Chapter Study Outline

Forms of Political Participation

  1. Political participation refers to a wide range of activities, designed to influence government. Political participation can take many forms. The most common today are lobbying, public relations, litigation, protest, and, most important, voting.
  2. Throughout American history, there has been a progressive, if uneven, expansion of suffrage to groups such as African Americans, women, and youths.
  3. Americans are taught to equate citizenship with electoral participation.
  4. Though the United States now has a system of universal suffrage, voter turnout continues to be low. The least well-off Americans are the least likely to vote, while the wealthiest Americans are the most likely to vote.

Who Participates, and How?

  1. Several strategies of mobilization emerged to guide African Americans’ quest for equality in the twentieth century, including political pressure, legal strategies, and protest. But the question remains whether political participation can improve the lives of African Americans, especially the poor.
  2. The use of new technologies increased during the 2008 election. Many analysts and political activists hoped that the widespread use of the Internet and other new technologies would promote greater participation and begin to alter the socioeconomic bias in participation. The most recent research suggests that these new ways of participating have not yet significantly altered the socioeconomic bias in participation.
  3. The diversity of national backgrounds among Asian Americans has impeded the development of group-based political power.
  4. The ongoing significance of gender issues in American politics is indicated by three trends: the gender gap, the increase in the number of women holding public office, and the continued importance of political issues of special concern to women.
  5. In recent years, Latino political organizations have attempted to mobilize members of their community. This effort, if successful, would tap a “sleeping giant” of political influence.
  6. One of the most significant patterns in political participation is that older people have much higher rates of participation than young people.
  7. A significant element of modern religious politics has been the mobilization of evangelical Protestants into a cohesive and politically active organization aligned with the Republican party.

Explaining Political Participation

  1. Several factors explain political participation. They include socioeconomic status, levels of civic engagement, formal obstacles, and efforts by political institutions to mobilize people. The most significant political factor affecting participation is whether people are mobilized by parties, candidates, interest groups, or social movements. People are much more likely to participate when someone—preferably someone they know—asks them to get involved.
  2. In recent decades, political parties have ceased to mobilize an active citizenry. Instead, political parties emphasized fund-raising over recruiting volunteers. The competitiveness of national elections since 2000, however, has motivated both parties to build strong organizations to reach voters and turn them out on Election Day.

Thinking Critically about Political Participation and Liberty, Equality, and Democracy

  1. For much of the twentieth century, our political institutions failed to mobilize an active citizenry. The demobilized citizenry gave rise to an uneven pattern of political participation at odds with American notions of equality and democracy.
  2. Since 2000, a series of highly competitive national elections has spurred political campaigns to pay much more attention to drawing voters into the political process. New technologies—the Internet, texting, and social networking sites—have provided citizens with novel ways to learn about and engage with politics.
  3. The socioeconomic bias in American politics remains an important concern.