Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Population Ecology of Grassroots Democracy: Christian Right Interest Populations and Citizen Participation in the American States

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Population Ecology of Grassroots Democracy: Christian Right Interest Populations and Citizen Participation in the American States

Article excerpt

Abstract

Prior research on citizen political participation suggests a narrow role for organizations, that they promote the political activity solely of their members. Yet studies at the individual level cannot assess any other role for organizations than a narrow, direct one. The authors estimate hierarchical models of how the intensity of Christian Right groups' activism in the states affects individual political participation as a means of identifying the degree of context dependence of grassroots activism. The authors find evidence to support a broad-based, pluralist effect of movement activism rather than a narrow effect of mobilizing a target constituency.

Keywords

political participation, interest groups, ecology, Christian Right, hierarchical models

While studies of political participation have affirmed the importance of organizations in their roles promoting direct recruitment into politics and civic training, we have lost sight of some of the larger concerns about interest groups in a democracy. Much of the interest group literature points to the presence of an "interest group spiral"

(J. M. Berry and Wilcox 2009), where the mobilization of political interests spurs countermobilization and a cycle of interest group growth. However, prior research on citizen political participation suggests a narrow role for organizations, that they promote the political activity solely of their members. Clearly there is a disconnect between observations of interest group activity on the aggregate level and the behavior of individuals as they are mobilized into and through their organizations. Yet, for obvious reasons, studies at the individual level cannot assess any other role for organizations than a narrow, direct one. Only studies with system-level observations can adequately assess the degree to which interest organizations are Olsonian (Olson 1965) narrow, niche players or promote a broader pluralism that encourages democratic involvement of the citizenry (Truman 1951). Taking inspiration from the ecological turn in the interest

An Organizational Democracy

As befits the associational character of American democracy and society, studies of political participation have reserved a prominent role for organizations. A vibrant civil society makes democracy work (Putnam 1993, 2000) by affecting most all components of prominent understandings of citizen participation (Warren 2001). In Verba, Schlozman, and Brady's (1995) civic voluntarism model, political activity is the result of three basic forces working in tandem-the (1) recruitment of (2) motivated and (3) resourceful individuals. Organizations, whether parties, interest groups, or even churches, may be directly involved in asking people to take action (recruitment; Abramson and Claggett 2001; Brady, Verba, and Schlozman 1999; Djupe and Gilbert 2009; Huckfeldt and Sprague 1995; Knoke 1990; Leighley 1996; Rosenstone and Hansen 1993), may boost their impulse to participate through shaping their concerns about issues (motivation; Djupe and Gilbert 2009; Rosenstone and Hansen 1993), and may serve as democratic training grounds helping individuals to build the skills necessary to participate (resources; Brady, Verba, and Schlozman 1995; Djupe and Grant 2001; Djupe and Gilbert 2006; Leege 1988; Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995). Though some research has suggested the limits of organizational influence, locating the effects in voluntary organizations (vs. workplaces-Ayala 2000), finding influence concentrated in purposive versus material and solidaristic groups (Pollock 1982), or finding that skill-building opportunities are not open to all members (Djupe and Gilbert 2006; Djupe, Sokhey, and Gilbert 2007), the literature is united in the conclusion that organizations promote political participation in direct and consequential ways.

We do not seek to challenge this bedrock influence on political activism. Instead, we wish to augment it by acknowledging that group behaviors are affected by organizational dynamics at the system level that should then affect individual participation rates. …

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