Political Life: Why People Get Involved in Politics

Political Life: Why People Get Involved in Politics

Political Life: Why People Get Involved in Politics

Political Life: Why People Get Involved in Politics

Excerpt

As WE HAVE SEEN from our brief historical reviews, broadening the franchise did not always lead to increased rates of participation. We turn now to an analysis of political participation in America today. This clearly means more than voting; indeed, in some areas of politics voting is a minor feature of the public's participation in the political process. A letter to a congressman, a contribution to a candidate's campaign chest, support of a lobby, even just being a member of a political audience -- these, too, form essential features of popular participation in the American democracy. We want, then, to know three things about such behavior: (1) What is the nature of such participation? (2) Who are the participants? (3) Why do they do it? This chapter and the two which follow deal with "what" and "who."

VOTING IN ELECTIONS

Members of the American electorate are given many important responsibilities in our scheme of government. Consider the choices they were required to make in 1956. In seventeen states the electorate was asked to express a preference among their party's aspiring presidential nominees -- and then, in all of the states, the electorate was asked to choose among the candidates themselves. Forty-two states had primary contests for state office in that year (all states have some provision for direct primaries and nine states have provision for run-off primaries if the initial primaries are not conclusive). All but six of the states elected state legislators in 1956 and most of them elected both state senators and representatives. All forty eight states elected members . . .

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