Moved to Action: Motivation, Participation, and Inequality in American Politics

Moved to Action: Motivation, Participation, and Inequality in American Politics

Moved to Action: Motivation, Participation, and Inequality in American Politics

Moved to Action: Motivation, Participation, and Inequality in American Politics


Wealthy, educated, and more privileged people are more likely to participate and be represented in politics than their poorer, less educated, and less privileged counterparts. To reduce these inequalities, we need a better understanding of how the disadvantaged become motivated to participate. Moved to Action fills the current gap in this area of research by examining the commitments and pathways through which the underprivileged become engaged in politics.

Drawing on original, in-depth interviews with political activists and large-scale survey data, author Hahrie C. Han contests the traditional idea that people must be politicized before they participate, and that only idiosyncratic factors outside the control of the political system can drive motivation. Her findings show that that highly personal commitments, such as the quality of children's education or the desire to help a friend, have a disproportionately large impact in motivating political participation among people with fewer resources. Han makes the case that civic and political organizations can lay the foundation for greater citizen participation by helping people recognize the connections between their personal commitments and politics.


In the Spring of 2006, New Orleans held its first election to choose a new mayor since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. Only 38 percent of eligible voters participated. When compared with the 46 percent turnout in the 2002 race and the 38 percent who voted in 1998, this 2006 turnout seems unremarkable. But it was remarkable because of the large numbers of hurricane refugees who went to great lengths to participate. Six months after floodwaters inundated the city in late August 2005, more than half of New Orleans's 450,000 residents remained in exile, in particular the poorer, less educated African-American residents. Yet 113,591 of these residents found ways to cast ballots for mayor, many of them overcoming huge barriers in order to participate in the political process.

This book unravels the reasons for participation among people like the Katrina refugees by providing insight into the personal commitments that motivate participation among traditionally marginalized people. the book seeks to answer the question, How do people without many educational, financial, and civic resources become engaged to participate in politics? Most research on political participation looks at the whole population and asks, What kinds of people are most likely to participate? Previous researchers have concluded that people who generally care about politics (i.e., are motivated), are able to participate (have resources), and are asked to participate will participate. But they are not the only ones who do. There are many instances, like the 2006 mayoral election in New Orleans, in which people who lack the resources—such as education, money, free time, civic skills—and the general political interest commonly thought necessary do participate. This book explores why.

In the New Orleans mayoral election, the refugees' strong personal commitments to the outcome motivated their participation—regardless of the resources they possessed. For many displaced voters, the stakes in the . . .

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