Definitions and Scope of Political Participation

 

Definitions and Scope of Political Participation


Recall that in the previous post we asserted that political socialization of a people determines their attitudes and values towards politics, that is, whether they participate at all or not, the dimensions of their participation, the degree and the period.

This is what we broadly defined as political behavior of people. Here we now focus on political participation.

The article is divided into two parts, the first covering an array of definitions of political participation by known scholars, while the second addresses its main scope.

Table of Content

After reading this post, you should be able to:

(a) Define political participation from various scholarly viewpoints

(b) Discuss the main scope of political participation


Definitions of Political Participation

Like most political science concepts, political participation has attracted several definitions and meanings from several scholars. Some of these definitions are generic, that is, they try as much as possible to capture all aspects and dimensions in which people can participate in politics.

Some are however limited, in that they discriminate against some aspects of participation as irregular or abnormal.

We consider a few of them in what follows. While the following definition is seemingly restrictive:

1. Political participation refers to those legal activities by private citizens which are more or less directly aimed at influencing the selection of government personnel and/or the actions they take (Norman H. Nie and Sidney Verba).

What follows here is a group of broader senses of meaning.

2. The activity of private citizens designed to influence government decision making. (Samuel Huntington and Jorge Dominguez).

3. Those voluntary activities by which members of society share in the selection of rulers and, directly or indirectly, in the formation of public policy (H. McClosky).

4.  Political participation derives from the freedom to speak out, assemble and associate; the ability to take part in the conduct of public affairs; and the opportunity to register as a candidate, to campaign, to be elected and to hold office at all levels of government.

What is of utmost important to contemporary study of political behaviour is that political participation can include both legal and illegal attempts to influence governmental decisions. It is concerned with influencing the composition and conduct, or personnel and policies. It is not limited to voting at elections but includes many other ways in which citizens try to influence governmental decisions. It is based on this that we discuss in what follows, the various dimensions that political participation can take in human society.

 

Scope of Political Participation

By scope of political participation we main those broad of activities that political participation covers, or that can be regarded as forms of political participation. When people campaign for candidates during elections, or they attend constituency meetings or cast their ballot during voting period, we often consider their actions as political participation. Remember however, that not doing all these, or doing them for certain reasons are also forms of participation in politics. A renowned professor of philosophy, Jim Una once wrote that “even nothing is anything” and a very popular slogan in party electioneering politics is that “failure to vote for a candidate is a ballot cast for the opponent of the candidate”.

Based on this logic, the scope of political participation shall be bi patterned: direct or action based, as well as indirect or attitude based political activities.

1. Direct or action based Political Activities:

These activities refer to those that people deliberately engage in as standards of participation in politics. They include voting, attendance of meetings, campaigning, sponsorship of candidates, money and material donation, attending rallies and committee meetings, etc. These actions are clear cut, and need no further interpretation before they are recognized as forms of political participation. Those who participate in them often have defined political goals, even when not disclosed.

2. Indirect or Attitude Based Political Participation:

These refer to people’s attitudes and dispositions that indirectly influence politics around them. This form of political participation is not necessarily clear cur, and it is often unclear if those who display them are aware of their impact as political participation. These attitudes include but are not limited to agitation, resistance, apathy, endorsement, docility, skepticism, cynicism, etc. Those who display rĂ©sistance attitude towards politics for instance complement chance of leadership in extra electoral forms, while apathetic persons allow other citizens have field days fielding and electing their own candidates. If they apathetical person had voted, his vote only could make any difference in number, and as he or she refuses to vote, the attitude displayed increases the chances of a candidate in opposition. This aspect is also covered by political participation.

 

Conclusion on Definitions and Scope of Political Participation

In conclusion, political participation is a concrete activity or behaviour, and not simply a psychological orientation or disposition as political culture and socialization. It refers to the totality of ways and means through which people react to and relate with issues in governance and politics. It is neither sacrosanct nor immutable, but its scope covers both direct (action based), and indirect (attitude based) participation.

We have, in the above discussion, defined political participation from the legalist and liberal perspectives.

We asserted that political participation covers both legal and anti-legal activities. After this we explored the scope of political participation.

In specific terms, we identified two scopes: Please note that these are dimensions not levels or categories. Political participation still has dimensions and levels, and they will be addressed in other article.

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