Participating in Politics

by Dan Nimmo and Tom Ungs

In a pluralist community like America there are numerous conflicts over what society's goals should be and the best ways to reach those goals. By participating in politics, people air these disagreements and thereby contribute to the representation of conflict. Do Americans believe in taking part in politics? How much participation is there? How do people participate? Who is permitted to take part and who actually does?

To take part or not?

In some respects Americans are as ambivalent about political participation as they are about liberal democratic values (see Chapter 2). On the one hand, large numbers of Americans believe that the "ordinary person" should play a part in public affairs. On the other hand, relatively few Americans do so. When asked, about eight of every ten Americans express the view that they are obligated as citizens to participate in politics even though they have many other matters that occupy their time (Milbrath and Goel, 1977, p. 49). A close inspection of such evidence suggests that this feeling of obligation extends more to passive than to active political participation. Active participation includes taking part in political parties, trying to influence government, and joining organizations interested in public affairs. About three in ten Americans feel an obligation to give up time from other pursuits to do these things. Passive participation -such as keeping politically informed and voting-requires less sacrifice. From 40 to 60 percent of Americans say they feel obligated in these passive ways.

Most Americans are interested in politics. For instance, surveys show that approximately nine of every ten respondents agree with such statements as "I like to hear what's going on in politics," "It makes a lot of difference to me who wins a presidential election," and "It makes a lot of difference to me who represents me in Congress." Less than a majority say they "find most campaigns silly and ridiculous." These expressions of interest and concern are conducive to widespread participation (Lehnen, 1976, p. 181).

Finally, there is at least one other indication of a high potential among Americans for popular participation in politics. Americans have a clear sense of the kinds of things they might do to influence government should they want to do so. Table 4.1 reports the percentages of people who would choose various courses of action to "change things they didn't like about government" (Harris, 1974, p. 21).

How much popular participation?

The ambivalent aspect of popular participation in American politics is that the general feeling of an obligation to take part, the widespread sense of involvement, and the enormous potential for a popular response to government are not always matched by actual political activity. Table 4.2 depicts a profile of American political participation in the 1960s and 1970s. It lists the estimated percentages of Americans who take part in various active and passive types of politics. Two clear patterns of participation emerge from this profile: (1) Relatively few Americans actively participate in politics on a regular, sustained basis; (2) the more passive the means, the greater the proportions of Americans who take part.

A more tidy summary of political participation in the United States appears in Table 4.3, which presents the relative proportions of Americans engaging in six types of political activity: (1) voting regularly in presidential elections, but doing nothing more; (2) voting and campaigning by persuading others how to vote, working for parties and candidates, attending political meetings, contributing money, and joining political clubs; (3) voting without campaigning, but doing such things as joining with others to work on local problems; (4) sometimes voting and maybe contacting local or national leaders for personal reasons, say about a tax problem, but doing little else; (5) voting, campaigning, and cooperating with others to solve local and national problems;


Potential avenues of political participation

Means of participation people would choose to Percentage

"change things they didn't like about government" selecting

Vote against a public official 94

Talk to friends and neighbors 91

Write congressional representative 84

Write U.S. Senator 81

Work through a group they belong to 79

Contact local law enforcement officials 76

Contact someone in local politics 75

Join a local citizens group 72

Join a political party and work to make changes 66

Write a letter to the newspaper 65

Send money to support a local citizens group to demand action 62

Talk to a newspaper reporter or editor 61

Vote against a public official's party at the next election 55

Take part in a demonstration 27

Take aggressive action even if someone gets hurt 27

Do nothing 17

Source: Compiled from data reported in Harris, L, Confidence and Concern: Citizens View American Government, Cleveland, Ohio: Regal Books/King's Court Communications, 1974, pp. 21-22.


and (6) taking no part whatsoever (Verba and Nie, 1972). The picture that emerges divides citizens into roughly equal percentages of active and passive participants: About 40 percent are inactive or limit their participation to voting (passive); a slightly higher percentage vote, campaign, take part in community activity, or are completely active.

In sum, a widespread sense of civic obligation, involvement, and potential for popular response results in relatively high passive participation in conflict representation, but less than one-half of our citizens actively present demands and grievances to politicians. How then do Americans most often seek to make policymakers hear their arguments? We will discuss six of the principal avenues for representing conflict in American life. In this chapter, we will provide a general description of each avenue. In the chapters that follow we will then examine each pattern of conflict representation in detail.


An easy way to represent disagreement in politics is to voice conflicting opinions on issues and personalities. This Americans are quick to do: "Americans are an articulate people and they express opinions on virtually every


A profile of American political participation

Estimated percentage

Modes of political participation of Americans participating

Passive Participation

Expressing political opinions:

Normally express opinions when asked 70-90

Normally express informed opinions when asked 30-50

Possess basic "textbook" information about politics 15-40

"Very" interested in politics rather than "slightly," "somewhat,"

or "not at all" interested 20-25

Making voting choices:

Register to vote in presidential election years 70-80

Identify as Republicans or Democrats (1970s) 65-70

Give "quite a lot" of thought to presidential election rather

than "some," "little," or "none" 50-60

Registered and voted in recent presidential elections, 1960-1976 60-70

Registered and voted in recent congressional elections, 1960-1974 45-60

Report ever having voted in a school bond election 55-60

Register and vote consistently in all elections-federal, state, and local 60-65

Limit participation to voting 20-25

Vote occasionally or not at all 20-25

Active Participation

Leading political opinions:

Attempt to influence political views of others through informal discussions 25-35

Participated in school board discussion/debate 25-30

Attempt to influence political views of others by taking part

in political campaigns 3-5

Campaigned or worked actively for a candidate for President 10-15

Campaigned or worked actively for a candidate for Congress 10-15

Actively defended the action of a public official in private discussion 50-55

Picketed or took part in a street demonstration 10-15

Taking part in political parties:

Attend political meetings, rallies, dinners, etc. 15-20

Contribute financially to campaigns, parties, and/or candidates 30-33

Worked for a political party in a election 20-25

Members of a political party or organization 5-10

Regularly active as party members 2-3

Joining organized communal activity:

Belong to an organization of any kind 60-65

Belong to more than one organization 30-40

Belong to an organization in which political discussion occurs 30-40

Belong to an organization active in community affairs 40-45

Helped form a local group to work on a community problem 10-15

Contacted public officials on a social problem 10-15

Signed a petition at least once 65-70

Active on personal behalf:

Contacted an official about a personal problem 5-10

Visited or talked in person with own congressperson 20-25

Visited a state legislator in the state capitol

Sources: Harris, L., Confidence and Concern: Citizens View American Government, Cleveland, Ohio: Regal Books/King's Court Communications, 1974; Verba, S., and Nie, N. H., Participation in America, New York: Harper & Row, 1972; Nie, N. H., and Verba, S., "Political Participation," in F. 1. Greenstein and N. W. Polsby (Eds.), Handbook of Political Science, Vol. 4, Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1975, pp. 1-74.



Breakdown of citizen participation by type of political activity

Percentage of citizens

Mode of participation engaging in activity

Voting specialists (vote only) 21

Campaigners (vote and campaign) 15

Communalists (vote and take part in community-

related projects) 20

Parochials (may vote, contact government for

personal reasons) 4

Complete activists (vote, campaign, engage in

community-related activity) 11

Inactives (no political participation) 22

Unclassified 7

Total 100

Source: Compiled from data reported in Verba, S., and Nie, N. H., Participation in America, New York: Harper & Row, 1972, pp. 73-81.


conceivable issue" (Hyman and Sheatsley, 1954, pp. 36-37). A casual reading of the numerous opinion polls published annually in American newspapers and newsmagazines suggests that people readily express opinions on a wide variety of matters. Typically the proportion expressing "no opinion" to a pollster is less than two in ten.

But the low percentage of persons responding "no opinion" is misleading. If given the option, many might more appropriately say "don't care" or "don't know" (Bogart, 1972). Granted that three-fourths of citizens surveyed apparently care enough about public affairs to watch news broadcasts on television every day or read a daily newspaper, far fewer take the trouble to explore issues in greater depth. In fact, eight in ten Americans report that they never read newsmagazines devoted mainly to politics and public affairs (Verba and Nie, 1972, pp. 368-369).

Just as a widespread willingness to express political opinions may mask general indifference to politics, so also does such willingness conceal a striking ignorance of public affairs) The proportion of "chronic know nothings" declined from about 35 percent in the 1930s to 15-20 percent in the late 1960s, yet "data from the various polling organizations clearly show that the majority of Americans have paid relatively little or no attention to most international and national issues, and only relatively small minorities have possessed even rudimentary information about those issues. . . . Accurately informed persons are few-about 5 percent of the population" (Hero, 1968, p. 24).

That voiced opinions are not necessarily informed opinions is easily illustrated. On August 10, 1977, the United States and Panama announced agreements that would give the Republic of Panama control of the Panama Canal Zone and waterway in the year 2000 but allow the U.S. to retain the right to defend the canal against third-nation attacks. Announcement of the treaties received wide news and editorial coverage; the ensuing debate over the treaties was also widely publicized; and the formal signing of the treaties on September 7 (which attracted heads of state to Washington, D.C. from most nations in this hemisphere) was carefully orchestrated as a media event. To learn what Americans thought of the treaties, pollsters George Gallup and Louis Harris conducted separate nationwide surveys in mid-September and released their results on October 3 and October 10 respectively. Americans were quick to respond when asked about the treaties: Fewer than one-fourth said they had "no opinion" or were "not sure" about the treaties. Both polls reported majorities opposed to the treaties. The Gallup Poll, however, revealed that although Americans did not hesitate to express their views, many of them were not informed at all and only a very few were much informed. Thus, 26 percent of Gallup's sample said they had not even heard or read about the debate over the treaties. That there was widespread ignorance about the treaties became more apparent when Gallup asked three questions to measure the extent of popular knowledge: What year would the canal be turned over to Panama? (2000.) Did the U.S. have the right to defend the canal against third-nation attacks? (Yes.) Can current large U.S. aircraft carriers and supertankers get through the canal or are they too big? (They are not able to use the canal.) In response to the first question, 74 percent gave incorrect or "don't know" answers; to the second, 57 percent were unable to come up with the right answer; and to the third, 86 percent. Only 1 person in 14 was able to answer all three questions correctly! This in spite of wide media dissemination of information on all three matters. The "better informed" minority (the 1 in 14) favored the treaties by a 5-4 margin; those who had at least heard of the controversy opposed the treaties by a 48 to 40 percent plurality; and the unaware opposed the treaties by 39 to 23 percent. Thus the opinions of the better informed, the somewhat informed, and the uninformed differed markedly.

The conflict over the Panama Canal treaties was unusual, for relatively few issues receive such extensive media coverage over such a short period. Yet there was a relative lack of public knowledge about the controversy. On less publicized issues, expressed political opinions are probably even less informed. Policymakers are always hard pressed to draw the line between opinions that reflect active involvement and those that are simply passive, uninformed responses to political events. Nor is widespread political ignorance limited to transient political matters. It is also apparent in the public's inaccurate and insufficient information about political institutions and officeholders. Twenty percent of Americans surveyed express the view that Congress consists of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the U.S. Supreme Court; another 6 percent say it is only the House, another 4 percent only the Senate, and another 8 percent have no idea about the makeup of Congress. Moreover, 40 percent of Americans surveyed do not know the name of at least one U.S. Senator from their state; 60 percent do not know the names of both senators; and only about 50 percent can correctly name the congressman from their district. But Americans do not delude themselves about their political knowledge. Asked to rate themselves on "being up-to-date about what is going on in the federal government in Washington," no more than 40 percent said they felt current with developments in the nation's capitol (Harris, 1974).

How meaningful is the representation of conflict through the expression of opinions in the face of such widespread ignorance. From the standpoint of a policymaker, it depends upon who expresses the opinions. All opinions can matter, but as we shall see in Chapter 5, the opinions of active participants rather than passive ones count most in conflict representation.


A person need not actively engage in politics to express an opinion. To express an informed opinion, however, the involvement must be greater. And to influence the opinions of others, one must have a genuine enthusiasm for public affairs. Political leaders influence opinions: They represent conflict not only by getting people to take part in politics but also by getting them to take sides.

People do many things to influence the political opinions of others. One is to engage in political talk-to debate, discuss, appeal, cajole, and persuade; to listen, deliberate, think, and respond. We saw in Table 4.2 that 25-33 percent of Americans regularly engages in such political talk. The proportion is about the same regardless of whether the nation is in the throes of a major election campaign or people are simply going through their daily routines between elections. Surveys of the election-year activities of citizens during presidential campaigns since 1952 reveal that about three in every ten report they "talk to any people and try to show them why they should vote for one of the parties or candidates" (Dreyer and Rosenbaum, 1974). Surveys in years without presidential elections reveal that about one-third of respondents "usually discuss politics and national affairs with others" at least once a week (Verba and Nie, 1972, p. 368).

There are other ways besides political discussion to influence opinions. Letters, telegrams, telephone calls, and personal contacts with officials are a few options. But again, only a minority rather than a majority of Americans engage in these political activities. Perhaps no more than one-fourth of our citizens exercise their First Amendment prerogative to "petition the government," and fewer still write letters to either public officials or to their local newspapers. In sum, most Americans simply do not have the inclination, the time, or the knowledge to act as political leaders. In a survey conducted for the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations, pollster Louis Harris asked a nationwide sample of Americans whether or not they had ever participated in 14 different activities that could influence the opinions of others. The activities included writing letters to officials, signing petitions, visiting officials, campaigning, picketing, and demonstrating. More than half of the public sampled had participated in only two such activities, namely, engaging in political discussion and signing a petition "at least once in their lives" (Harris, 1974, p. 20). Thus, most Americans are passive when it comes to influencing and leading public opinion. Some are simply apathetic; this is true of at least the 25 percent who say they have "no interest" when asked about their concern with politics and national affairs (Verba and Nie, 1972). Others, perhaps another 60 percent, are only casually interested spectators: "They watch, they cheer, they vote, but they do not battle" (Milbrath, 1965, p. 21; Milbrath and Goel, 1977)

By the most generous estimate, active leaders are the minority in American politics. Later we shall examine whom they are, what they do, and how people respond to them in conflict representation.


Liberal democratic theory, as we saw in Chapter 2, accords a high priority to voting as a way for people to influence policymakers. By voting, citizens choose between candidates competing for the authority to make public policy; by voting on constitutional amendments at the state level, referenda on taxes, Pond proposals, and the like, citizens participate directly in policy making. Because Americans declare their preferences for and against officials and policies through elections the distribution of their votes is a representation of their conflicts on selected political matters.

Regardless of its importance in liberal democratic theory, however, voting is a relatively passive means of conflict representation in American politics. Voters reach three decisions: (1) whether to qualify to vote or not, (2) whether to vote or not, and, (3) if they decide to vote, whom or what to support or oppose. To the extent that these decisions reflect efforts to seek information and actively engage in politics, they are a form of active participation. But a high percentage of Americans are too reluctant or careless about using the vote to warrant labeling it active political involvement.

Figure 4.1 provides an overview of voting turnout in U.S. presidential and congressional elections between 1868 and 1976. Between 1870 and 1920 there was a general decline in the turnout of eligible voters. The next four decades witnessed an increase in voting rates, with a peak around 1960. Since 1960 there has again been a decline in the turnout of eligible voters. Turnout in congressional elections is consistently lower in years that do not coincide with


presidential elections, and even lower in "special" congressional elections to fill a vacancy created by death or resignation.

There are two general reasons for not voting: failure to meet legal qualifications for voting (principally residence requirements and registration) and disinterest. We get some sense of the relative weight of these two factors by examining statistics from presidential and congressional elections in the 1970s. In 1972, 63 percent of the noninstitutionalized population 18 years and older in the U.S. registered and voted in the presidential election for an overall turnout (of all adults of voting age) of about 55 percent. Nine percent registered but did not vote. Of these registered nonvoters about equal proportions regarded voting as inconvenient (i.e., they could not get to the polls, were out of town, would not face long lines at the polls, etc.); or claimed they were 11 not interested," disliked politics and the candidates; or gave other reasons. Of the 27 percent of unregistered nonvoters, more than half expressed no interest in or a dislike for politics. All in all, about 16-20 percent of those not voting in 1972, both registered and nonregistered, failed to do so out of a lack of political involvement (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1973). Two years later in the 1974 congressional elections, only 40 percent of eligible voters exercised their franchise. Of nonvoters, 42 percent had not registered or had not met residency requirements, 24 percent were "not interested," and 13 percent did not like any of the candidates (Gallup Opinion Index, No. 118, 1975). The pattern of low turnout rates in the 1970s continued in 1976 when only a slight majority (53 percent) of adults voted in the presidential election.

For a sizable proportion of Americans, then, a simple lack of interest in politics contributes significantly to nonvoting, dampening the enthusiasm either for qualifying or for going to the polls if qualified. This indifference may be a symptom of a more deep-seated malady in the political system, namely, a growing disillusion with politics and politicians. Prior to the 1976 presidential election a survey of "nonvoters"-defined as people neither registered nor likely to register to vote and having no better than a 50-50 chance of voting in 1976-found that the majority of these people were turned off by contemporary politics. Asked to express their own reasons for not voting, a majority declared "Candidates say one thing and do another," "It doesn't make any difference who is elected because things never seem to work right," and "All candidates seem pretty much the same" (Congressional Quarterly's Guide to Congress, 1976).

We will explore the legal and personal reasons for passive participation at greater length later in this chapter. For now, it is fair to say that only an active minority of Americans vote regularly in all federal, state, and local elections. About 30 to 40 percent vote so rarely that they can be labeled at best as passive members of the electorate; perhaps another 10 to 15 percent are so uninterested in politics as to be classified as chronic nonvoters.


American political parties compete for the authority to govern. Citizens take part in that conflict by affiliating themselves with political parties, joining in the selection of a party's candidates, and working to get their party into office. As with expressing opinions, trying to influence others, or voting, party efforts may be passive or active. People whose efforts are passive simply have emotional loyalty or attachment to a party, a party identification. Figure 4.2 portrays the distribution of party loyalties between Democrats, Republicans, and independents as measured by answers to standardized survey questions since 1937. In the 1970s attachment to a party has been a means of passive political participation for about two-thirds of Americans. In this decade, however, the proportion of Americans declaring themselves independent of party affiliation has risen by six percentage points. As we shall see in Chapter 7, both party identification and the growing disinclination to be a party stalwart have influenced voting in the 1970s.

A slightly more active way to participate in party affairs is to join in when parties select their nominees for public office. This generally means voting in party primaries, although it may also include taking part in nominating caucuses or conventions. By and large, turnouts in party primaries have been


considerably smaller than advocates of opening the nominating process to mass participation had hoped. Although the number of presidential nominating primaries has increased, from 17 in 1968 to 23 in 1972 to 30 in 1976, this increase has not been matched by a comparable increase in the proportions of people taking part in them. The national turnout rate of 43.8 percent of registered voters in 1976 was scarcely a dramatic increase over that of 42.6 percent in 1972. Table 4.4 compares the turnout rates in selected presidential primaries for those two elections. Only four of the states listed experienced two turnouts of more than 50 percent, and turnout rates in a majority of the states declined from 1972 to 1976.

Participation in the nomination process through mass delegate selection caucuses is also low. In 1976, for example, Democrats held caucuses in 22 states and four territories to choose delegates to their presidential nominating convention. The best turnout rate in a caucus state (19 percent in Connecticut) was only slightly better than the worst turnout rate in a primary state (10 percent in New Jersey).

Party activities requiring even greater commitment include working in political campaigns on behalf of candidates. But as with other modes of political participation, the more demanding the effort, the smaller the proportion of Americans taking part (see Table 4.5).

The most active form of party participation is taking a stand in the partisan


Turnout in presidential primaries, 1972 and 1976

Percentage of registered

citizens voting

Primary 1972 1976

New Hampshire 53.3 46.1

Massachusetts 28.7 32.2

Florida 57.8 56.5

Illinois 22.6 36.2

North Carolina 52.3 35.3

Pennsylvania 30.2 43.4

District of Columbia 14.6 11.6

Indiana 43.1 42.8

Nebraska 56.5 52.1

West Virginia 50.3 47.8

Maryland 44.0 44.8

Michigan 43.7 38.7

Oregon 62.3 58.9

Tennessee 34.0 30.2

Rhode Island 9.2 14.5

South Dakota 25.5 38.9

California 68.5 70.1

New Jersey 9.4 10.1

Ohio 46.7 44.5

Source: Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, July 10, 1976, p. 1808.


Relative participation in various party activities (in percentages of survey respondents)

Activities 1952 1956 1960 1964 1968 1972

Do you belong to any political club or

organization? 2 3 3 4 3 -*

Did you give any money to buy tickets or do

anything to help the campaign for one of

the parties or candidates? 4 10 12 11 9 10

Did you go to any political meetings,

rallies, dinners, or things like that? 7 10 8 9 9 9

Did you do other work for one of the

parties or candidates? 3 3 6 5 6 5

*Question not asked in 1972 survey.

Source: Survey Research Center and Interuniversity Consortium for Political Research. The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1972.

battle by working within a party organization. Active partisans include precinct leaders, party chairpersons, secretaries, fundraisers, professional organizers, campaign managers, convention delegates, and others who occupy a niche in the party hierarchy. Again, relatively few Americans are active in party politics, perhaps less than one percent of the adult population (Bone, 1952).

Although few citizens engage in party activities, those who do generally take a more active part in politics in other respects as well. For instance, more partisans than nonpartisans are regular voters. Since persons in lower social and economic circumstances are more likely than upper-status citizens to have party loyalties (Verba and Nie, 1972, p. 223), the result is to decrease the disparity between upper and lower socioeconomic classes in voting (see pp. 110-113). But when it comes to more active participation, such as campaigning, it is the upper-status partisans who are the most likely to take part. The political advantage that lower-status citizens derive from the fact that a greater proportion of their number are party loyalists is virtually cancelled out by the greater campaign participation of the relatively fewer upper-status partisans. The competition between political parties and the relative political advantages gained by members of various social classes from their partisan participation in nominations, campaigns, policies, and programs combine to make parties significant arenas of conflict representation.


One way to get policymakers to heed demands and grievances is to organize and bring pressure on officials. Policymakers are sensitive to the conflicting pressures of organized interests. Strangely, however, citizens do not generally think of joining voluntary organizations as the principal means of influencing government. Recall the evidence in Table 4. 1: More Americans were likely to try to "change things they didn't like about government" by individual means (voting, direct contact with an official, etc.) than by joining a citizens group. Moreover, about two-thirds of Americans belong to organizations, but only a third are members of groups in which political discussion takes place, and only about one in ten Americans has ever helped to form a local group (Table 4.2). Generally, then, Americans are "joiners," but only a minority join distinctly political groups and an even smaller number avidly take part in organization activities. The more organizations the active person belongs to, the greater the rate of political participation of all varieties (voting, campaigning, communal activity, etc.) of that citizen: "The individual who is a passive member in one or more organizations is no more likely to be active in politics than the individual who belongs to no such association. In contrast, the active organizational member is much more likely than the nonmember to be politically active, and this rate of political activity increases as one moves from single membership to multiple membership" (Verba and Nie, 1972, p. 186, italics in original. Thus the general rule observed in opinion expression, political leadership, voting, and party work holds as well for participation in voluntary organizations: Active not passive participation exposes the citizen to the types of experiences and opportunities that foster greater involvement in conflict representation.


Americans have traditionally used the methods of political participation described above to articulate their interests and represent their differences to policymakers. When these channels have been opened to all, they have provided useful means of representing conflict despite the fact that most Americans only use them now and then. However, the conventional methods of participation have not always worked for new interests whose demands conflict with established ways of doing things: The impoverished often have not had the education to formulate informed, persuasive opinions; migrant farm laborers have been disappointed by the failure of the more established organized labor unions to improve their lot; Blacks and Chicanos have only gradually been able to take up party activity in some regions of the nation; many younger Americans have become disenchanted with the conservative and unimaginative workings of party organizations; the elderly have been disillusioned by a government too often unresponsive to their needs for medical care, housing, and an adequate retirement income; women have been frustrated in their efforts to obtain equal rights within male-dominated institutions; and citizens concerned with preserving the environment or finding safe and bountiful sources of energy have chafed at what many regard as the federal bureaucracy's mindless commitment to the development of nuclear power plants.

Upon finding their path to influencing government blocked, newly emergent interests have sometimes sought new and dramatic ways to voice their grievances. Since World War II these have included sit-ins, lie-ins, the seizure of government and university buildings, marches on city hall and the state and national capitol, the wide use of citizen's band radios to warn truckers of state troopers enforcing the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit on interstate highways, and various forms of violence-bombings of public buildings, aircraft hijackings, kidnappings, and even murder.

In the 1960s problems such as civil rights, disaffection with the war in Vietnam, poverty, and air and water pollution were placed on the agenda for national discussion and official action partly through mass protests that were widely publicized in the news media. In some cases, protest tactics have advanced the cause of those resorting to them. The civil rights movement in the early 1960s captured nationwide attention, promoted an end to discriminatory segregation, and prompted passage of a series of civil rights and voting acts (see Figure 4.3). Political observers are less certain about the success of the

Figure 4.3 did not scan. The Post-World War 11 Evolution of Voting Rights.

antiwar movement of the late 1960s. Although mass demonstrations, refusals to be drafted, and other tactics publicized a major division of opinion over the Vietnam War, American involvement continued for more than eight years, long after the peak of mass protest.

Protest movements wax or wane as conditions dictate: The strikes and violence of an earlier era and the protests that flared in the 1960s have been replaced by the relative calm of the 1970s. Whether successful or not, protest tactics and direct action will continue to be what they have always been, a vital means of representing conflict in a highly diverse, pluralist society whose various elements compete for limited benefits and resources. A traditional mode of political participation that extends back at least to the Boston Tea Party of 1773 is not likely to vanish from the political scene in the near future (Manheim, 1976).

Why so little popular participation?

Many Americans participate in politics, at least passively. The total vote in a presidential election exceeds the populations of many nations of the world; is that not mass participation' It is, and it is important. But equally important is this question: Why do so many Americans not take part in conflict representation, even in a passive, way? We think there are reasons.

-Many lack the opportunity to take-part.

     -Large numbers do not have the resources to participate

-Many Americans have no desire for politics.



We have said that one of the major characteristics of any national community is its political and constitutional aspect. By political we mean the activities of people seeking settlement of disputes; by constitutional we mean the rules that govern the process of conflict regulation, Constitutional rules govern who can take part in representing conflicts and how.

Civil liberties: protections of the opportunity to participate

The opportunities to express and lead opinion (freedom of expression), become, informed, organize, vote, and press demand upon government- in sum, to participate in the various ways we have already described - are protected and extended through the Constitution. A key provision pertaining to freedom of expression is the First Amendment, the ever-controversial statement that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging freedom of speech or of the press." Neither freedom of speech nor freedom of the press is total. The amendment merely enjoins Congress from abridging either through restrictive legislation. The rest is left to the Supreme Court. The Court must answer such questions as "Should government be permitted to prohibit spoken or written words that call for the overthrow of government, even though the words themselves constitute no immediate steps to implement that goal?"

The clear-and-present-danger test. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, speaking for a unanimous court in Schenck v. United States (1919), laid down the "clear-and-present-danger" test as a judicial formula for dealing with First Amendment cases involving freedom of speech and press. He wrote: "The question in every case is whether the words are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree." In Abrams V. United States (also decided in 1919), Holmes gave a more precise definition of "present danger" in a dissenting opinion: A "present danger" is one that "imminently threatens interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law." Thus, danger would have to be imminent before the government could prevent people from pressing their interests through freely expressed opinions. The formula also recognizes limits to the freedom to express and lead opinions. Although the First Amendment refers specifically to Congress, the Court held in New York (1925) that the "liberty" against encroachment of the states, protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, includes the freedoms of the First Amendment.

Under the clear-and-present-danger formula, any American could freely express and lead opinions as long as his or her acts did not form an imminent threat to society; however, until the mid-1930s advocates of the formula did not again command a majority on the Supreme Court. When the Court in 1931 struck down a Minnesota statute (Near v. Minnesota) that had been used to bar further publication of a newspaper that printed "malicious, scandalous, and defamatory" attacks, it did not rely on the clear-and-present-danger test. Instead the Court ruled that freedom of the press prohibits prior censorship of publications.

In 1938, Justice Harlan F. Stone breathed new life into the clear-and-present danger test. Speaking in a footnote to United States v. Carolene Products Co., he argued that First Amendment freedoms should be accorded a special place, a "preferred position," in the Constitution. The Court affirmed the existence of the doctrine in Thomas v. Collins in 1945. The preferred-position doctrine holds that because freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and religion are crucial to democratic government, government restrictions cannot be presumed constitutional: The Court must decide if a clear and present danger exists. This view found its way back into majority opinions of the Court during the early 1940s, but with the end of World War 11 new problems arose. Justice Felix Frankfurter repeatedly attacked both the clear-and-present-danger test and the preferred-position doctrine and called for the court to assume a more restrained position in dealing with First Amendment cases. In deciding cases about free expression, the justices now had to confront two difficult legal issues: the "hostile audience" question and the "cold war" problem of dealing with groups that, according to Congress and the state legislatures, threatened national security.

The hostile audience issue was dramatically raised in Feiner v. New York (1951). During a street-corner speech, Feiner used derogatory language about the President of the United States, other public officials, and the American Legion. He was arrested when members of the crowd became unruly and threatened him. Feiner's conviction for disorderly conduct was sustained on the grounds that "a clear danger of disorder" existed. He could deliver the speech only if there was no danger of inciting a riot. It was the first time the Supreme Court had used the clear-and-present-danger test to uphold an action by government, and the Court was severely criticized. Some felt strongly that those who threatened the speaker should have been punished not the speaker, because he had not advocated violence.

In cold war cases arising out of government efforts to regulate subversive activity, the Court moved toward a new position on the First Amendment. In Dennis v. United States (1951) the Court upheld the conviction of eleven leaders of the Communist Party who were charged with teaching and advocating the overthrow of the government. The defendants also were charged with conspiring to organize the United States Communist Party for the purpose of overthrowing the government by force and violence. None of the government's charges included overt activity with the immediate intention of revolution, but at the time, the United States was actively engaged in the Korean War; Americans were being killed by Soviet-manufactured bullets in the hands of Chinese soldiers, and the popular mood was ugly. In rejecting the contention that immediate and clear danger must be established to justify any abridgement of the rights of free expression, Chief justice Fred M, Vinson laid down a new test: "Whether the gravity of the 'evil,' discounted by its improbability, justifies such invasion of free speech as necessary to avoid the danger."

The language did not sit well with the activist element on the Court. The grave-and-probable-danger test was qualified in Yates v. United States (1957) when the Warren Court distinguished between the instruction of abstract doctrine and actual incitement to dangerous action. Nevertheless the clear and-present-danger test has not been restored to its former eminence, although in recent years the court has again moved toward it slightly. In the 1971 "Pentagon Papers" case, decided in favor of the New York Times, justices Byron White and Potter Stewart in a concurring opinion for a six-to-three majority (there was no signed opinion for the whole Court) used language reminiscent of the test. They wrote that they "do not say that in no circumstances would the First Amendment permit an injunction against publishing information about government plans or operations. . . . But . . . the United States has not satisfied the very heavy burden which it must meet to warrant an injunction against publication in these cases."

Restraining free speech and press: Libel, obscenity, and news. How free is a parson to express and lead opinions if his actions constitute libel against others or are obscene. These issues have taken up a good deal of the Supreme Court's time since 1960. The most significant libel ruling came in 1964. Sullivan v. The New York Times involved libel suits filed against the Times because of a paid advertisement criticizing the treatment of Blacks in Alabama. The police commissioner of Montgomery, Alabama pointed out that the advertisement contained factual errors and argued that the criticisms of the police were defamatory. He and another commissioner filed separate libel suits against the Times and were awarded one million dollars by an Alabama court. But the Supreme Court ruled that "erroneous statements honestly made" were not punishable as libel. Proof of "actual malice" was required to recover, damages; that is, proof that the facts as printed were known to be false or that there was "reckless disregard" of whether the material was false or not. The Sullivan rule has been extended to cover "public figures" as well as newspapers so that "actual malice" would have to be proved against a politician before he could be found guilty of libeling an opponent.

Restrictions on free expression will also result if spoken, printed, or other material can be banned as obscene. The Supreme Court has had considerable difficulty in defining what is protected by the First Amendment and what is not. In Roth v. United States (1957), the Court declared obscenity as "utterly without redeeming social importance" and not in the area of expression protected by the First Amendment. In the Roth decision, the Court defined obscene material as follows: "To the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest. In Manual Enterprises v. Day (1962), the Court added that the material must be "patently offensive" and "self-demonstrating" in its indecency. Then in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964), the Court exempted from its definition material "dealing with sex in a manner that advocates ideas. in a literary, artistic, scientific, or other form with social importance.

The most important recent decision in this area is Miller v. California (1973). Miller was one of seven decisions handed down the same day modifying the Roth approach. The Miller ruling designates the extent of state authority in regulating obscenity; it also illustrates by its five-to-four decision how divided the Court was on the matter. Miller conducted an unsolicited mass mailing campaign advertising "adult" books (for example, Sex Orgies Illustrated) and a film. The campaign violated California's obscenity statutes. Finding that it would not be possible to set "uniform, fixed, national standards" of what appeals to the "prurient interest" or is "patently off offensive," the Court left to the states the definition of obscenity. Miller modifies Roth in two respects: (1) The Court dropped its former standard that an "obscene" work must be "utterly without redeeming social value" and substituted "which taken as a whole, do[es] not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value"; (2) the Roth guidelines of prevailing community standards a now interpreted to mean local, rather than national, community standards. In Hamburg v. United States (1974) the Court held that the movie "Carnal Knowledge" was not obscene, thus saying to localities that the Miller ruling was not intended to give "unbridled discretion" to juries.

The whole question of what is obscene and how to determine prevailing local standards remains a subject of considerable controversy. It is, as Justice John Marshall Harlan remarked, the "intractable obscenity problem" (Interstate Circuit Incorporated v. Dallas, 1968).

Restrictions on the newsgathering activities of journalists can also severely limit freedom of expression by making it difficult for the news media to inform citizens about controversial matters. In the 1970s the Court has wrestled with two aspects of this questions. In 1972 the Court ruled five to four that reporters had to respond to valid subpoenas and divulge information about the sources of their news reports in criminal cases (Branzburg v. Haves). Then, in 1976 the Court ruled that a "gag order" issued against the press preventing full coverage of the trial of a mass murderer was illegal and that "high barriers" prevented such intrusions on the freedom of the press (Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart).

Freedom of religious expression. The First Amendment also prohibits Congress from restricting the free exercise of religious expression. The Supreme Court's position is that there can be no prior censorship on religious expression just as there can be none on free speech or press. Even during World War II, the Court used the clear-and-present-danger formula to strike down compulsory flag salutes, which Jehovah's Witnesses felt violated their freedom of expression (West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 1943). The freedoms of the First Amendment, said justice Robert Jackson, "are susceptible of restriction only to prevent grave and immediate danger," a situation that he felt refusal to salute the flag did not create. The Court has also taken a stand against the establishment of mandatory religious practices that might violate freedom of religious expression. In Engel v. Vitale (1962), it ruled against the "religious activity" in public schools of reading prayers, even though students who did not wish to participate could remain mute or leave the room. Later, in Abington Township School District v. Schemp (l963) and Murray v. Curtlett (1963), the Court declared that Bible reading in public schools-even though voluntary-violated the "no establishment" clause of the First Amendment. Since McCollum v. Board of Education (1948), the Court has held it unconstitutional for public schools to provide students with "released time" whereby they would be instructed in religious doctrines during school hours in school buildings. And in 1972 the Court resolved a long-standing controversy surrounding religion and public schools by holding that compulsory attendance at school cannot be required of Amish children beyond the eighth grade (Wisconsin v. Yoder).

In the area of "free exercise" rather than "establishment" the problem has been to define what constitutes a religious belief. Conditions surrounding the Vietnam war provoked the case of United States v. Seeger (1965), in which the Court held that the statutory exemption from military service for a conscientious objector covered more than just people expressing belief in a "Supreme Being." Seeger, who objected to war on the basis of a "purely ethical creed," was given legal status as a conscientious objector.

The opportunity to join voluntary organizations. Expressing and leading opinions and joining political organizations are overlapping opportunities. In the Dennis and Yates cases, the Supreme Court dealt in part with problems raised by the freedom of association. By virtue of the Yates principle, people cannot be punished for mere membership in an organization such as the Communist Party. In Aptheker v. United States (1964) and United States v. Robel (1967), the Court extended this view, holding that Communists could not be forbidden to apply for passports or to work in defense plants.

The right of voluntary association, however, touches upon more than the Communist Party. Civil rights organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) are also protected. In 1958, Alabama demanded that the NAACP register as an out-of-state corporation and supply the names and addresses of its members in the state. The organization refused to disclose its membership. The Supreme Court agreed with the NAACP, arguing that to compel an organization to reveal its membership lists could interfere unconstitutionally with the right of individuals to join in legitimate association with those of common beliefs (NAACP v. Alabama). Similarly in Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Committee (1963), the Court upheld the refusal of a NAACP official to reveal the organization's membership list to a committee investigating possible Communist activity in the NAACP.

"It is not clear today how far government agencies can go in conducting surveillance of citizens' organizations before violating freedom of thought and association. In Socialist Workers Party v. Attorney General (1974), justice Marshall refused to uphold a lower federal court ruling that the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not violate speech and association rights of members of the Young Socialist Alliance by conducting surveillance at their convention. Since the entire Court did not hear the case, there has been no decision on the constitutional limits of surveillance.

The opportunity to protest about grievances. Public protest, as we have seen, is an American habit older than the Constitution itself. The "right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances" is guaranteed in the First Amendment. In the decades since the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which have seen the labor movement achieve great power, civil rights demonstrations, and antiwar protests, the opportunity to protest has become particularly important to individuals and groups desiring to take part in politics.

How far can a protest go if it threatens public order? In cases dealing with the labor movement, the Supreme Court responded to this question by applying the clear-and-present-danger yardstick. In Thornhill v. Alabama (1940), the Court ruled a state law forbidding peaceful picketing unconstitutional on the ground that the law violated freedom of speech: Peaceful picketing, said the Court, posed no "clear danger of substantive evils." Because big labor unions now hold a stronger hand than they held in the 1930s,passive strike violence has vanished from the American industrial scene. Nonetheless "peaceful picketing" may cease being peaceful if a "scab" attempts to cross a picket line.

In any event, picketing, marching, sitting-in, lying down in front of automobiles, and other protests involve more than speaking freely. They combine speech with action, and therefore, according to the Court, some restrictions are legitimate. For example, a government can require advance notification of demonstrations and can also require permits for them. But, if permit ordinances are too restrictive, they may be declared unconstitutional. In 1965 when Martin Luther King, Jr. led his famous march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to dramatize the demand for Black voting rights, Alabama officials denied him a march permit, but a federal judge overruled the denial.

Doubts remain about what types of restraints may be placed on the right to protest. At the 1968 Democratic national convention in Chicago, for instance, protestors were denied a parade permit, but they tried to parade anyway. Their ensuing confrontation with police illustrates how difficult it is to know how far a protest can go if it threatens public order. A legal tangle followed the violence in Chicago. Seven participants in the demonstrations were acquitted of charges that they violated the federal Anti-Riot Act, which makes it a crime to cross a state line to incite or participate in a riot. The trial of the "Chicago Seven" shed doubt on the constitutionality of such a law, but the question is still unresolved. Following the trial, members of the Chicago Seven were frequently denied a permit to speak on college campuses. Federal judges, however, issued orders restraining college officials from denying such speaking rights on grounds that the mere possibility of trouble does not constitute a threat sufficient to justify the denial.

In response to demonstrations against the Vietnam War during the 1960s, the Supreme Court distinguished between protests that are purely symbolic expressions and those that are both speech and action. In Tinker v. Des Moines Community School District (1969), the Supreme Court held that wearing a black armband to protest the war was a symbolic expression protected by the First Amendment. If, however, symbolic expression is combined with actions that challenge the constitutional authority of the government, it is not protected. In United States v. O'Brien (1968), the Court upheld a federal law making it a crime to "knowingly destroy" or "mutilate" a draft card. Congress has the constitutional power to raise and support armies; hence the symbolic expression of burning a draft card goes too far.

The distinctions drawn in Tinker and O'Brien did not easily set aside the issue of "symbolic speech," which dates back to 1943 when the Court ruled that a government could not force participation in the symbolic act of saluting the flag (West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette). In 1969 the Court overthrew the conviction of a protestor who burned a flag to publicize his disgust with the failure of federal officials to protect civil rights advocate James Meredith against an assassination attempt while Meredith was conducting a protest march in Mississippi in 1966 (Street v. New York). And in 1971 in Cohen v. California, a five-to-four Court majority reversed-as a violation of free speech-Cohen's conviction for protesting the draft and Vietnam war by wearing a jacket with "Fuck the Draft" on the back. The Court ruled that Cohen's conduct could not be proved as invading "substantial private interests . . . in an essentially intolerable manner." The private interests cited were the persons who saw the jacket and read the words in the halls of a courthouse.

The Supreme Court has restricted the right of peaceful protest that disrupts the normal use of property. In Adderley v. Florida (1966) the Court upheld the conviction of a group of Florida students arrested for trespassing with malicious and mischievous intent when they assembled in front of a county jail to protest the incarceration of several classmates. Justice Hugo Black, one of the firmest defenders of civil liberties in the Court's history, held that "the state, no less than a private owner of property, has the power to preserve the property under its control for the use to which it is lawfully dedicated." Generally, among the opportunities for participating in conflict representation, those for protest are most closely restricted.

Voting rights: extending opportunities to take part in choosing rulers

Voting in America is restricted to citizens, as distinct from noncitizens of either another nationality or no nationality at all. Noncitizens must register annually with the government of the United States, may be restricted in wartime, can be deported for sufficient cause, and may suffer other limitations on personal rights.

How does a person become an American citizen? Article XIV of the Constitution and related federal statutes specify birth, naturalization, or congressional action as the means) Persons born in the United States or one of its territories or of American parents residing abroad are automatically accorded citizenship. Persons born to foreign parents outside the United States can receive the rights of citizenship by following specified procedures of naturalization. Finally, Congress can award citizenship by collective grant (as it did to American Indians in 1924).

Only citizens are eligible to vote, but not all are permitted to do so. Article I of the Constitution provides that the states shall establish their own voting requirements. Individual states have periodically disfranchised groups- those without property, Blacks in the South, Indians in the Southwest, women, the young, and others. The extension of the franchise to each of these groups was marked by controversy and conflict representation.

Property qualifications were the first major restrictions the states placed upon voting rights. People had to own property in order to vote. Gradually the poll tax (the payment of a nominal fee that would prove one's economic standing) supplanted property ownership as a voting requirement. Ironically, the poll tax was originally substituted for property ownership as a liberalizing measure. Ultimately, it discriminated against southern Blacks and other impoverished Americans. Beginning in the 1940s, civil rights groups representing the disfranchised minorities were pitted against southern senators in a fight to ban the poll tax. Frequently, the poll tax was defended as a source of revenue necessary to some states; in fact, its purpose was to keep some groups out of the electorate. In 1964, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution belatedly abolished poll tax requirements in elections for federal officials; federal court decisions also declared state poll taxes (notably in Texas, Alabama, and Virginia) unconstitutional. Despite such reforms, property tax restrictions on local voting in some school board and bond elections are reminders that the franchise may still be limited to citizens who have an economic stake in the community.

The opportunity to vote has been extended to disfranchised minorities only after prolonged conflicts. Black Americans were guaranteed the right to vote by the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution after the Civil War. But for a whole century they have had to fight discriminatory tactics. They waged the battle against literacy tests (see Figure 4.3) by publicizing their grievances in federal court cases, civil rights demonstrations, and Congress Before 1965, 20 states required potential voters to prove their literacy before permitting them to cast a ballot. Some states required only a signature from the voter; others requested that applicants complete long and difficult registration forms; still others required citizens to read and explain a passage from a state constitution, statute, or other document before election judges (who were prone to make far harsher demands on Blacks than Whites). Voting rights legislation since 1957 has gradually corrected the most discriminatory aspects of literacy tests.

Women achieved the right to vote in 1919, with the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, but only after 50 years of joining voluntary associations, petitioning Congress, and engaging in marches and demonstrations. American Indians received the franchise in 1924 after a long struggle in which their interests were represented by the Association of American Indian Affairs. Residents of the District of Columbia lobbied in Congress for decades before achieving the right to vote in presidential elections in 1961, and their mayor is still appointed by the President. It would be hard to deny that the extension of the franchise to citizens 18 years old and older in 1970 and 1971 was not in part a response to the militant demands of American youth in the 1960s.

Contemporary restrictions: residency and registration. In the early 1970s as many as 8 million Americans could not vote because they had not lived long enough in their locality; another 29 million otherwise eligible Americans could not vote because they had not registered. Aside from passage of the Twenty Sixth Amendment in 1971 extending voting opportunities to persons 18 years old and older, the major efforts to expand suffrage in the 1970s have been through the easing of residency and registration requirements. The Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that it was unconstitutional to deny a person the vote because he or she had not lived in a locality for an extended period; although residency itself is a legitimate test, length of residence is not.

Registration requirements have not been eased so readily. By registration a person demonstrates to election officials that he or she has the necessary qualifications for voting-especially citizenship, age, and residency. It takes time and extra effort, things people with few resources or little interest are often unwilling to give up. Most states have eased the burden by adopting systems of permanent registration in which a voter establishes credentials only once and renews registration through voting itself. Periodic registration- requiring voters to reestablish qualifications, perhaps annually-is an alternative system that has lost favor. At one time, citizens in some localities were required to register as much as one year in advance of the election. Such requirements placed major obstacles in the path to voting since failure to register so far in advance denied a person the vote even if the individual grew vitally interested during the campaign. The failure of many Americans to vote may reflect inactivity during registration periods rather than a lack of interest in elections.

Several steps have been taken to remove the discriminatory effects of registration. The Voting Rights Acts of 1965 and 1975 (see Figure 4.3) enable federal examiners to register citizens in counties where literacy tests were used and fewer than 50 percent of persons were registered. The result has been a dramatic increase in the registration rates of Blacks in the South, but even by 1975 millions of Southern Blacks were still not registered to vote. To make registration easier, a dozen states adopted postcard registration by 1976, permitting registration by mail. In 1976 a postcard registration law stimulated the Democrats in California to launch a major campaign to register the 4.5-6 million unregistered California adults otherwise eligible to vote.

Registration is a partisan issue. In 1976 approximately 55 million Americans were unregistered; about 30 percent of them could have qualified if registration requirements had not existed. This proportion was higher than the 25 percent of qualified adults not registered in 1968 and 1972. The bulk of the unregistered citizens in 1976 were among the young (50 percent of those 18-29 were unregistered), Blacks (38 percent unregistered), and independents (40 percent unregistered). Looking at these figures, Democratic party leaders foresaw that increased voter registration would be to the party's benefit; perhaps, they surmised, around 70 percent of the unregistered would turn to the Democrats. In August 1976, Democrats in the House of Representatives managed to pass a bill establishing a nationwide voter registration system that would enable persons to register to vote in federal elections by mail. Postcards were to be made available in post offices and other public buildings; registrants could pick up the cards and mail them to officials. Democrats had hoped the forms would be available before the presidential election of 1976; according to the House bill, a person would qualify to vote in a federal election if he or she fulfilled state requirements and completed registration 30 days prior to the federal election. What the House passed, however, the Senate ignored and the bill failed to win Senate approval in time for the 1976 elections.

In 1977 President Jimmy Carter proposed a form of universal voter registration for federal elections whereby people who could show proper indentification would be permitted to register when they went to the polls. This plan (dubbed "instant registration" failed to win congressional approval during its first year of consideration. Also in 1977 two states held referenda on proposals that would have made voter registration easier. However, the Ohio electorate turned down by a 2-1 margin a proposal modeled after the Carter plan, and the voters in Washington rejected by a similar margin a proposal allowing for postcard registration.

One other major federal action has helped promote American voter registration. Federal funds now help finance campaigns of Republican and Democratic nominees for president. Private contributors who once gave money to party nominees now contribute to the national party committees. This provides the committees with funds to support registration drives. Democrats in 1976 budgeted $3-$4 million for registration in 1976, twice the amount that had been available to them in 1972 before the changes in campaign finance laws. Taking advantage of computer technology, the Democrats compiled voter and resident lists; their goal was to acquire full information on the country's more than 170,000 voting precincts with particular emphasis on the 10 largest states in which more than 25 million persons were unregistered.

In addition to residency and registration requirements, the various states have other miscellaneous restrictions-denying the vote to inmates of penal institutions, to the mentally ill, etc. Moreover, even when they go to the polls, perhaps as many as four million Americans have their ballots thrown out by election judges because they are improperly marked.

The estimates are indeed rough, but it appears that one in four Americans 18 years or older does not satisfy all of the necessary requirements to vote. Thus, "universal" adult suffrage is markedly restricted in the United States.

Who has the resources to participate?

Just as political and constitutional features of the American community limit the opportunity to take part in conflict representation, social factors influence the distribution of the resources to participate. By resources we refer to the social position and characteristics that enable a person to acquire the knowledge, skills, and money that make political participation relatively easy and attractive.

Social position

A person's position in society is indicated by his or her social class. In turn, social class results from the interplay of occupation, income, and education. As a rule, lower social class position is associated with reduced political participation.

Occupation. Persons in higher-status occupations (the professions, managerial positions, business, and skilled occupations) are generally more politically active than those in lower-status occupations (the unskilled, manual workers, small farmers). Take, as an example, voting. On the average about 50-67 percent of workers in unskilled occupations vote in presidential elections. By comparison, more than 80 percent of persons in higher-status occupations vote in those elections. There are several reasons for these differences, not the least important being that participation in decisions about one's job provides experience that fosters participation in politics. People in higher-status occupations are more likely to be consulted about decisions that affect their jobs; feeling free to voice views about job decisions, they receive training in political participation as well (Almond and Verba, 1963; Greenberg, 1975). By forcing employers to negotiate on employee working hours, wages, and retirement benefits, trade unions supply training in political participation for their members, usually those in skilled and semiskilled occupations. Moreover, labor unions actively promote political participation among both skilled and unskilled workers. In general, voting rates among union workers are substantially higher than among unorganized laborers (Scoble, 1963).

The tendency of workers in higher-status occupations to participate more is not limited to voting. People in professional and managerial occupations and skilled workers actively influence the opinions of others more than do other white-collar workers, the semiskilled and unskilled, and farmers. Most leaders of political parties either are lawyers or have other professional, business, or managerial careers. Often Republican activists come from higher social class backgrounds than do Democrats, but the two parties do not differ appreciably in the fact that a higher proportion of people with professional and managerial jobs are found among their active members than among their general membership.

We should not assume that most political participants are persons of higher occupational status. Far more voting Americans perform manual, service, clerical, and sales jobs than corporate management and professional jobs. Although a smaller proportion of them vote, unskilled and semiskilled workers make up the largest part of the American national electorate. Where people of higher-status occupations do outstrip other types of workers is in their dominance of more active modes of politics-campaigning, running for office, contacting officials.

Income. Closely related to a person's occupation or family inheritance, income provides the financial resources and freedom from other burdens that encourage political participation. People with higher incomes are more likely to express informed opinions, vote, support political candidates, contribute money to campaigns, and be active in political organizations.

These tendencies do not mean, however that one must have a great deal of money to take part in politics or that income alone is an adequate indicator of whether people will take part in politics. Blacks, Chicanos, and other Americans of all ages lacking vast financial resources have sometimes been among the most politically active and militant of citizens. Yet it is clear that persons of at least modest means are far more politically active on a sustained basis than those of lower incomes. More than two-thirds of those normally voting in presidential elections, for instance, are in the middle-income bracket earning $5,000-$15,000 a year. Figure 4.4 compares the social positions and characteristics of persons classified as "complete activists" in politics (who vote, campaign, and engage in community-related activities) with the resources of those who do nothing, that is, the inactives. The horizontal bars and the numbers associated with each one report the ratio of the proportion of persons in a particular category who are inactives (or complete activists) to the proportions of that category of persons in the whole population in 1972. The bars and numbers show whether persons of a particular social position or characteristic are under- or overrepresented among inactives or complete activists. For instance, people who earned less than $4,000 per year were greatly overrepresented among inactives and greatly underrepresented among complete activists; people earning $10,000 or more were underrrepresented among inactives and overrepresented among complete activists. In the 1960s an annual income of about $7,500 separated those who were likely to take part in political parties and clubs from those who were not (Milbrath, 1965, pp. 120-121). At the inflationary prices of the late 1970s, an annual income of $10,000 or higher separates the active minority from the passive majority of participants.

Education. How much people take part in politics is also related to how much formal education they have had, a conclusion we can confirm by looking at Figure 4.4. To repeat, that figure uses an "index of representation" to illustrate how people in various social categories-Blacks, women, Catholics, the elderly,


Inactives Complete Activists

Index of Representation Index of Representation

Overrepresented Overrepresented

Underrepresented Underrepresented

Demographic profile


Grade school or less 54 -51

High school or less -4 - -14 - 1 01

Some college or more -49


$4,000 and under 47 -38

$4,000-$10,000 -9 - -1 5 -

$10,000 and over -40 - 79


Male -10 - - 8

Female 10 7 -


Under 30 42 -41

31-64 -13 - 21-

Over 65 - 6 -38


White -3 -

Black 21 -6 -


Protestant - 5 - 4

Catholic -16 - -14 -


Rural -5 - -6 -

Small town 5 - 21

Suburb -12 7

City 1 -14


A Social Position and Characteristics Profile of inactive and Completely Active

Citizens. [Source: Verba, S., and Nie, N. H., Participation i7i America, New York:

Harper & Row, 1972, pp. 98, 100.]


etc.-are over- or underrepresented among groups of citizens who are either completely active in politics (they vote regularly, take part in election campaigns, and join with others to solve local problems) or are inactive, that is, do little beyond paying marginal attention to politics and voicing opinions. The index reflects the ratio of the proportion of people in a particular social category who are activists or inactives to the proportion of that category in the population as a whole. Assume, for instance, that 50 percent of all citizens are male but only 25 percent of political inactives are males. Males are thus underrepresented by 50 percent among inactives and receive a score in Figure 4.4 of - 50 (note that the actual score for males among inactives is - 1O). If, on the other hand, males constituted 75 percent of inactives, they would have a score of +50, indicating marked overrepresentation.

As Figure 4.4 indicates, persons with grade school educations or less are overrepresented among inactives and underrepresented among complete activists. Persons who have attended college are strikingly overrepresented in the category of complete activists.

There is other evidence that indicates how education correlates with political activity. For instance, about 90 percent of the college-educated population take part in presidential elections; this compares with 50-60 percent of those with grade school educations and about 75 percent of those with high school educations. In the total adult population, however, far fewer have gone to college than have not. As a result, although a smaller proportion of their group votes, citizens who have not received a college education cast three out of every four votes in presidential elections

Social characteristics

A person's age, sex, race, religion, and residence (see Figure 4.4) rarely influence levels of political participation independently of social class. More frequently they work in conjunction with social position to increase or diminish participation rates.

AGE. As Figure 4.4 illustrates, Americans under 30 years of age are overrepresented among the politically inactive and greatly underrepresented among complete political activists. Persons over 65 are also underrepresented among complete activists. Generally, citizens of middle age are the most politically active. The result is an American electorate that is mostly middle-aged, neither young nor old.

Whether persons of a given age are informed about politics, care to take part, and actually do probably depends upon both how old they are and how much education they have had. Table 4.6 illustrates this point. Younger Americans are no better informed about politics than older groups. People of all ages who have not attended college have about the same amount of information. And people who have had some college education-no matter what their age-are better informed than those who have not. The college educated are also more active in electoral politics, but here age makes some difference: Those over 35 without a college education approach the youngest of the college educated in their concern about electoral outcomes and even surpass them in their belief that people have a duty to vote. Finally, when it comes to general political


Political participation by age and education, 1972 (in percentages*)

No college education Some college education

Mode of participation 18-24 25-34 35+ 1 8-24 25-34 35+

Accurate Factual Knowledge

Limit on presidential term 83.3 86.1 89.6 95.4 97.9 90.5

Length of senator's term 36.5 35.0 39.7 59.6 50.6 54.4

Length of congressman's term 56.8 56.7 51.9 68.0 59.5 67.2

House majority party before election 63.3 81.6 92.0 85.2 95.3 91.6

House majority party after election 71.7 80.5 87.5 78.0 85.2 83.3

Electoral Political Activity

Have voted 46.9 61.5 72.0 81.0 85.5 89.5

Concerned about election outcome 45.9 59.7 61.6 64.7 65.0 74.2

Give money to parties 4.3 4.0 6.3 13.7 18.0 26.8

Express strong partisanship 13.0 15.5 32.5 15.6 16.8 28.7

Believe in duty to vote 36.3 48.9 56.7 39.6 57.0 65.9

General Political Activity

Perceive lack of power 48.1 46.4 47.9 30.9 24.8 18.8

Find politics confusing 80.1 84.7 80.5 59.9 59.4 52.6

Talk to others 27.7 25.4 25.1 52.7 46.6 42.0

Write to public officials 11.7 18.7 21.5 32.9 43.4 48.9

Vote on all ballot referenda 55.2 62.6 66.5 75.7 81.6 82.5

High general interest in politics 14.9 23.1 33.9 42.5 52.9 58.2

Number of respondents 236 380 1260 162 230 389

"'Entries are the percentage of each age and educational group with the designated knowledge, view, or behavior.

Source: Pomper, G., Voters' Choice. New York: Harper & Row, 1975, Table 5.2.



activity, education has greater significance than does age, that is, differences between age groups take a back seat to those between levels of schooling.

Sex. Differences in passive and active political participation related to sex are noticeable but not striking. In fact, women's participation in voting has been on the increase in recent years and is now equal to the voting rates of White men. The responsibilities for the care of children and lingering cultural expectations (mostly in the South) that women should take little interest in politics still depress female voting. But things have changed markedly since the 1950s when the voting rate among women was about 10 percent lower than that among men (Campbell, Converse, Miller, and Stokes, 1960, p. 484). In the 1972 presidential election, 73 percent of males registered, 64 percent voted; 72 percent of females registered, 62 percent voted (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1972).

When it comes to participation beyond voting, women are still slightly less likely to engage in active politics. They take part less frequently in community-related activities and in campaigning; and, as indicated in Figure 4.4, women are overrepresented among inactives and marginally underrepresented among complete activists. In general, men and women with approximately the same education take part in politics in almost the equal proportions. Indeed, college-educated women are more likely to take part in some political activities than college-educated men, and high-status females are more active than high-status males. The social resources that facilitate political participation thus operate in combination with each other, and no specific resource (age, sex, class, etc.) tells the whole story of why some people participate and others do not.

Racial background. In American elections, Black citizens register and vote in smaller proportions than Whites; moreover, Whites are more likely to know who their congresspeople and United States Senators are and what political parties those officials represent. But these differences are attributable to the low social-standing (occupation, income, education) of Blacks rather than to "blackness" or "whiteness." If educational differences are taken into account, Blacks and Whites participate-beyond simply talking about politics and voting-at nearly the same rates. One study found that among college-educated southern males, a higher percentage of Blacks than Whites took part in politics (Matthews and Prothro, 1966, pp. 101-174).

Added evidence that social class differences contribute to racial differences in political participation appears in Table 4.7. The figures representing "difference" by race in the table are derived by subtracting the activity rate of Whites from the activity rate of Blacks. If the number is negative, it means that Blacks participate less than Whites; if positive, Blacks participate more. Without taking into account the effects of social class, Blacks appear to vote, campaign,




Political participation by race and social class

Difference between Difference between

Blacks and Whites Blacks and Whites

Style of participation (ignoring social class) (considering social class)

Voting -12 -9

Campaign activity -7 +15

Cooperative, community-related

activity +6 + 30

Citizen-initiated contact - 13 + 15

Source: Adapted from Verba, S., and Nie, N. H., Participation in America, New York: Harper & Row, 1972,

Table 10.3

and contact officials less frequently than do Whites. But when the effects of differing occupation, income, and education are controlled for, Blacks appear to participate at a higher rate in all areas but voting, and there the difference is reduced. In fact, when we take social class into account, we find that Blacks rather than Whites tend to take part in the more active modes of politics and that Whites are more passive (see also London, 1975).

Religious affiliation. There are differences in the political participation of Protestants and Catholics and Jews. Protestants have lower voting rates (with Episcopalians and Presbyterians slightly more active than Baptists) than do Catholics; Jews vote at higher rates than Protestants or Catholics. Bear in mind, however, that a lower rate of participation among Protestants does not alter the fact that they are the largest religious group in this nation. Two-thirds of the American electorate is Protestant. Catholics take part in campaigning, to a greater degree than do Protestants; they also exceed Protestants in contacting officials for personal gain. People involved in community-related activities are much less likely to be Catholic. Overall, as illustrated in Figure 4.4, Protestants are very slightly overrepresented among inactives and complete activists; Catholics are underrepresented in both categories.

Differences in participation among people of varying religious affiliation arise from a number of interrelated factors. Social class differences help account for contrasting levels of political involvement. For example, Jews are more active in politics than many other religious groups; they also tend to have higher incomes, better educations, and higher occupational statuses (Menendez, 1977). Moreover, Jews and Roman Catholics have been more prone to turn to politics as a means of combating religious or ethnic discrimination. Finally, regularity of church attendance is also related to participation: Churchgoers are more likely to vote.

RESIDENCE. Whether a person lives in a rural or an urban area, the size of the community and the region of the nation in which it is located have some bearing on his or her political habits. In general, political participation is higher in the more commercial and industrialized urban areas of America's northeast, west, and upper Midwest. On the whole, people who live in the country are not as politically involved as city dwellers. The former are slightly underrepresented among inactives, yet are less likely to vote, contact public officials, and campaign than are their urban counterparts. Rural residents outdo residents of cities, however in taking part in community-related activities. Nevertheless, as indicated by Figure 4.4, neither rural or city dwellers are adequately represented in the category of complete activists, where residents of small towns and suburbanites are overrepresented.

The highest levels of political knowledge are usually found among residents of America's middle-sized communities (2,500 to 50,000), where about half of the people know the names of their state senators and representatives, how their congresspeople vote, and something of political issues. Information levels are lower among both rural residents (communities under 2,500) and persons living in cities of more than 50,000, where only about one in four is as well informed as the small-town resident (Glenn, 1972).


Political and constitutional conditions create opportunities to participate in politics; social factors distribute the resources supporting varying levels of participation. But equally as vital in shaping the American pattern of participation in conflict representation is the personal element, the desire of people to engage in or avoid politics. When is a citizen motivated to act politically?

The rewards of politics

People receive a variety of benefits from taking part in politics; but there is a bill to pay as well. The costs-in time, money, and physical energy-are often too high. If the benefits outweigh the costs, however people participate.

Instrumental gain. Political participation can be used, or even avoided, to achieve specific tangible benefits. Chief among these are economic gain, neighborhood preservation, and job security. A person can use the vote to support a candidate who promises to cut taxes. A corporation magnate may contribute money to a candidate's campaign in exchange for the promise that if the politician wins, the contributor will receive a sizable government contract. A person may work for a candidate in hopes of gaining a political appointment to a job once the campaign ends. And residents of local communities often band together to protect their property and neighborhoods against rezoning, highway construction, and other proposed projects. Direct economic costs, on the other hand, may contribute to passive politics. Some persons shy away from taking public stands on political issues for fear that a boss, client, or customer will not want to do business with someone who gets involved in controversy.

Participation in politics can also satisfy intellectual curiosity, For people who want to "understand what's going on," being on the "inside" of a campaign provides enormous satisfaction. Many grass-roots volunteers of all ages worked around the clock in 1976 in the campaigns of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Some did so to put their political ideas into practice; others to learn at the most important working level of partisan politics-the bottom-what politics is all about. The politically curious try to develop informed opinions about politics; others, whose main interests lie elsewhere, find political discussion tedious and dull; still others discover a rat race that is more confusing than enlightening and turn to less demanding avocations.

Social benefits and sacrifices. By taking part in politics people can associate themselves with others they like, admire, and respect. Many party precinct leaders, for example, have said they got involved in politics because of the satisfaction of making social "contacts" and the camaraderie and "fun" of involvement (Eldersveld, 1964). The desire to make or keep friends can inhibit political participation as well as foster it. Rather than get involved in a political argument that might lead to bitterness, some people avoid political discussion altogether. How many a person has turned to a companion after leaving a party and sighed, "Thank heavens, we didn't get into any arguments over politics tonight"?

Political victories and defeats also confer social status. A political battle that on the surface appears to be over the division of tangible goods may actually be waged between forces less interested in material gain or loss than in convincing others they are "number one." For instance, in 1919 the U.S. added the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Congress followed with the Volstead Act prohibiting the transportation, sale, and consumption of intoxicating beverages in interstate commerce. Did drinking and intemperance end? No. Did crime, allegedly fostered by alcoholic consumption, decrease? No. In fact, bootlegging became big business. Prohibition, it turned out, was either unenforced or unenforceable. What then did Prohibition achieve? It conferred status; it demonstrated to one and all what social groups in the country set the moral tone of the nation: "It established the victory of Protestant over Catholic, rural over urban, tradition over modernity, the middle class over both the lower and the upper strata" (Gusfield, 1966, p. 7). Ultimately the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed, an act that conferred status on the values of a lower class in the throes of economic depression.

Expressive relief. By taking part in politics, people express themselves-who they are, who they want to be, what they value, what they abhor. A person flies the flag, sings the national anthem, votes, and thereby says to one and all, "I am an American." Another labors at the electoral grass roots to say "I am a Republican" or "I am a Democrat." Taking part in politics provides the opportunity for joining an exciting, dramatic spectacle that permits a person to vent feelings, air grievances, and identify with the glory and tradition that is one's nation, political party, ideology, or cause. To the degree that people use politics to identify with abstractions ("America," "Democracy") or to "get things off my chest," "the most cherished forms of popular participation are largely symbolic," and for most persons "most of the time politics is a series of pictures in the mind, placed there by television news, newspapers, magazines, and discussions." It is a "world the mass public never quite touches," a world, in short, of passive rather than active participation (Edelman, 1964, pp. 4-5).

Feelings about politics and government

Citizens are motivated to action when they feel politics "touches" them. Unless people think politics bears upon their lives, they seldom get involved enough to achieve the economic, intellectual, social, status, and emotional rewards that are possible. Politics touches every aspect of daily living in some fashion-economic chances, being able to walk the street in safety, what people can learn, think, and say. Do people sense this? They probably do. Asked to respond to the question: "Thinking now about the national government in Washington, about how much do you think its activities, the laws passed, and so on have on your day-to-day life?" nine of every ten people surveyed said great" or "some" effect.

But this appraisal in response to an abstract question is not matched either by a style of daily living that continuously accentuates political involvement or by a sense that citizens can really make much difference in what the American government does. That the bulk of Americans are only passively engaged in politics on anything like a day-to-day, week-to-week, or month-to-month basis is evidence enough that very few believe the effects of the "government in Washington" or any other for that matter are sufficiently relevant to everyday living to worry much about. Nor do a very large number of Americans seem to think they can do all that much about what government does anyway; they have neither a strong sense of political efficacy nor trust in government.

Political efficacy. Citizens are more likely to take part in conflict representation if they believe that their voices will be heard and their demands will be taken seriously. People who feel this way have a sense of competence or political efficacy. Americans today do not feel as politically competent as they once did; recent evidence indicates that they have become disenchanted with government and what they can do about it. At the end of 1977, for example, pollster Louis Harris provided these figures reflecting how Americans perceived their political competence:

• The proportion of adults who felt largely "left out of things" going on around them stood at 35 percent, down from the 40 percent who felt that way in 1976 but well above the 9 percent who shared that sentiment in 1966.

• Sixty-one percent felt that "what I think doesn't count much anymore," an insignificant decline from the 64 percent who said this in 1976 but a monumental rise from the 37 percent who felt this way in 1966.

Seventy-seven percent believed that "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" in both 1976 and 1977; 58 percent felt that way in 1972, 45 percent in 1966.

•Sixty percent felt that "the people running the country don't really care what happens to me," up from the 26 percent who felt that way in 1966 and 49 percent who felt that way in 1974 and virtually the same proportion as the 61 percent with that feeling in 1976.

• About 67 percent felt "most people with power try to take advantage of people such as myself"; that was an almost twofold increase over the approximately 33 percent who were of that opinion in 1971.

• Fifty-nine percent agreed with the charge that "people in Washington, D.C. are out of touch with the rest of the country," down from the high of 68 percent who felt that way in 1976 but still strikingly high considering that President Jimmy Carter won many votes in 1976 on the platform of running against Washington as an outsider (The Harris Survey, December 8, 1977).

Harris combines these measures into a single figure to indicate the general level of what he calls alienation from government. Figure 4.5 illustrates the trend in the decade 1966-1976. The high of 59 percent who felt alienated in 1976 scarcely changed at all in 1977 when 58 percent still felt that way in spite of a change in presidential administrations in Washington.


A Decade of Rising Perceived Political Incompetence. [Source: Prepared from data reported in The Harris Survey, March 25, 1976: "Voters Express Alienation."]

Who are the alienated? Two-thirds of each of the following categories were alienated according to the Harris measure: Blacks, the lesser-educated, people in the lower-income bracket, and big city residents. Expressing almost as much alienation were union members, Catholics, Jews, Democrats, and people over 50 years of age. Least alienated were professionals, the college educated, white-collar workers, and those earning more than $15,000 per year.

Political trust. The loss of a sense of political competence is closely related to a decline in trust in government, One way to measure changes in levels of political trust is to create a single index based upon how people respond to five survey questions: (1) How much can you trust the government in Washington to do what is right? (2) Is the government in Washington pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves or is it run for the benefit of all people? (3) Does the government waste the money we pay in taxes? (4) Are the people running the government smart people who usually know what they are doing? (5) Are the people running the government a little crooked? As Figure 4.6 illustrates, trust in government dropped dramatically in the 1960s and early 1970s?

In sum, many people have become disaffected, not just dissatisfied, with politics and politicians. A dissatisfied person does not like what politicians do but has enough faith in Democratic processes to want to do something about it. A disaffected person has no such faith and believes that any form of participation is ultimately meaningless. If such a person votes, it is not to change things but to express what the protestor is against, which may be practically anything


in sight. If sufficiently estranged and angry, the disaffected may channel pent-up frustrations into outbursts of violent protest.

Who are the disaffected? Today the numbers of Americans disillusioned with politics and politicians has grown so large that alienation transcends social classes and characteristics. Whether the trend of growing political alienation will continue remains to be seen. In any event, it is a condition that governmental leaders can no longer ignore.

Conflict representation in the years ahead

Liberal democratic theory prescribes a high level of active political participation, but Americans do not measure up to the ideal. Who then will be our political participants in the future and what difference can their efforts make?


Today, as we have seen, there are two principal types of political participants. First, there are the active participants, that minority of Americans who not only hold political opinions and vote but also keep informed, influence others, join political organizations, and petition their officials. A social profile of this group reveals that it consists of middle-aged citizens who have attended college; have reasonably good incomes; are more likely to be males, Whites, and Protestants; and reside in middle-sized communities and suburbs. These people feel politics touches their lives. They gain personal satisfaction from political activity and feel some sense of political competence.

Contrasted with these actives is a second group, the numerous Americans who are passive participants, who express opinions, occasionally vote, but do little else. Generally Protestant and from small towns, they differ from actives in being less educated, of a lower-income bracket, younger, and slightly more likely to be female than male.


How do these patterns of political participation affect conflict representation? Participation does make a difference; it represents interests to policymakers and makes leaders responsive to popular concerns. It achieves this in two ways: First, participation in and of itself matters because "community leaders are more likely to concur with the problem priorities of participants than with those of nonparticipants. This is not the result of the social characteristics of participants, but appears to be an independent effect of participation" (Verba and Nie.1972 p. 332). Apart from who the participants are-well or moderately educated, middle- or modest-income, male or female, etc.-political leaders listen to them simply because they are making known their demands through political action

But second, "participants are not a representative group of the population" and "where there is a moderate amount of participation, leaders pay attention to the unrepresentative participant groups and are less responsive to the community as a whole" (Verba and Nie, 1972, p. 333). This generally means that policymakers pay closer attention to the most active of participants (and thereby the most unrepresentative segments of the population) rather than the passive. There is clearly a problem inherent in this pattern, for as long as participation is dominated by those with the resources and motivation to capitalize upon their opportunities, disputes taken to policymakers will be those that primarily serve the interest of the most consistent political activists. Hence, serious social tensions in the daily lives of passive citizens and nonparticipants may well go unnoticed by policymakers, at least until those tensions touch the interests of citizens who take part in active politics. Too often before that happens a crisis emerges that is beyond immediate resolution The urban unrest and the antiwar protests of the 1960s are reminders of past crises; the problems of providing adequate living standards for the ever growing number of the elderly, of meeting the energy needs of a society whose most readily available resources (petroleum, natural gas) are being rapidly depleted, and of assuring employment in a threatened economy are all potential crises if policymakers ignore them or fail to resolve the tensions such problems produce.


Have the profiles of political, participants changed substantially in the 1970s'? What are the probabilities for the future? Answers to such questions depend upon recent and possible changes in the opportunities, resources, and desires of people to take part. Generally, the opportunity to participate expands or contracts with efforts to strike a balance between the rights of the individual and the need to maintain social order. The proper balance involves neither what the Framers of the Constitution "really" intended nor the application of abstract theories of individual liberty. Rather, the basic issue of who has the opportunity to participate is "the political one of what a certain governmental institution ought to do about a certain set of demands" (Shapiro, 1966, p. 61). As time and circumstances change, what people disagree about most, the content and meaning of constitutional guarantees, and the opportunities to take part also change. On the whole, the 1970s has produced a broadening of legal opportunities for popular participation. Notable landmarks were the enfranchisement of 18-year-old voters that swelled the potential electorate by 10 percent in 1972; Supreme Court restrictions on unreasonable requirements for length of residency for voting; changes to facilitate voter registration; requirements for bilingual elections to promote participation by language minorities; and changes in rules of political parties to broaden the base of the delegate selection process in choosing presidential nominees.

The expansion of the resources underlying popular participation have not kept pace with increases in the opportunities to take part. To be sure, more kept people have acquired the middle-class characteristics associated with increasing rates of participation; that is more people have gone to college, moved into higher-status occupations, increased their influence, and reached middle-age. But by the same token, there are greater numbers of Americans who have not crossed that social threshold to increased involvement. The composition and proportion of active and passive participants has shifted little in the 1970s. Yet it should be noted that Blacks have increased their rates of active participation, and that almost as high a proportion of qualified women vote in national elections as do qualified men.

It is difficult to say whether the personal desire to take part, on the whole, has changed much in recent years. Early straws in the wind-the ecology movement and women's liberation-heralded a greater sense of political involvement. But by the mid-1970s disenchantment with politics and politicians (perhaps aided and abetted by the Watergate scandals) had generated a dramatic downturn in popular interest and participation in conflict representation.

Many seemingly well-meaning authorities are critical of Americans' low rates of political participation. Politicians, political scientists, political journalists, and social reformers are quick to point to the causes and cures: Legal obstacles must be removed; there must be a drastic redistribution of the wealth so that resources for participation will be available for all; and politicians must conduct themselves in a way that will restore public trust and confidence in government. But for these political participants and observers, politics is inherently interesting. Indeed, politics is their bread and butter. Small wonder that they think it important and cannot grasp why every other American does not take politics as seriously as they do. But would any of these political enthusiasts find the livelihoods of most other Americans as interesting and important as they find politics. Would they, given the opportunity, want to devote their time, energies and psyches to working on the assembly line, driving a taxi or a big rig, walking a high scaffold, or performing any of the other countless nonpolitical occupations that fill the working day of most Americans? Would these political observers subtract from their lives the effort that they ask citizens to spend reading, campaigning, voting, and organizing?

One wonders. That wonderment suggests that more direct means will be necessary to increase Americans' interest in politics than have heretofore been employed. If they are to take part in politics, people are going to have to be convinced that political participation can produce substantial changes that will relieve their daily miseries and improve their daily routines. Appeals to abstract notions of democracy, to theoretical "duties" and "obligations" simply do not provoke the mass of Americans to take part. Nor do assurances from leaders about "honesty" and "trust." Nor do the countless strident and sometimes shrill claims that people must participate in order to counter the nefarious workings of "them" and "they," the faceless elites who control the "establishment." One suspects that only by becoming aware of direct, immediate payoffs worthy of personal sacrifice will citizens engage in political action. Without that, people will continue to watch the spectacle of the political drama from afar rather than walking onto the stage.

By political design, social chance, and personal choice America possesses a host of unrepresented citizens. Continued removal of discriminatory constitutional and legal barriers will correct deficiencies of design. Support of adequate living standards for all Americans will contribute to alleviating the vagaries of chance. But overcoming the "nonpolitical" persuasion that the bulk of Americans have reached through personal choice is a far greater obstacle. Passive participants, and even nonparticipants, may readily agree that "participation is good for America." Yet, each asks, "What has it done for me lately? Unless that question is answered to the individual's satisfaction, neither a truly pluralist America nor a working consensus arrived at by popular initiative rather than imposed by an active minority is likely to materialize in the years ahead.

Professor Wattier's POL 140 Course Syllabus