Political participation is the engagement of individuals in the political process. It refers to any activity that affects politics, decision-making, and the distribution of power. This encompasses voting, donating money or time, displaying lawn signs, campaigning, running for office, writing and signing petitions, boycotting, organizing in unions or trade associations, sit-ins, blockades, strikes, riots, public disorder, and attacks on public or private political agents (e.g. police, other party members, etc). A cluster of forms of political participation might be labelled “political activism” in contrast to the relatively passive forms of engagement typified by quadrennial voting and desultory awareness of political news.
Political behaviour is a wider concept, within which political participation is a sub-set. The study of political behaviour encompasses both individual and group behaviour in the political process, extending to party engagement of voters, social movements and the organization of interest groups or political parties, in which individuals might participate. The de-alignment and realignment of group interests with party politics is studied as a phenomenon of political behaviour: voters and political parties influence each other. Voter policy preferences may change over time, as a function of changing circumstances (e.g. older voters may be more enthusiastic about maintaining pensions and healthcare), or political leadership and dominant ideas about normative approaches to politics (see Blyth, 2002, preface, on Moodle). The third face of Luke’s concept of power is particularly difficult to research, but particularly important, as Blyth explains in Great Transformations. A “structurally given interest” is an interest defined by position in a structure – workers want this; owners want that:
“This book shows how blunt an instrument structurally given interests really are, why we need to rethink what people do in light of their beliefs and desires, and why our commonly understood relationships between interests, ideas, and institutions also need to be overhauled.”
In practice, we all have multiple interests multiple identities: worker, consumer, citizen, group member. Although Blyth is writing about economic ideas and institutions (ways of organizing social behaviour) his book is fundamentally about political behaviour, including manipulation of voting preferences. However, Blyth does not address organizational changes in links between parties and voters, electoral competition (including the influence of money), and organizational changes affecting party performance over time. (See Boix and Stokes, ch. 23).
Boix and Stokes (Ch. 26) introduces a standard social-psychological model of participation. Electoral turn-out is affected by rules (e.g. voter registration, identity requirements) which can be deployed to deter or suppress voting by particular groups. Traditional political parties may face shrinking membership
To be confirmed by instructor after consultation with class coordinators
Consider the following questions for discussion
Coordinators may consider the following activities: