What is Political Participation? - Definition, Forms & Examples in Nigeria


What is Political Participation? - Definition, Forms & Examples in Nigeria

Political participation refers to the civic activities, such as voting, that citizens use to take part in political processes and express their opinions and preferences. Explore the definition, forms, and examples of political participation, review the types of political participation, and recognize who the process is for. 


What Is Political Participation?

For many, as American citizens, one of the aspects of our culture that many are most proud of is the extent to which they can take part in the political system. Whether they are voting for a new congressman, serving on a jury, or participating in a public protest, they can be fairly certain that their actions are going to have an influence on American politics in some way. For them, this is important because it is one of the ways in which Americans can contribute to their communities and be active members of society.

These civic activities are what are known as political participation, and they are a critical part of any democracy.

As the name suggests, political participation simply means that a person is participating in the political process by making his or her opinions and beliefs known. In the social sciences, the term 'political participation' is often used to describe an action taken by a citizen to influence the outcome of a political issue.

Types of Political Participation

There are many different forms of political participation and whether you know it or not, you've probably taken part in some of them at different points in your life.

Some of the most common forms of political participation are:

1.  Voting

In a democracy, voting is the single most important form of political participation that a person can take part in because it ensures that politicians are elected by the people, rather than being assigned to their position of power by someone else.

2.  Protest

Whether or not it is a constitutional right, as it is in the U.S., public protests are another important form of political participation because you are making your opinions known in a very obvious way, with the hope that your actions will influence or initiate change in a particular area of politics.

3.  Public consultations

Like voting, public consultations (which are more commonly known as town hall meetings) offer ordinary citizens the chance to get together in a group with a politician or elected official in order to make their opinions and feelings known.

4.  Jury duty

Although most people shudder at the thought of having to attend jury duty, it is an important type of political participation because it ensures that people who are charged with a crime are judged by people like them, rather than allowing the outcome to depend entirely on a single person, such as a judge.


Most Common Forms of Political Participation

These include:

·   Signing a petition

·   Writing a letter to a public official

·   Blogging about a political issue

·   Donating money to a cause

·   Volunteering for a campaign

·   Joining an activist or interest group

·   Holding a public official position

·   Occupying a building in an act of protest

·   Committing a terrorist act

As long as the activity involves ordinary citizens expressing their opinions by contributing to the political process, you can probably assume that it is a form of political participation.


Participation beyond the Polls in Nigeria 

While voting is an important form of citizen participation in politics, it takes place only periodically. Besides voting, citizens have several other ways to take part in politics, each involving varying amounts of time, skill, and resources.

Contacting Public Officials

Expressing opinions to elected leaders is a vital avenue of political participation. Most politicians are keenly interested in public opinion. Since the 1970s, the number of people contacting public officials at all levels of government has risen sharply and steadily. In 1976, during America’s Bicentennial, only about 17% of Americans contacted a public official. In 2008, over 44% of the public had contacted their member of Congress either in writing or in person. While email has made the process easier and cheaper, elected officials agree that well-written letters or face-to-face meetings remain more effective.  


Donating Money, Time, and Effort to a Campaign

Attributed largely to the interest stirred by the candidacy of Barack Obama, over 17% of the American public contributed money to a presidential candidate in the 2008 election. Another 25% gave money to a cause or interest group. During the 2020 presidential campaign, candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden gathered a combined $3.65 billion in contributions. Since the 1960s, contributions to candidates, parties, or political action committees have increased substantially, as email, social media, and candidate websites have made fundraising easier. While the influence of money in politics is widely criticized as a way for candidates to “buy” their way into office, fundraising campaigns help make people aware of candidates and issues.

Bedsides contributing money, about 15% of Americans work for candidates or political parties by preparing and distributing campaign material, recruiting supporters, organizing campaign events, and discussing candidates and issues with the public.

Running for an elected office is perhaps the most personally demanding, yet potentially rewarding avenue of political participation. Being a public official requires a great deal of dedication, time, energy, and money. At any time, about 3% of the adult American population holds an elected or appointed public office.

Protest and Activism

As another form of political participation, public protest and activism may involve unconventional and sometimes unlawful actions intended to bring about change in social, political, or economic policy. Used effectively during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, people may take part in nonviolent acts of civil disobedience, during which they deliberately break laws that they consider to be unjust. For example, sit-ins, such as the Greensboro sit-in staged by four Black college students at the lunch counter of a North Carolina Woolworth's store in 1960, were effective in ending de jure racial segregation. When they see no conventional means getting their message across, members of social movements may resort to harmful acts of political extremism like bombing or rioting.

Social Movements and Groups

Many Americans participate in national and community political affairs by joining grassroots movements and single-issue special interest groups. Proliferating since the 1970s, these non-profit groups are as diverse as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which supports animal rights, to Mothers against Drunk Driving (MADD), which advocates for stiffer penalties for impaired driving convictions.

Symbolic Participation and Non-Participation

Routine or habitual acts such as saluting the flag, reciting the pledge of allegiance, and sing the national anthem at sporting events show support for American values and the political system. On the other hand, some people choose not to vote as a means of expressing their dissatisfaction with the government. 

Political Apathy 

Political apathy is best described as a total lack of interest in politics and in participating in political activities such as election campaigns, candidate rallies, public meetings, and voting. 

Since the health of a nation’s government is often measured by how actively its citizens participate in politics, apathy poses a serious problem. When citizens fail to participate in politics, democracy fails to represent their interests. As a result, public policy often favors the less apathetic population as opposed to the more apathetic population—the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” effect.

Political apathy is often caused by a lack of understanding of politics and government. Politically apathetic people see little value in voting or from the benefits and costs of the government policies being considered. They often see no personal benefit in expending the effort needed to gain political knowledge. 

However, it is possible for people who have a thorough understanding of politics to remain willfully apathetic towards it. In this context, it is important to distinguish between political apathy and political abstention—a deliberate decision not to participate in the political process as a way of sending a message to politicians.

According to a 2015 study conducted by Google Research, 48.9% of the United States adult population consider themselves to be “Interested Bystanders”—people who pay attention to political and social issues around them but choose not to actively voice their opinions or take action on those issues. Of the self-proclaimed interested bystanders interviewed by researchers, 32% said they were too busy to participate, 27% said they didn’t know what to do, and 29% felt that their participation would make no difference. 

Political apathy tends to be more prevalent among younger voters. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), only 21% of youths eligible to vote in the United States between ages 18–21 voted or were politically active in 2010. About 16% of youths considered themselves to be “civically alienated,” while another 14% felt “politically marginalized.” 

 Many apathetic people report feeling too intimidated by America’s heated political climate to do their research into politics. Elements such as media bias and complexity of issues create the danger of otherwise politically apathetic people acting based on intentionally distributed misinformation.   

While countless ways of combating political apathy have been suggested, most focus on improved voter education and a renewed emphasis on teaching basic civics and government in America’s schools. Theoretically, this would enable citizens to more clearly understand the issues and how they might impact their own lives, thus encouraging them to form opinions and taking participatory steps to act on them.

Post a Comment