A Summary on the Dimensions of Political Apathy and Political Participation

1.1 Some Determinants of Political Apathy

Political Apathy is a very widespread phenomenon in American Culture.

  • serious malfunctioning of democracy
  • Political theorists, favorable behavior rather than by broad cleavage, and is basically stable.

General Criterion:

(1) Political Involvement (2) knowledge (3) activity

If we accept the view that democratic ideal encourages political interest and participation then the question naturally arises: [MAIN QUESTION] what are these factors which bring about the absence of political interest and participation?


(1) Threatening consequences of political activity

(2) Futility of political Activity

(3) Absence of spurs to interest and participation


The democratic right of freedom of speech does not insure that people will feel free to express their political convictions publicly at all times. (a) Threat of governmental action will deter some. (b) Threat to interpersonal harmony, others will be blocked from talking or acting in behalf of their political beliefs out of fear of losing friends, alienating neighbors, endangering marriages; jeopardizing their positions in groups, (c) threats to occupational success: losing business, jeopardizing their jobs, endangering production in their plants; (d) threats of ego-deflation: facing community pressures, or exposing their feeling of self-esteem to threats.

These are consequences which many people are unwilling to face and to avoid these consequences, they impose a self-censorship on their political expression, participation, and even emotional involvement.


(a) Based on the sense of personal inadequacy

(b) Unmanageability of political forces

(c) The gap between ideal and reality

Many people may be deterred from political activity by the conviction that their efforts will be futile. An individual may feel that he/she us but one among so many; that the agents of political decisions- representatives, machines, “the government”, certain powerful anonymous forces- are unable or unwilling to heed his voice of follow his/her will; that the political reality is hopelessly remote from the ideal; or that the hopelessness of political victory makes any effort pointless.

It may be observed that these consequences of apathy derive from the particular nature of the social and political structures. The mass nature of the society, characterized by wide disparities of power, remotes the sense of personal insignificance; the centralization of government fosters a sense of remoteness from the key decision-making process; periodic election produce discontinuous exercise of power; the system of representation draws power from the citizen and grants it to the representative.

In other words, a political structure established with the aim of implementing democracy may unwittingly establish the conditions for political apathy.


It is also relevant to examine the question of apathy in the light of the absence of influences, stimuli, or appeals which might encourage participation.

Under this factor there are three underlying attributes coming from the respondent’s interview:

(a) The Subject Matter of Politics is often not psychologically compelling

Since the political institution deals with problems of the total society, involving subject of general interest and concern, it tends to have an abstract or impersonal quality. However, for many people, they still remain, dull, remote and uninspiring

(b) Absence of noninstrumental gratification

Some people might conceivably engage in political activity because they enjoyed it, even if the goals they sought were not attained. However, there are individual’s incentive to political activity is often dulled by the absence of direct and immediate satisfaction even if there is monetary rewards or prestige. And some people find their current activity much more directly gratifying than political activity.

(c) Political results meet few direct and urgent needs

Politics may be viewed as a moderately interesting spectacle, but one that is remote from the direct concerns of daily life, they voluntarily alienate herself/himself in politics. An example of this: the man who wants an apartment usually does not attempt to get one by lobbying for federal housing project; rather, he consults agents, newspapers or friends. Another is, woman who wants lower food prices ordinarily does not attempt to achieve it by joining citizen’s committee striving to apply pressure on congress; rather she goes blocks out of her way to shop at a super-market whose price are lower than those of the neighborhood grocer.

Further, governmental action is considered irrelevant to their lives. They do not conceive of the government as an agent which can solve their immediate and pressing problems.

(d) People often lack a personal thrust to action

Personal influence may be of great importance in determining political attitudes and behavior. The data suggest that interpersonal factor may operate in several different ways to promote apathy or discourage participation.

  • Interpersonal factors may operate in several ways to promote political apathy
  • the individual may receive no positive encouragement from others to participate.
  • the guilt feeling arising from individual’s inactivity may be assuaged by the observation that others in the community are also inactive.
  • an individual, ready for action, may be discouraged by the observation that the apathy of other people increases his/her political work.
  • the individual may be a member of a group in which political apathy is a positive group norm- group which would discourage political action.

Some people might consider it a social responsibility to participate politically may be reassured by the observation that most other people are apathetic.


In this article, they suggested several factors which is some cases contribute to political apathy. That these factors have some significance is clearly suggested by data, but their relative importance, their statistical distribution among various population sub groups, and their interrelationships must remain subject for more systematic research.

Favorable rather than broader cleavage: because they feel there is no need to do anything; they are contented with the social and political system (standard of living), have faith in their representatives, see no need for change.

Some people do not participate actively because of the incertitude of their political convictions; to tem politics may be confusing, complicate, and contradictory, other may be exhausted by the pressure of other activities to pay much attention to it and among others. These and other factors would have to be examined before an adequate understanding of the determinants of political apathy could be achieve.

Symptom of the malfunctioning of democracy: What can be done about it? This is obviously a crucial area for social research.

On the other hand,


Sense of political efficacy may be defined as the feeling that individual political action does have, or can have, an impact upon the political process. And it is the feeling that political and social change is possible, and that the individual citizen can play a part in bringing about this change.

Political Efficacy = Political Participation

It would be positively related to political participation based on the conducted study during 1952 election. The study clearly indicates that the higher one’s sense of political efficacy, the higher the level of his/ her participation. And these two variable is consistent throughout.

It also indicates in the study that there is reflection of educational indifferences [those respondents who attended college rank high on this scale compared with 15 per cent of those who have completed no more that grade schools.] and socio-economic status are also highly related to political efficacy. [Income and occupation]

Thus, the effect of differing levels of political efficacy is not as great for the more socially and politically advantaged citizenry as it is for the less socially and politically advantaged.


Morris Rosenberg

Angus Campbell

Gerald Gurin

Warren E. Miller


Author: kadree

An EcoSocialist Marxist-Leninist with Che Guevara inked. A Freelance Activist and Writer.

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