Chapter Study Outline

  1. Introduction
    1. Citizens can use tools such as the Internet in order to encourage and facilitate support for and participation in elections. Many pundits and political scientists attributed Barack Obama’s success in the presidential primaries against Hilary Clinton in 2007 to the large network of Internet-based volunteers and support staff his campaign created.
    2. Campaigns can gain votes and potentially win an election by making an effort to mobilize their supporters, and one of the most important reasons people vote or volunteer to work for a campaign is because someone asks them to.
  2. What is Electoral Participation?
    1. Electoral participation is the range of activities used by individuals to try and affect the outcome of an election. The most common form of participation is voting, but it can also take the form of volunteering for a campaign, unofficially talking up a candidate to a colleague, or participating in a non-partisan activity, such as a voter registration drive.
    2. Participation can be measured by how often and to what extent it is performed.  In many cases, certain groups of people tend to give more time, energy, or resources to a campaign than others, which is called participatory distortion. This type of bias in who participates more in the election process can lead to bias toward one group over another on the part of candidates.
    3. Participation can also be measured by how much information is relayed to the candidate or political parties by the participants. Voting, for example, indicates preference for one candidate over another, but does not provide a reason behind the action, while other types of participation, such as posting a video on YouTube about a candidate, delivers more feedback to the candidates and their campaigns. 
  3. Trends in Participation in the United States
    1. There was a downward trend in all levels of participation at the end of the twentieth century in presidential elections, including in voting, displaying bumper stickers, and donating to a campaign. The trend, however, reversed in presidential elections of 2004 and 2008, when participation—including voting—increased.
    2. Participation in midterm election years still remains low in comparison to years of presidential elections, especially among voters in younger age groups. However, voter turnout in midterm elections has been consistent since the mid-1970s, in part for the same reason that the voter age during those elections is on average older—those who vote in midterm elections are usually “habitual voters” that vote in most elections.
  4. Comparing Participation in the United States and Other Countries
    1. Participation rates in U.S. elections have always lagged behind international participation rates, with the United States ranking 46th out of 76 countries holding presidential elections between 2000 and 2010. This difference, however, does not mean that Americans are less politically engaged, as Americans report stronger attachments to their affiliated political party than do citizens in other countries.
    2. In many cases, the rules of elections in the United States cause the low participation rates in comparison to other countries. Some countries have compulsory voting laws for all citizens, which lead directly to higher participation rates. Also, voter registration laws in the United States make it much more difficult for citizens to vote in the U.S., whereas in many other countries voting is a one-step process. Finally, in many countries, elections are held on weekends or on public holidays, while in the United States Election Day is a workday, which also decreases the number of citizens who can participate, even though employers are required by law to allow their employees to vote during working hours. .
  5. Why Do People Participate in Campaigns and Elections?
    1. People will participate in politics usually out of self-interest—they might be gaining a tangible reward for participation, such as payment, or they might be gaining an intangible benefit, such as group membership, acceptance, or satisfaction in their self. While the most fundamental reason for participating does not change, other differences among citizens also affect whether or not, and how often, they participate.
    2. Education and income seem to dictate who does and who does not participate in elections, and while this may seem obvious, it has been difficult for political scientists to pinpoint why this is the case.  Many studies have been done in order to articulate a reason for this trend.
      1. The level of formal education strongly predicts the level of electoral participation of any citizen, but it is difficult to determine why education matters and what kinds of education are most important.  For example, in primary and secondary school, students are taught how voting works and why voting is important; it is also where they gain skills that make participation easier and more likely to produce successful results. Alternately, there is evidence that a college education has little or no effect on electoral participation, as people who can and do attend college are more likely to already be politically involved.
      2. Income is the strongest predictor of how much (if at all) a citizen will donate to a cause or campaign, and in general, higher income leads to high participation across all political fronts, including in protests. This has nothing to do with having more free time—as many careers providing higher incomes take up more time. Rather, citizens with higher incomes probably do not have to worry about basic survival, or “getting by,” and so their priorities might be different from those in lower-income households. 
    3. Citizens must not only be able to participate, but they also must be motivated to give back, vote, or voice their opinion. Several factors go into motivating certain groups over others to play a part in the election process.
      1. Some citizens display a political interest, which is simply an ongoing interest in politics. Political efficacy, another important motivator, is made up of both self-confidence in one’s knowledge of the political sphere as well as the belief that the political system can be affected by one’s actions.
      2. Both political interest and political efficacy are stable attributes that remain unchanged person’s lifetime, and generally are caused by basic personality traits, a general attitude toward conflict, and perhaps, as some studies point to, specific genes, though it is too early to say with confidence how much this is the case.
    4. The environment in which citizens grow up and live can both mobilize citizens as well as keep them from participating politically.
      1. The social context—or the community with whom the citizen interacts, including family, classmates, or neighbors—provides information as well as model from which individuals initially learn, both about the system and how to participate. Social context extends to teachers and other students that youths come in contact with at school.  The activities outside of class, including student government or debate, do sometimes have an effect, but in most cases, family is the most influential part of a child’s social context.
      2. Social contexts of communities also are importantstudies have shown that those people who live in communities which lean strongly toward the opposite party are less likely to participate and discuss politics than those living in areas where they are part of the majority. 
      3. A citizen’s generational cohort, or the group of people with which they came of age politically, also seems to affect how much a person participates. In many cases, younger generations are less politically engaged than older generations, and many political scientists point to the rise of technology, such as the television and the Internet, which gives younger generations more and varied options as to how to spend their leisure time.
      4. Certain communities get more attention from parties, candidates, and interest groups during campaigns and elections, and because of this, citizens belonging to these communities are much more likely to participate in politics in comparison to their counterparts outside of the community. This sort of mobilization usually works best on those with some interest in politics who have just not yet gotten involved, as opposed to citizens who have no interest in politics to begin with. Much research has been done into what makes for the most effective mobilization strategy, but as of yet there is not one type that seems to appeal universally.
    5. There are some people that do not have the opportunity to participate—perhaps because they are not eligible to participate, or because the cost of participating is too steep to them. There are several factors that affect someone’s ability to participate politically.
      1. Voter registration laws were enacted in order to keep people from voting en masse as a part of corrupt political machines, but the inconvenience and complexities of the system can make it difficult for citizens currently to participate by voting.
      2. The methods by which someone who has registered can vote can also be complex and confusing. There are some methods that increase convenience of voting, such as absentee ballots, but some states require specific reasons why they cannot vote in person in order to apply for a ballot.
      3. Those citizens who want to participate in ways other than voting are also not always provided with opportunities to do so. In non-competitive areas, or in incumbent-only races, citizens have limited opportunities to be a part of the election process. The Internet has provided new opportunities for those who might not be able to participate in person to still be a part of the electoral process.
  6. Inequalities in Electoral Participation
    1. Participatory distortion is usually increased by complementary factors; for example, highly education citizens also tend to have higher incomes, both of which are factors that lead to a higher rate of participation. There are some distortions in participation that create inequalities and can undermine democratic values.
      1. The Racial Distortion: After the Voting Rights Act of 1965, African American turnout increased sharply, and the gaps in registration rates between blacks and whites in the South closed to less than 10 points; currently, African Americans tend to vote and donate to campaigns at rates just below whites, and tend to be more likely to participate in some other ways. Latino and Asian-American voters tend to participate at lower rates than black and white citizens, though this might also be explicable because of language and cultural differences, as well as correlated lower levels of income and education in these groups.
      2. The Gender Distortion: Currently, women vote at a slightly higher rate than men, with unmarried women voting at an even more pronounced rate than unmarried men. However, men are more likely to donate to a campaign, discuss politics with others, or run for elected office, which may in part be because of the perception that politics is a “man’s world.” Evidence shows that when women do hold high-profile offices, women become more interested in politics.
      3. The Income Distortion: A large inequality in participation exists between citizens in different income brackets, with those making more money turning out to the polls, donating, and participating in other ways in much larger numbers than those with lower income. This may be caused both by the resources at the disposal of those with higher income as well as disparities in education between income groups.
      4. The Age Distortion: Among eligible citizens, historically and currently, younger citizens are much less likely to participate and vote in elections that those in older age groups. This could be because of amount that younger citizens move around and are undergoing transitions in life, such as leaving school or having children.
    2. There is growing evidence that the government is more responsive to active participants in the electoral process; placing restrictions on participation or making certain types of participation, such as voting, compulsory might help to increase the system equality, but that is not taking into account to potentials of coercion, voter fraud, and an uninformed public.