Modeling Political Participation Essay

1244 words - 5 pages

Three different models offer an explanation as to why people vote. The rational choice model of participation looks at voter psychology and self interest to predict political participation. The resource model expands upon the common socioeconomic status (SES) model to explain why people participate in politics. Resources serve as a mechanism that links SES to participation. Finally, mobilization hinges off of campaign efforts and peer pressures to explain activity political. The resource model most complete in its explanation of participation because not only does it predict who will participate in political activity, but goes beyond to explain why participation occurs. Before such an argument can be made however, each model must be examined in its entirety.
The rational choice model of voting explains political participation from the perspective of the individual. It looks at the motivations of a single person to explain why he or she participates in politics. The model does not ignore social interaction of individuals but, “it does shift attention from 'social input --> vote output' to the actual mechanism which takes place in the black box of a voters mind” (Evans 69). The model explains the 'black box' by way of rationality. In terms of a cost and benefit system, it prescribes that an individual will only vote if the net benefit in doing so is positive. Whether through a plus and minus table rating of each candidate, or a mathematical formula; a rational voter will decide which candidate fits them best, if at all, and take the appropriate action (Evans). This theory has been heavily criticized because voters are often irrational, voting with their heart and not their minds. Additionally, social interaction and party loyalties supply motivations for individuals not taken into account by the model (Evans). Furthermore is the paradox of voting, that people still vote even though their vote is likely indecisive. A circular argument results, a rational voter sees that their vote will not make a significant difference in the outcome of an election and will abstain. If enough people however have the same logic, the number of voters decreases and the rational voters' ballot holds more weight than before, motivating them to vote (Evans). This paradox highlights a flaw in the rational choice model, as it fails to account for all voter motivations. As a whole however, the rational choice model does well to predict the actions of a rational voter through individual motivations.
Approaching political participation from another angle is the resource model. It looks at the mechanism by which an individual and their respective social status links to political activity. This model builds off of the socioeconomic status model, which follows from stratification theories and beautifully predicts how a demographic votes. The SES model for example, can show that elderly educated whites are more likely to turnout to vote than inner city African Americans (Evans)....

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