Letters to the Editor: From the Trenches of Democracy Volume 3

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Regarding the intensity of involvement, adjusting for other factors, for each one-unit increase in the level of involvement in the voluntary organization at which one is most active, the expected number of political acts increases by H3 is supported. Thus, the intensity of involvement matters more than the scope of memberships in formal participation.

Among the control variables, neither income nor education is statistically significant. Compared to those who were not asked by their friends or relatives, the expected number of formal political acts for those who were asked to participate is This is consistent with the findings from social network scholars who argue that the recruitment effect is strong among those who have a close relationship. This kind of embeddedness provides quality information on politics, mutual trust, and certainty McAdam and Paulsen In addition, holding constant other factors, compared to those who are independent from both parties, the expected number of formal political acts for those who consider themselves as more liberal is Those who report being more interested in politics engage more in formal political participation Model 2 examines factors associated with informal political participation.

Interestingly, the scope of memberships is not statistically significant anymore, rejecting H2.

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The intensity of involvement remains significant, and the effect is similar H4 is thus supported. In other words, people with higher level of education tend to engage in informal participation less. Furthermore, mobilization remains significant. Adjusting for other factors, the expected number of informal political acts for those who were asked to participate is The effect of age is consistent with what the existing studies find.

Controlling for other factors, one additional year of increase in age decreases the expected count of informal political acts by 1. This makes sense since younger people are usually more likely to participate in demonstrations or illegal protests. Two of the race variables are significant in this model. Holding constant other variables, compared to Whites, the expected numbers of informal political acts for Blacks and Hispanics are significantly lower by Model 3 examines factors associated with voting. Neither the scope nor the intensity of organizational involvement matters.

Education has a statistically significant effect on voting. This effect is substantial, and it implies that more investment in education will probably boost voting rate. Mobilization does not lead to higher voter turnout. Neither the scope nor the intensity of organizational involvement explains voting behavior. Why is this so? Due to the unavailability of data, we are unable to empirically examine this question. We suspect that the difference in findings may be attributed to the distinct characteristics of various modes of political participation.

In particular, voting is more individualized participation with minimal policy influence; thus civic associations are not directly associated with voter turnout. Informal political activities are more difficult to carry out and require more commitment.

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Thus, membership is not related to informal participation. In addition, the socioeconomic status has more explanatory power in individualized political activities, such as voting. While income is not significant in all three models, education is highly significant in predicting voting and informal participation. The requests from friends or relatives provide an external stimulus to participation. To further explore the effects of the intensity of involvement, we graphed the expected number of political activities by intensity of involvement in civic associations, adjusting for other factors, see Figure 1.

The X-axis indicates the number of activities one performs in the organization, and the Y-axis is the predicted number of political activities. The two different patterns in the columns indicate two different modes of political participation. We can see that as one is more involved in civic associations, the number of political activities increases across the two modes. But roughly, the increase is more substantial in formal participation mode, suggesting that the effect of the intensity of involvement is larger.

Predicted number of political activities by intensity of involvement in civic associations, adjusting for other factors. Existing literature depicts the relationship between civic associations and democracy from two perspectives Torpe The first highlights the internal democratic role of associations.

Through participating in the internal life of associations, one learns democratic norms and values, develops democratic competences, and becomes more active in politics. The second focuses on the external democratic role of associations, which are considered as intermediary institutions between citizens and government.

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This paper joins the first perspective by examining how civic associations contribute to political participation. Using the Citizenship, Involvement, and Democracy dataset, we showed that participation in politics rises with participation in voluntary associations, even when these associations are quite apolitical. Specifically, we disaggregated political participation into three modes: formal, informal participation, and voting. We then highlighted two aspects of involvement in civic associations: the scope versus the intensity. The former argues that civic associations serve as networks of bridging social ties through which novel information travel.

The more affiliations to which one belongs, the more exposed one is to social influence, and thus, the more political activities one will participate in. In contrast, the latter proposes that civic associations are socialization agents through which the seeds for generalized social trust, identification, and cohesion sprout.

The more involved one is in the active associations, the more political activities one will engage in. We found that the intensity argument is supported in two types of political activities, including formal and informal participation. However, the number of affiliations affects formal participation but does not have a significant impact on informal participation. This is interesting because it enriched our understanding on the longstanding debate between bonding and bridging social capital Burt Bonding ties are the strong ties that exist within closed networks.

They help disseminate information among densely connected members within a certain group, reducing the cost of obtaining information.


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Knoke , for example, examines the networks of political action, arguing that when people discuss political matters with their intimates very frequently, their interests and participation in national campaigns and voting will be enhanced. Our study found that the intensity of organizational involvement matters more than the scope. Thus, bonding social capital is more important in promoting political actions. Furthermore, we found that the classic socioeconomic status model works better in predicting individualized political activities, such as voting, whereas mobilization has strong explanatory power in predicting both formal and informal political acts—those require more efforts and are more difficult to carry out.

This study contributes to the literature on political participation in three ways. First, by identifying, conceptualizing, and unpacking political participation, it attempts to bring some conceptual order to a research area that has been extensively explored in recent decades. Second, by incorporating these dimensions in multivariate models, it disentangles the explanatory power of the often discussed mechanisms in each type of political participation. Our study carries important implications for policy makers and nonprofit practitioners. Over the past two decades, the nonprofit sector has become increasingly professionalized.

Many small, local-based civic associations have been replaced by large, membership-based associations in which members do not have frequent interaction with each other and the organizations. The intense face-to-face encounters and the benefits that these interactions generate seem to have withered. However, it is these interactions that cultivate political interest, efficacy, and participatory norms.

Facilitating frequent interactions thus seems critical. While the growth of nationwide, professionalized associations seems to be an inevitable trend, establishing an institutional framework in which robust local chapters are supported is a viable strategy.

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In particular, guidelines on how to develop leadership, integrate resources, and engage members should be provided to these local chapters. For nonprofit managers, more attention should be paid to encourage citizens to involve actively in associational activities, such as attending meetings, holding discussion sessions, or organizing activities. In order to nurture the nonprofit sector, policy makers should focus their funds and energies on building the capacity of local-based civic associations.

This study has limitations as well.

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The study only looks at one way of a probably two-way relationship between voluntary and political participation. Clearly, the two variables are interconnected and endogenous.

As Diani asserts, the process of movement participation is dynamic and diachronic in the sense that memberships in voluntary organizations contribute to social movement mobilization and this very participation also helps forge new bonds among participants. Longitudinal data are required in order to address the endogeneity problem.

Nonetheless, we are cautious in establishing the link between civic associations and political participation. When discussing the role of civic associations, we confined our purview to involvements in organizations that do not take stands on public issues. This permits us to make the assumption of causal priority for civic organizations. In addition, the dataset used in this study was collected in Now that almost 10 years have passed, it is possible that the participation landscape has changed greatly, and the impact of the factors on political participation reported here may vary.

Future study should use a more up-to-date data set and examine how the mechanisms shape various modes of political participation. Alexander, D. Barraket, J.