting-age population that votes dropped from 62.8 percent in 1980 to 60.4 percent in 2000. In 1968, the first year that African-Americans were counted separately from other races, 57.6 percent of the voting-age population voted, compared to 53.5 percent in 2000. Among Hispanics, 37.5 percent of the voting-age population voted in 1972, while in 2000 only 27.5 percent voted. The number of Asians and Pacific Islanders who vote has been tracked only since the 1992 presidential election. In 1992, 27.3 percent of the API voting-age population voted, compared to 25.4 percent in 2000. (See Table 9.3.)
Reasons for Not Voting
Age seems to have an impact on one's likelihood to vote. Traditionally, the demographic group between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four has the lowest percentage of voters. In 2000, 32.3 percent of young adults between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four voted. As citizens age, however, they are more likely to vote. In 2000, 49.8 percent of the voting-age population between the ages of twenty-five and forty-four voted, 64.1 percent of those between the ages of forty-five and sixty-four voted, and 67.6 percent of those sixty-five years and over voted. (See Table 9.3.)
According to the Census Bureau, the number one reason people gave for not voting in the 2000 presidential election was that they were too busy, an excuse given by 20.9 percent of registered nonvoters polled. Other leading reasons were illness or emergency (14.8 percent), no interest (12.2 percent), out of town (10.2 percent), and dislike of all candidates (7.7 percent). (See Figure 9.2.)
|Characteristic||Presidential elections of—|
|Total, voting age||110,604||116,535||136,203||146,548||157,085||169,963||178,098||185,684||193,651||202,609|
|Race and Hispanic origin|
|Asian and Pacific Islander||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||27.3||25.7||25.4|
|Hispanic (of any race)||(NA)||(NA)||37.5||31.8||29.9||32.6||28.8||28.9||26.7||27.5|
|18 to 24 years||250.9||250.4||49.6||42.2||39.9||40.8||36.2||42.8||32.4||32.3|
|25 to 44 years||69.0||66.6||62.7||58.7||58.7||58.4||54.0||58.3||49.2||49.8|
|45 to 64 years||75.9||74.9||70.8||68.7||69.3||69.8||67.9||70.0||64.4||64.1|
|65 years and over||66.3||65.8||63.5||62.2||65.1||67.7||68.8||70.1||67.0||67.6|
|Northeast, Midwest, and West|
|Total, voting age||78,174||81,594||93,653||99,403||106,524||112,376||117,373||122,025||125,571||130,774|
|Race and Hispanic origin|
|Asian and Pacific Islander||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||27.9||26.3||26.1|
|Hispanic (of any race)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||29.8||32.8||26.8||27.4||26.3||26.8|
|Total, voting age||32,429||34,941||42,550||47,145||50,561||57,587||60,725||63,659||68,080||71,835|
|Race and Hispanic origin|
|Asian and Pacific Islander||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||24.5||22.6||22.2|
|Hispanic (of any race)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||(NA)||30.1||32.4||32.9||32.0||27.6||28.7|
|NA Not available|
|1Black category includes other races in 1964.|
|2Prior to 1972, data are for people 21 to 24 years of age with the exception of those aged 18 to 24 in Georgia and Kentucky, 19 to 24 in Alaska, and 20 to 24 in Hawaii.|
|source: Amie Jamieson, Jennifer Cheeseman Day, and Hyon B. Shin, "Table C. Reported Voting in Presidential Election Years by Region, Race, Hispanic Origin, Sex, and Age: November 1964 to 2000," in Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2000, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, February 2002|
2000 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
The presidential election of 2000 between Republican candidate and Texas governor George W. Bush and Democratic candidate and Vice President Al Gore was one of the most controversial presidential elections in history. The election remained undecided for five weeks, after the vote was too close to call and hinged on the number of ballots each candidate received in the state of Florida. In several precincts, ballots were recounted by hand, a project that sparked even more controversy as hole-punched ballots that were only partially punched through were viewed differently by different people. The election was eventually decided when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the recount would stop, and the election went to Bush, who was leading the recount vote in Florida at the time.
There were many accusations made throughout the state of Florida of voting problems and irregularities in precincts that had large numbers of African-American voters. Following the election, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) held hearings in which African-American residents of Florida testified about voter intimidation and such irregularities as polling places being moved and registered voters being told that they could not vote. Since African-Americans tend to vote for the Democratic party, many groups charged that Gore would have won the election had the minority vote not been compromised. The complaints led the NAACP to file a lawsuit against the state of Florida over the election, and resulted in widespread calls for election reform. Settling the lawsuit out of court in 2002, the state agreed to change voter registration procedures, improve maintenance of the list of eligible voters, better train poll workers, and improve communication between precincts and election headquarters.
AFRICAN-AMERICAN POLITICAL PARTICIPATION
The number of African-Americans elected to public offices at all levels of U.S. government has increased significantly since the 1980s. The largest gain has been in city and county offices, which include county commissioners, city council members, mayors, vice mayors, and aldermen/alderwomen.
African-Americans and Political Parties
According to the Pew Research Center's 1999 report Retro-Politics: The Political Typology—Version 3.0, about 66 percent of African-Americans considered themselves Democrats and only 7 percent identified themselves as Republicans in 1999. This distribution contrasted sharply with white political self-identification, which saw an even split of white voters between the two major parties at 30 percent each.
While the Democratic Party has been considered the party of African-Americans since the 1980s, some younger and more economically successful African-Americans identify themselves as Republicans. In the past, the Republican Party had done little to encourage more than a minimal African-American Republican vote. Today some African-Americans believe that they have an opportunity to be heard in the Republican Party. Many suggest the Democratic Party has taken the African-American voter for granted and see room to grow within the Republican Party. The overwhelming majority of African-Americans, however, remain Democrats. In the Presidential election of 2000 Republican George W. Bush received just 9 percent of the African-American vote.
The traditional African-American political goals, as presented by the thirteen original members of the Congressional Black Caucus (founded in 1969), are "to promote the public welfare through legislation designed to meet the needs of millions of neglected citizens." Government participation has not only been welcomed but also actively sought to correct the ills of the disadvantaged, many of whom are minorities. A small but growing number of African-Americans are turning away from with this position and are aligning themselves with the Republican Party, which believes in less government involvement.
As the African-American middle class continues to grow, party loyalties may change. Some younger professional African-Americans who may not have experienced poverty or the deprivation of the inner cities may be attracted to the Republican Party platform of less government and lower taxes. A vast majority of African-Americans embraced the programs of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and his War on Poverty. Today some believe that reliance on government has caused many African-Americans and other underprivileged persons to rely less on their own initiative and more on the federal government to help improve their situation.
HISPANIC POLITICAL PARTICIPATION
Factors Contributing to Low Political Participation
There was a tremendous increase in the Hispanic population in the United States during the 1970s (more than 60 percent) and the 1980s (53 percent), resulting in a population of thirty-two million Hispanic persons in the United States in 2000. However, the Hispanic community, according to some observers, has not attained political power equal to its proportion of the population. Two characteristics of Hispanic demography help to account for this. First, although the Hispanic voting-age population grew by more than 50 percent, Hispanics have a young population, with many in the eighteen-to twenty-four-year-old category—the age group least likely to vote. In addition, a smaller proportion of Hispanics than of society as a whole are in the fifty-five and older category—the age group most likely to vote. Second, and perhaps more important, is U.S. citizenship. About 40 percent of adult Hispanics living in the United States are not U.S. citizens, thus eliminating more than five million potential Hispanic voters.
Civil rights gains of the 1960s, such as the 24th Amendment eliminating the poll tax, the extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the Southwest, and the elimination of the English literacy requirement, helped a number of Hispanics attain political office. During the 1970s both major political parties started wooing Hispanic voters and drafting Hispanic candidates. Advocacy groups, such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Southwest Voter Registration Project, and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund, were formed. All these helped develop the political influence of the Hispanic community.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) is a research, policy, and education organization dedicated to "developing and implementing programs that promote the integration of Latino immigrants into American society, developing future leaders among Latino youth, providing assistance and training to the nation's Latino elected and appointed officials and … conducting research on issues important to the Latino population." In 2004 the NALEO Educational Fund announced that it was collaborating with Univision Communications Inc. in a program aimed at mobilizing Hispanic voters throughout the United States. The "Voces del Pueblo" campaign would include nonpartisan public service announcements on radio and television as well as voter education forums, phone contact, and targeted mailings. According to Ivelisse Estrada of Univision, "With the significant growth of the Latino population in the U.S. and the increasing number of Latinos registering to vote, the U.S. Hispanic community's ability to influence the course of our nation can no longer be ignored. Now more than ever, Latinos are demonstrating that they are key players on the political stage. With this campaign we have the opportunity to listen to Latino voters and identify their concerns."
The Republican Party has not only courted African-Americans but has also turned its attention to Hispanic voters, who are an increasing proportion of the voting public. The party is appealing to traditional family values that are very important to Hispanic families. Cuban Americans, spurred by anticommunist sentiment against Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, have long tended to be Republicans, but now other Hispanic voters have also begun to show more interest in the Republican Party. In the 2002 Florida gubernatorial election, Governor Jeb Bush received 55 percent of the non-Cuban Hispanic vote, the most ever for a Republican.
RACE, ETHNICITY, AND ELECTORAL DISTRICTS
The design of electoral districts can have tremendous impact on the political power of minorities. It is possible either to draw the boundaries of an electoral district so that it has a large concentration of minorities, enhancing their political power, or to split up minority populations between many electoral districts, weakening their political influence.
Designing electoral districts to favor one group over another is known as gerrymandering, named after Massachusetts governor Eldridge Gerry, who became notorious for the salamander-shaped district he approved in 1812. In the first half of the twentieth century, gerrymandering was widely used in an attempt to prevent African-Americans and other minorities from gaining true political representation. Another practice was to create at-large districts, in which the entire population of a large area would elect several representatives. The alternative, having several smaller districts that would each elect only one representative, would have allowed concentrated populations of minorities to elect their own representatives.
Under the requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, jurisdictions with a history of systematic discrimination (such as a poll tax or literacy test) must create districts with majorities of African-Americans or Hispanics wherever the demographics warrant it. At the same time, they must avoid weakening existing "minority-majority" districts (districts "in which a majority of the population is a member of a specific minority group"). This law helped to eliminate some districts that had been designed to favor whites. At the same time, however, it superseded the traditional criterion of compact districts, and made for some oddly defined districts in the name of creating African-American or Hispanic majority districts.
By using computer software, today's gerrymandering has become highly sophisticated. Redistricters can now incorporate a variety of information—party registration, voting patterns, and ethnic makeup—from a variety of sources, including census data, property tax records, and old district lines. This information allows them to produce a number of potential scenarios in an instant. Contemporary gerrymandering techniques are called "packing," concentrating a group of voters in the fewest number of districts; "cracking," spreading a group of voters across districts; and "kidnapping," remapping so that two incumbents from the same party are now located in the same district and vying for the same seat. Gerrymandering in the past was essentially self-correcting; by attempting to control as many districts as possible, parties risked losing, should a small percentage of voters shift allegiances. Contemporary software, however, has become so good, and politics have become so partisan, that the idea of self-correction is no longer applicable. As a result, very few seats in the House of Representatives are now competitive, with incumbents enjoying a locked-in advantage that is almost impossible to overcome.
Challenges to Electoral Districting
Redistricting has become a major source of contention between Republicans and Democrats since the 2000 census. Texas lawmakers were unable to agree on new congressional districts because the Republicans controlled the state senate and the Democrats the state house of representatives. A compromise plan was forced upon the parties by a panel of federal judges, essentially leaving the current partisan balance in place. After Republicans took control of the state house in 2002, however, they sought to reopen the redistricting question, breaking an unwritten rule that remapping was to be a matter dealt with once every ten years in order to avoid incessant wrangling on the subject. To resist, Democrats in both the state house and state senate fled to Oklahoma and New Mexico to prevent the creation of a quorum (the minimum number of representatives present in order to conduct business) and thwart the ability of the Republicans to push through their redistricting plan. In the end, the Democrats gave in and the Congressional districts were redrawn, with the potential that the Republicans would pick up seven seats in the 2004 elections.
A redistricting effort in Pennsylvania also drew a great deal of attention. After losing two seats in Congress due to a drop in population, Pennsylvania redrew its districts, a process that the Republican majority in the General Assembly openly sought to benefit their party through the latest techniques in gerrymandering. Some of the unusually shaped districts that resulted were called the "supine seahorse" and the "upside-down Chinese dragon." Even though a Democrat won the governor's race in Pennsylvania in 2002, Republicans took twelve of the nineteen House seats.
Vieth vs. Jubelirer
The redistricting plan in Pennsylvania led to a federal lawsuit, Vieth vs. Jubelirer, which contended that Republicans went too far in their efforts to favor their own party in redrawing Congressional lines. However, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Pennsylvania map in a 5-4 decision in May 2004. Justice Antonin Scalia and others of the majority opinion maintained that it was the responsibility of Congress and not the Court to define fair districting practices. Justice John Paul Stevens, a minority opinion-holder, characterized the decision as "a failure of judicial will to condemn even the most blatant violations of a state legislature's fundamental duty to govern impartially."
"Political Participation." Information Plus(R) Reference Series Fall 2004. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 22, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/culture-magazines/political-participation
"Political Participation." Information Plus(R) Reference Series Fall 2004. . Retrieved February 22, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/culture-magazines/political-participation