PARTICIPATION, VOTING, AND THE CHALLENGE OF DEMOCRACY

PARTICIPATION, VOTING, AND THE CHALLENGE OF DEMOCRACY

Terrorism, “premeditated, politically motivated violence,” is a form, albeit a perverse form, of political participation. While terrorism is not a commonplace political activity, violence can be the result if more conventional avenues of democratic participation are unavailable. How much and what types of political participation are necessary for democratic government?

The majoritarian model assumes that government responds to popular wishes articulated through conventional channels, primarily voting in elections. The majoritarians count each vote equally and hence are biased toward the value of equality in participation. Yet there is a strong bias in our voting system, since more of the higher income and better educated vote. This translates into a government catering to the needs of its wealthy and better-educated voters.

The pluralist model emphasizes freedom. Citizens are free to use all their resources to influence government at any of the many access points available to them. Pluralism may seem to favor those with resources, but in contrast to majoritarianism, it allows plenty of room for unconventional political participation. However, when people are forced to rely on unconventional participation to be heard, it is hard to call the system democratic.

Democracy and Political Participation

Voting is central to democracy, but when voting is the only form of participation available, there is no real democracy. In addition to casting votes, citizens must also be able to discuss politics, form interest groups, contact public officials, campaign for competing parties, run for office, or protest government decisions.

Political participation—the actions of private citizens that are intended to influence or support

government or politics—may be either conventional or unconventional.

Unconventional Participation

Unconventional participation is relatively uncommon behavior that challenges the government and is personally stressful to participants and their opponents. Unconventional acts might include participation in protests and demonstrations, boycotts, sit-ins and/or other mass political activities.

Support for Unconventional Participation

Despite a tradition dating back to the Boston Tea Party, unconventional participation is frowned on by most Americans, especially when it disrupts their daily lives. Yet, Americans are more likely to engage

in unconventional political participation than are citizens of other democratic states. Researchers find unconventional participation hard to study but suggest that groups resort to unconventional participation precisely because they are powerless and have been denied access to conventional channels of participation. Despite the public’s belief that unconventional participation is generally ineffective, direct political action sometimes works. Unconventional actions such as protests and marches tend to appeal to those who distrust the political system, have a strong sense of political efficacy, and manage to develop a sense of group consciousness.

Conventional Participation

The comparatively high rate of unconventional political participation presents a dilemma for American democracy, since the whole point of democratic politics is to make political participation conventional.

Conventional political behavior includes (1) actions that show support for government, such as participation in patriotic celebrations and (2) actions that try to change or influence government policies, either to secure personal benefits or to achieve broad policy objectives.

Attempts to achieve broad policy objectives include activities that require little initiative (voting) and those that require high initiative (attending meetings, persuading others to vote in a certain way, attending congressional hearings, running for office). People also participate by using the court system (for example, by joining in class-action suits). Americans are less likely to vote than citizens in other democracies, but they are more likely to participate in other conventional ways.

Participation through Voting

In America, the right to vote was gradually extended to various disenfranchised groups (African Americans, women, eighteen-year-olds). For much of America’s history, the nation departed considerably from the democratic ideal; yet in comparison with other countries, the United States has a good record of providing equal rights in voting.

In addition to selecting candidates for office, citizens of some states can vote on issues by means of referenda and initiatives, two devices not available on the national level. In 2002, voters in forty states approved 202 initiatives or referenda. The use of these alternatives more closely resembles direct democracy than our representative democracy, and they are not without drawbacks. For one thing, referendums and initiative elections are quite expensive and often increase, rather than decrease, the impact of special-interest groups. Some twenty states also provide for recalls, or special elections to remove an officeholder. The Internet has created new opportunities for citizens to interact, mobilize, and participate in these activities.

Voting for candidates is the most visible form of political participation. It serves democratic government by allowing citizens to choose the candidates they think would make the best publi officials and then to hold officials accountable for their actions in government, either by re-electing or removing them. This assumes citizens are knowledgeable about what officials do and participate actively by going to the polls. America holds more elections and has more offices subject to election than do other countries. However, American participation in elections is very low compared with that of other democracies.

Explaining Political Participation

Not only is voter turnout in the United States comparatively low, it has also declined over time. However, other forms of participation are high and are on the increase.

Conventional participation is often related to socioeconomic status. The higher a person’s education, income, or occupational status, the more likely he or she is to vote or use other conventional means to influence government. On the other hand, unconventional participation is less clearly related to socioeconomic status. Over the years, race, sex, and marital status have been related to conventional participation in the United States. But the single most influential factor affecting conventional participation is education.

Arguments currently advanced to explain the decline in voter turnout point to the influx of new, young voters enfranchised under the Twenty-Sixth Amendment. Young voters are less likely to vote. Other reasons offered include the growing belief that the government is unresponsive to citizens and the decline in people’s identification with a political party. In addition, American political parties are not as closely linked to specific groups, as are parties in other democracies; such links between parties and groups often help to mobilize voters.

Another possible explanation for the low U.S. turnout is that it is more difficult to vote here than in other countries. In the United States, citizens are required to register in advance, which leaves the initiative up to the individual citizen. Registration requirements work to reduce the number of people actually eligible to vote on election day. The “motor voter” law makes it easier to register and is expected to increase participation. A final explanation for low turnout is that although the act of voting is relatively simple, learning about candidates takes a great deal of initiative, and many eligible voters may feel inadequate to the task.

Participation and Freedom, Equality, and Order

Whereas the relationships between participation and freedom and between participation and equality are clear, the relationship between participation and order is more complicated. Groups that resort to unconventional participation may threaten the social order and even the government itself. The passage of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which lowered the voting age to eighteen, is an example of a government effort to try to channel unconventional participation (strikes and protests) into conventional

participation (voting) and thereby maintain order.

Participation and Models of Democracy

In addition to their role in selecting officeholders, elections also serve to (1) socialize political activity, (2) institutionalize access to political power, and (3) bolster the state’s power and authority.

Majoritarian participation focuses on elections and emphasizes equality and order. The decentralized

Essential facts and information for assignments and quiz

Participation is our third SLO in this course. Participation is the lubricant that oils the machinery of a viable democracy. This lecture will trace the development of Democracy and the Ability to Participate in our government.

1. Our class definition of Participation-Taking action to change or keep policies the same in public policy areas, in election outcomes, and to produce constitutional changes in our form of government.

2. Governmental change occurs when we pass new laws, elected public officials, and propose constitutional changes. Changes occur when people are active in making demands on government. Pressure to change can come from conventional and unconventional activities.

3. Conventional involvement means using socially acceptable methods and activities to produce change. Socially acceptable activities are recognized as prudent and responsible ways to influence government. The public considers these activities as admirable, something all people should engage in. Examples of these are voting, writing a governmental official, studying policy areas and communicating your findings, holding and attending meetings, joining an interest group, and petitioning local officials to consider policy changes. Their are countless other actions that can be undertaken in pursuit of relevant goals. When you do your Personal Knowledge Reports remember to report on all of your communications.

4. Unconventional participation is somewhat different. You might be frustrated that the government is not doing enough in addressing a problem so you insist that the government take a different course of action. So you protest, march, give a protest speech, or even to organize a sit-in to block access to a building or even organize a boycott. These forms of protest are called direct action or civil disobedience demonstrations. The textbook indicates that all social and meaningful political change occurred in America because people took direct action in the face of government resistance to change. The author makes the case that in a healthy democracy change should come through conventional channels. This wasn’t the case in American politics. The government did not respond in a timely manner to address civil rights demands, voting rights, and woman’s rights. social movements were undertaken to force government to change when they were not inclined to do so.

5. Social Movements-a social movement is a long term organized effort to change policies. Social Movements through constant and organized efforts change public perceptions of reality. In sociology this is know as symbolic interaction, when people communicate on a large scale their grievances. Take as an example the Woman’s Rights Movement, women first began organizing for rights in 1869 at Seneca Falls, New York. This movement advocated that voting rights should be extended to woman because voting rights were granted to black males and not to black woman or white woman. The social movement existed from 1869 through 1920, some 50 years of struggle to attain the right to vote. This is a perfect example of a long term struggle using unconventional means to secure fundamental rights. see other protests and movements discussed

protests and social movements

Social Movements are positive because their members think that social change is possible through organizational efforts, Those that participate in social movements show high initiative and participate for longer periods of time. This sustained involvement produces not only reforms but improves democracy. Successful social movements have a certain formula for success. They have a leadership structure that is clearly recognized through leaders that are charismatic that personify the movement, they have clearly defined, realistic goals that are morally sound, they have a dedicated following that participates in a sustained way. These movements also communicate with other similar groups in order to network and increase communications. They plan to capture as much publicity as they can so that the movement is known throughout the country .

6. Voting Rights-America started out as a Republic, a representative government system, not a democracy. Most people including the founders thought that democracy would be a dangerous practice. They believed that the people couldn’t use good judgement or couldn’t see beyond their selfish ways. So the system restricted the right to vote. The history of voting changed gradually over many years. During the inception of the country only white male property holders could vote. The states could determine who could vote and most states required these qualifications. Over time the states broadened the franchise to white males without property holdings. Then in 1870 the vote was extended to black males under the 15th amendment. This is the first time that the federal government passed an amendment controlling voters rights. Then in 1920 the federal government under the constitution granted woman the right to vote. So you might be thinking that everyone could vote. That was not the case, in the South many government officials were opposed to granting rights to black citizens. They conducted an intimidation campaign to harass black voters through literacy tests, denial of registration measures, and other restrictions. The denial to vote lasted until 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

7. Voting Rights Act of 1965- This is the first federal law that declared that the states could not suppress voting rights for minorities. The 15th amendment gave congress the power to regulate voting rights when discrimination has occurred. The act allowed the federal government the right to go into southern states and register minority voters. This takeover of state election operations was broad sweeping . We can now say that we have a democratic system where voting rights are enforced. We still have voter suppression but the supreme court has stated that the federal government can no longer question the legality of state election laws that might produce voter discrimination.

8. The progressive movement-In the 1920’s American democracy was in great decline. The powerful businesses controlled the state legislative bodies throughout the US. The progressives wanted the people to have more power so they pressured state legislatures in the western states to introduce the initiative process. This allowed the people to introduce bills on behalf of the people through the petition process. The public could sign petitions to have laws adopted by the people. If a sufficient number of people signed the petition , the proposed law would be put on the ballot to be voted on during the next election. California and 22 other states have this initiative right.

9. Voting Rates in America- The Majoritarian model described in Chapter 1 states that democracy or the model will not work unless people vote in high numbers. In America about 60% of the electorate votes in presidential elections, this is a little low but this isn’t the problem. In the 2020 presidential election a much higher percentage of the electorate voted. The problem is that the voting rates in congressional elections are in the 30% range and in local elections it is even lower. Voter turnout is higher for the highly educated, upper income, Republicans over Democrats, and whites over minority categories. Young people have a tendency not to vote. This presents a problem that is called the socio-economic model and its consequences. If people don’t vote then the majority is absent from the process and democracy will be in a state of decline. This is the problem we face today in American.

10 Voter suppression is another problem we will examine in the lecture today.     First examine this source for information  voter suppression

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                11, for an examination of voting rates over time see this link:   http://www.electproject.org/home/voter-turnout/voter-turnout-data

 go to this link for specific data on voting rates. I will ask you a question about these statistics, notice that the 2020 statistics are incomplete.

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answer these questions using the text

1. What is a social movement? Have they been necessary throughout our history?

2. What is conventional participation? How are you using conventional participation in your communications about your personal knowledge reports?

3. Go to the web-cite on voter suppression. Name 4 tactics used to produce suppression.

4. Explain why we didn’t start out as a democracy? In other words why couldn’t everyone vote until 1965? Who could originally vote in America right after our country was founded?

5. Explain the contents of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Why was the act considered legal by the courts? What did it allow the national government to do in the South with voting operations?

6. What groups in our society vote at high levels? What groups vote at low levels? Do a short demographic analysis.

7. Can you name and explain 2 major social movements that have been successful? What tangible successes were produced

8. Are voting rates improving in America in presidential races? What is the average percentage of the electorate that has voted in Presidential elections over the past 12 years?

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discussion

Democracy is lubricated through the oil of participation. You are asked to report on your level of participation in completing your personal knowledge reports. Name some things you have done to inform others about your concern and who have you contacted to get information from others?

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answer these questions using the text

1. What is a social movement?

2. What is conventional participation? How are you using conventional participation in your communications about your personal knowledge reports?

3. Examine presidential voting rates over the last 12 years using the web-cite at the end of the assignment. What is the average voting rate according to the chart?

4. Explain why we didn’t start out as a democracy? In other words why couldn’t everyone vote until 1965? What did the electorate look like at the beginning of our nation after the constitution was adopted, who could vote?

5. Explain the contents of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Why was the act considered legal by the courts? What did it allow the national government to do in the South with voting operations?

6. What groups in our society vote at high levels? What groups vote at low levels? Do a quick demographic analyses.

7. Go to the link at the bottom of the assignment and give 3 examples of voter suppression

8. What is unconventional participation?

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