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Theories on Voter Apathy and Political Participation Essay

The problem of voter apathy and its effects on political participation have been analyzed by many and studied extensively. There are varying approaches that have been offered to encourage registered voters to take a more active role in the political system. In order to increase the public’s participation, there’s been general agreement among many of these offerings that the focus must lay in not only educating the voters about their role in the system but also to keep them aware of the current state of the affairs of the country. In his paper Talk Leads to Recruitment, Klofstad directly states that in order

keep people active within the political system, there must be adequate discourse between citizens regarding political issues and the daily happenings in order to increase their participation in the political process. He does admit that the primary wrinkle in this approach lies in two areas: first, there is no way to accurately define how discussing political events with others influences and individuals to take action, and second, how the individual takes the discussion and uses it to decide to act (2007). During the study, the participants were questioned as to what went on during a

conversation of this nature. The researchers discovered that the individual was influenced in one of three ways by his acquaintances to participate in the political system: the individual was given information on how to participate, asked explicitly to be involved and had their interest stimulated regarding the subject. Klofstad also points out the prior research into the effects of peer pressure have been shown to decrease an individual’s apathy toward politics. The prior research discovered that face-to-face interactions on the part of those wanting to elicit participation had a greater effect

on the individual than simply by mailing them an advertisement or are using phone solicitation. The author feels that there needs to be more study done regarding the specific reasons behind the individual choosing to act based on these interactions (Gerber and Green 2000; Rosenstone and Hansen 1993; Verba, Scholzman nd Brady 1995 as cited in Kofstad, 2007). Diana Mutz, in The Consequences of Cross-Cutting for Political Participation, looks at the social aspect of eliciting voter participation but from a slightly different viewpoint. In her work, she focuses on the interactions of voters regarding politics

states that those individuals who socialize in a variety of groups that display disagreement regarding political issues are not as likely to actively take part in politics. This idea is based on two facets of this kind of interaction: first, that the individuals in this type of discussion oftentimes are “on the fence” about their viewpoints and secondly, that peer pressure from these interactions actually encourages people not to participate. This last reason, as the author suggests, see this political activity as counterproductive to the peace of the group (2002). The individual in this case is intermingling with so many varying opinions

and is under pressure from each particular group to take a certain viewpoint that the person they choose to become apathetic. Mutz also points out that these varying attitudes do not have to be all negative, but can be a mix of the positive and negative. With the varying viewpoints being thrown at the individual in the different interactions, this causes the person to become conflicted about their own personal viewpoint on political issues. With this uncertainty often comes the rise of ambivalence (2002). Dean supports this hypothesis by discussing the concept of “normlessness”

in his work titled Social Forces: Alienation and Political Apathy. This term can take on two faces: one of having no norms, basic values, or can manifest in having values that go against one another. This puts them at greater risk to “sit on the fence” and not take an active part on any political issue or activity (1963). McClurg takes a different tack on interaction and how varying groups can influence political participation or engender apathy. He points out other influences that can have an effect on participation, namely an individual’s ethnic background, socio-economic status and the variety of influential groups that help shape the

individual’s political leanings (Campbell, 2004; Cho, Gimpel, & Dyck, 2006; Costa & Kahn, 2003; Gimpel, Lay, & Schuknecht, 2003; Oliver 2001 as referenced in McClurg, 2006). McClurg also offers that the way a person takes in and understands the varying viewpoints from different interactions can also affect their desire to participate or not. He states that this should be an area that is added into the study of the influences of varying viewpoints on political apathy. In addition, different factors within the environment of the group can also affect political activity as well (2006).

These first two studies indicate that is not only the social aspects that can influence a person’s choice take part, but that choice can also be influenced by the kinds of interactions that the individual has. Another area considered in considering political activity and apathy is the particular viewpoint taken in regards to voting. Chareka and Sears, in their writing, focus in on how younger people you the act of voting as a means of participating in the political system (2006). In doing interviews with younger participants, the researchers found that these young adults are more than willing to participate in activities such as

volunteering and similar activities that were not within the formal political sphere. In regards to activities such as becoming a member of a political party or wanting to run an election for government office, they were unwilling to participate. There was also a predilection to not vote or show interest in doing so in the future. They clearly understood the process and its importance from education, but these things were not enough to compel them to take part (Chareka, 2006). One factor that can have a significant influence on political participation besides perception and socialization is the simple act of reading.

Bennett, Ryan and Flickinger regard reading as a key ingredient in inducing political participation. They discuss how, from the earliest beginnings of the country in the 18th century, print material played a key role in keeping the general population informed of the various political issues of the time and the revolutionary movement. The popularity of these printed materials shows that literacy was considered an important skill (2000). The researchers found that the key to studying the effect of reading on political activity and apathy must take the concepts of reading and education

separately. It is not only that a person reads, but also what they read and how well they read the material they choose. People who are very interested in political issues are more likely to seek out reading materials that focus on these issues. Along with this comes the fact that the person must have the background, continual learning and the ability to synthesize the ideas that they have read into their own experience (2000). When mixed with inter action and appropriate peer pressure, reading can become a key force in reducing political apathy. The advent of the internet and mass

media has had an increasing effect of keeping the general public informed on political issues. With a click of the button, information is readily available on groups, events and issues than ever before. Best and Krueger studied the phenomenon of political participation as it is found on the internet, which they state has become a norm for Americans to take part in the democratic process as past methods are. Voters are shown to now contact government officials through on-line access just as much as through the avenues of mail and the telephone (CSRA, 2003 as referenced in Best, 2005).

The researchers offer that in the future, as the idea of voting via the internet becomes a reality, younger generations are more likely to take part. The ready access to information, donating funds and related tasks makes it easier for many to take part who once might not have. This could have a marked impact on the number of individuals who actively participate in politics, where being involved in more traditional ways did not (2005). Jansen, Chioncel and Dekkers propose a model for educating individuals to be more active in politics. When educating future and current citizens about their role

within the political system, the writers urge for an approach that focuses on active participation and not just the bare facts about the political system itself. This should involve a learning process that includes experiences in both formal political activities and those that are of a more casual nature within their own community (2006). Wit in this educational format, individuals should gain an understanding of citizenship within the realm of how they act on their individual rights, how they connect with others in relationship to political issues, how their life connects with

the “big picture” and how their environment affects their participation as a citizen in a political system. By understanding these issues, and seeing them in action in both formal and casual civic activities, an individual will be more likely to participate and not become apathetic (2006). As a whole, these theories support a comprehensive understanding of the individual, the interactions that they have regarding political activity, who they interact with and the environments around them. Coupled with their background and reading habits, these factors can make a tremendous difference in whether or not a person is politically active.

References Bennett, Stephen E. , Rhine, Staci L. & Flickinger, Richard S. Reading’s impact on democratic citizenship in America (2000). Political Behavior, 22, 167-195. Best, Samuel J. & Krueger, Brian S. (2005). Analyzing the representativeness of internet political participation. Political Behavior, 27, 183-216. Chareka, Ottilia & Sears, Alan. (2006). Civic duty: Young people’s conceptions of voting as a means of political participation. Canadian Journal of Education, 29, 521-540. Dean, Dwight G. (1960). Alienation and political apathy. Social Forces, 38, 185-189. Jansen, Th. , Chioncel, N. & Dekkers, H. (2006).

Cohesion and integration: Learning active citizenship. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 27, 189-205. Klofstad, Casey A. (2007). Talk leads to recruitment: How discussions about policitcs and current events increase civic participation. Political Research Quarterly, 60, 180-191. McClurg, Scott D. (2006). Political disagreement in context: The conditional effect of neighborhood context, disagreement and political talk on electoral participation. Political Behavior, 28, 349-366/ Mutz, Diana C. (2002). The consequences of cross-cutting networks for political participation. American Journal of Political Science, 46, 838-855.


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