6 Main Factors Affecting Political Participation


Top 6 Factors Affecting Political Participation

The last post discussed political participation and identified the different level scholars have made of it. However, political participation does not just vary from level to level and dimension to dimension, certain factors determine these differences, and such factors are what provide explanation for why some people and countries engage in politics at different levels.

More particularly, third world countries of the world do not have the same number of people participating at transitorial level for instance, as one may get in advanced countries. The factors that determine this difference are what will be discussed in this post.


Table of content 

At the end of this article you will be able to:

(a) Identify and analyze the factors behind differences or variation in political participation across nations and among social groups within nations

(b) Assess, in a more detailed and competent manner, the nature, sources and conditions of political participation in various political systems.


5 Factors Affecting Political Participation

Below are identified 5 determinants of political participation, namely:

1. Political culture

2. Institutional and electoral arrangement

3. Party system

4. Political leadership

5. Socio-economic status


1. Political Culture

Political culture includes ‘the state of attitudes, beliefs emotions and values of society that relate to the political system and to political issues'. Writers like Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba have attempted to explain participation and apathy in terms of national differences in political culture.

Some countries are said to have participatory or participant cultures, and others subject or non-participatory cultures. Where cultures are participatory, citizens display great enthusiasm for politics, exhibit a high degree of pride in national political institutions and have a high sense of political efficacy and civic duty. Non-participatory or subject political cultures, on the other hand, foster attitudes of passivity, isolation, deference and citizen-withdrawal.

In their book, The Civic Culture, for example, Almond and Verba describe the United States of America and Britain as having participant culture, and Germany and Italy as having a largely non-participant or subject culture.

It is, however, significant to note that a higher percentage of the electorate participate in voting in Italy, where voter turnout in the seventies was about 94 per cent, than in the United States, which had an average voter turnout of 54 percent in the same period. This suggests that there may be other factors, apart from political culture, which influence political participation.

Read On: Impacts of Political Socialization on Political Behaviour

2. Institutional and Electoral Arrangements

Institutional and electoral arrangements have a significant impact on political participation, particularly voter turnout. An electoral system based on proportional representation, whereby all parties are represented in parliament in proportion to the number of votes they receive, encourages parties and candidates to mobilize voters everywhere and, therefore, increases voter turnout.

On the other hand, however, the use of the majority or first -past - the - post system - which is based on single-member constituencies, with the party with the highest votes in a constituency winning the seat for that constituency - leads to an imbalance in the translation of votes into legislative seats and creates a disincentive to voting and Voter turnout.

A multi-party system, by encouraging coalition governments, gives elections a less decisive role in government formation and, consequently, depresses voter turnout. By the same token, a two-party system will tend to encourage voter participation. Unicameral legislative system, by providing a clearer link between electorates and legislation, encourages citizen participation. And because this link is relatively less visible in bicameral systems, participation in elections tends to be lower in such systems

Finally, mandatory voting laws induce increased voter turnout, while difficult eligibility or voting registration requirements dampen voter turnout.

For example, countries like Australia, Belgium and Italy have laws that compel voting, as did the Netherlands until 1970. In the United States of America, on the other hand, electoral regulations requiring relatively stringent residency and other eligibility requirements have inhibited voter differently.

In other words, we have identified the impact of political culture and institutional and electoral arrangements on political participation. Participant political cultures tend to encourage greater citizen participation than subject cultures.

Similarly, the proportional representation principle, two-party system, unicameralism and mandatory voting laws encourage the participation of citizens in voting. The first-past-the-post electoral system, multi-party system, bicameralism and difficult voting registration or eligibility requirements, on the other hand, discourage voter turnout.

Read On: 6 Functions of Political Socialization

3. The Party System

Political parties are extremely important in encouraging citizens to become politically active. In some countries, the party system presents rather drastic choices of policy, ideology and group benefits.

In other countries, however, the parties do not offer sharply contrasting alternatives to voters. Where choices are sharply divergent and parties are clearly linked to particular groups, the stakes of participation are very high, and citizens are more likely to get politically involved.

Furthermore, some parties do make considerable efforts to get citizens to vote. In India and Mexico, for example, political parties, especially the governing parties, have often sent out trucks to round up voters in the rural areas.

In many other nations, party officials make elaborate efforts to contact voters and to ensure that they actually vote. Because these party mobilization strategies are well developed in some nations, such as Austria and Netherlands, moderately developed in others, such as Western Germany and France, and quite weak in others, including most parts of Nigeria and the United States, voting turnout is shaped accordingly.

4.  Political Leadership

Leaders or candidates with a particularly strong personal appeal can bring many apathetic or apolitical people into political activity. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a hero of the Second World War (1937-45), enjoyed such personal popularity or appeal in the United States in the 1950s. Julius Nyerere in Tanzania and Fidel Castro in Cuba are two charismatic leaders of developing countries who have mobilized their respective citizens into often intermittent, and sometimes sustained, political activity.

5. Socio-economic Status (SES)

Studies have repeatedly shown that better-educated, wealthier and occupationally-skilled citizens are more likely, on the average, to develop participant attitudes. These citizens invariably tend to be more politically enlightened, more attentive to political information, more politically efficacious and better able to make use of opportunities for participation, than less socio-economically privileged citizens.

In short, better off citizens tend to be the most active in politics. This tendency is, however, less pronounced in voting participation and far more visible in the forming of pressure groups to influence governmental decisions. This lecture has, however, concentrated more on voting participation than any other form of political participation because voting is the simplest and most common form of participation in virtually all political systems.

In conclusion, we should note that there are many factors, other than the five discussed in this post, that affect political participation. Some of these other factors can be stated as follows: sex (men are more likely to participate in politics than women), residence (the longer a person resides in a given community, the greater the likelihood of his participation in politics), location (urban dwellers tend to be more active in politics than rural dwellers) and social involvement (those who participate in trade-union or voluntary activities are more likely to participate in politics than those who do not take part in such activities).


Conclusion on Top 6 Factors Affecting Political Participation

There are many factors affecting political participation. This post has focused on five of these factors, namely political culture, institutional and electoral arrangements, the party system, political leadership and socio-economic status. 

Essentially, political participation will be higher in political systems where a participant, as distinct from subject, political culture prevails, where institutional and electoral arrangements compel or induce participation, where parties make efforts to mobilize voters and are ideologically and socially differentiated, and where the political leadership is charismatic. 

Furthermore, participation tends to be higher among higher-status than lower-status groups. A number of other factors, apart from the five enunciated above, which also affect levels of participation, particularly among social groups, can include: sex, residence location and social involvement.

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