Pol 101-Chapter 5-Participation and Voting

Political participation

-Those actions of citizens that attempt to influence the structure of government, the selection of government officials, or the policies of government or to support government and politics."
-Actions of private citizens by which they seek to influence or support government and politics.

Conventional participation

Relatively routine behavior that uses the established institutions of representative government, especially campaigning for candidates and voting in elections.
Example: voting, displaying a campaign poster in the front yard, and writing letters to public officials

Unconventional participation

Relatively uncommon behavior that challenges or defies established institutions or the dominant culture
Example: staging sit-down strikes in public buildings, spray-painting political slogans on walls, and chanting slogans outside officials' windows
Specific example: A group of about 600 people set out to march 50 miles from Selma, AL, to the state capital at Montgomery, demonstrating in favor of voting rights for blacks. The governor sent state troops to stop it, and the peaceful marchers were beaten by them. The day became known as Bloody Sunday.


-an extreme and problematic case of unconventional political behavior
-defined by the US legal code as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence the audience."
Ex: Timothy McVeigh, a war vet, chose to bomb the federal building in OK City because it would provide good camera coverage. He said he bombed the building because the national governmetnt had become a police state hostile to gun owners, religious sects, and patriotic militia groups.

Main difference between terrorist and political participation

Such extreme acts do not seek so much to influence the government as to attack government and society itself

Why do we know more about conventional participation than unconventional?

1. It is easier to collect data on conventional practices, so they are studied more frequently.
2. Political scientists are biased toward institutionalized, or conventional, politics. In fact, some basic works on political participation explicitly exclude any behavior that is "outside the system.

Does unconventional participation ever work?


Direct action

Unconventional participation that involves assembling crowds to confront businesses and local governments to demand a hearing

Direct action appeals to people with what characteristics?

1. distrust the political system
2. have a strong sense of political efficacy

Political efficacy

The feeling that they can do something to affect political decisions

What is the objective of democratic institutions (concerning political participation)?

To make political participation conventional-to allow ordinary citizens to engage in relatively routine, nonthreatening behavior to get the government to heed their opinions, interests, and needs

Conventional political behavior fall into what two categories

Actions that show support for government policies and those that try to change or influence policies

Supportive behaviors

Actions that express allegiance to country and government
Example: when we recite the Pledge of Allegiance or fly the American flag on holidays or vote, organizing a holiday parade

Perceptions of patriotism

Radical groups

Influencing behaviors

Behavior that seeks to modify or even reverse government policy to serve political interests

What kind of government do people most rely on?

Americans demand much more of their local government than of the national government to solve a wide range of social problems

Contacting behavior as related to socioeconomic status

People of higher socioeconomic status are more likely to contact public officials

Particularized" forms of political participation

1. Approaching government to serve one's particular interests is consistent with democratic theory, because it encourages input from an active citizenry
2. Particularized contact may be a form of participation unto itself, not necessarily related to other forms of participation
3. Such participation tends to be used more by citizens who are advantaged in knowledge and resources
4. Particularized participation may serve private interests to the detriment of the majority

Example of high initiative political participation

Running for office, attending party meetings, working in campaigns, using the courts to serve their political interests

Example of low initiative political participation


Class-action suits

A legal action brought by a person or group on behalf of a number of people in similar circumstances.
This form of participation has proved to be effective for organized groups, especially those who have been unable to gain their objectives through Congress or the executive branch.
Example: This form of litigation was pioneered by lawyers of the NAACP in the famous school desegregation case, Brown V. Board of Education

The most common political behavior in most industrial democracies

Voting for candidates
-However in the US it is less common that in other countries

Voter turnout

The percentage of eligible citizens who actually vote in a given election

The political paradox of of voter turnout in the US

Americans are as likely as citizens in other countries to engage in many forms of political participation, but when it comes to voting, especially in congressional elections, Americans rank dead last.
We have the most elections but the smallest voter turnout.

The critical difference between democratic and nondemocratic governmetn

Whether a country holds elections and if so, what kind of elections are held

3 normative principles of procedural democracy

1. Electoral rules specify who is allowed to vote
2. How much each persons's vote counts
3. How many votes are needed to win

Terms meaning the right to vote


15th amendment

Prohibited the states from denying the right to vote "on account of race,color, or previous condition of servitude.

How did states get around the 15th amendment

Reestablishing old voting requirements (poll taxes, literacy tests), primarily against blacks

Smith v Allwright

Supreme Court decided that laws preventing blacks from voting in primary elections were unconstitutional, holding that party primaries are part of the continuous process of electing public officials.

Voting Rights Act of 1965

(Followed Selma's Bloody Sunday)
-Suspended discriminatory voting tests
-Authorized federal registrars to register voters in 7 southern states

Harper v Virginia State Board of Elections

Supreme Court ruled that state poll taxes are unconstitutional


Early feminists trying to gain women's suffrage


Prohibits states from denying the right to vote "on account of sex

26th amendment

Lowered the voting age to 18


A philosophy of political reform that trusted the goodness and wisdom of individual citizens and distrusted "special interests" and political institutions

Direct primary

A preliminary election, run by the state governments, in which the voters choose the party's candidates for the general election


The process for removing an elected official from office
A special election initiated by a petition signed by a specified number of voters


A direct vote by the people on a proposed law or on an amendment to a state constitution
The measures subject to popular vote are known as propositions


A procedure by which voters can propose an issue to be decided by the legislature or by the people in a referendum, involving gathering a specified number of signatures from registered voters, then submitting the petition to a designated state agency

Voting for candidates serves democratic government in what two ways

1. Citizens can choose the candidates they think will best serve their interests
2. Voting allows the people to reelect the officials they guessed right about and to kick out those they guessed wrong about

Difference between voting on state and national levels

On the national level we generally only elect the president and vice president
On the state level however, we elect all kinds of officials from mayor to governor to public utilities commissioner

Standard socioeconomic model of participation

People with more education, higher incomes, and white-collar or professional occupations tend to be more aware of the impact of politics on their lives, to know what can be done to influence government actions, and to have the necessary resources to take action.
So people with higher socioeconomic status are more likely to participate in politics than the lower.

Trends of age on voting

Younger people are more likely to take part in demonstrations or boycotts, engage in more voluntary and charitable activities, and less likely to participate in conventional politics.
Older people are more likely to vote, identify with the major political parties, and contact public officials .
Voting rates tend to increase as people grow older until about age 65

Trends of race and gender on voting


Trends of education

The strongest factor in explaining most types of conventional political participation

How did the 26th amendment affect voter turnout

By lowering the voting age, the electorate was expanded and because people younger than 21 are less likely to vote, their eligibility reduced the overall national turnout rate.

Why has voter turnout declined while the level of education has increased

Because of changes in voters' attitudes toward:
1.politics, such as beliefs that government is no longer responsive to citizens, that politicians are too packaged, and that campaigns are too long.
2. political parties, such as a decline in the extent and strength of party identification

US voter turnout versus other countries


The relationship between participation and freedom

Individuals should be free to participate in government and politics in the way they want and as much as they want (including the freedom to not participate)
Also means that individuals should be able to use their wealth, connections, knowledge, organizational power, or any other resource to influence government decisions, provided they do so legally.

The relationship between participation and equality

Each citizen's ability to influence government should be equal to that of every other citizen, so that differences in personal resources do not work against the poor or otherwise disadvantaged.

The relationship between participation and order

-Some types of participation (pledging allegiance, voting) promote order and so are encouraged by those who value order
-Other types promote disorder and so are discouraged
(Government is threatened more by unconventional participation)
Example: During the Vietnam War, thousand of students protested stopping traffic, occupying building, destroying property, and behaving in other unconventional ways. Congress proposed the 26th amendment lowering the voting age. The right to vote was extended not because young people demanded it but because "public officials believed suffrage expansion to be a means of institutionalizing youths' participation in politics, which would, in turn, curb disorder.

Important purposes of elections

1. Elections socialize political activity
(The opportunity to vote for change encourages citizens to refrain from demonstrating in the streets)
2. Elections institutionalize access to political power
(They allow ordinary citizens to run for political office or to play an important role in selecting political leaders)
3. Elections bolster the state's power and authority
(The opportunity to participate in elections helps convince citizens that the government is responsive to their needs and wants)

Participation and Majoritarianism

Majoritarianism favors conventional, institutionalized behavior, primarily voting in elections.
-Because it relies on counting votes to determine what the majority wants, its bias toward equality in political participation is strong

Participation and Pluralism

Pluralism allows for many points of access and various forms of conventional participation, rather than only voting.
Example: wealthy people and well-funded groups can afford to hire lobbyists to press their interests in Congress