There are many different definitions of political participation that vary from one political context to another. Several political scientists have raised a number of definitions in attempt of describing political participation. Consequently, Verba, Kim & Nie (1987) assert that "by political participation, we refer to those legal activities by private citizens that are more or less directly aimed at influencing the selection of governmental personnel and/or the actions they take" (p. 46). Shi (2007) outline that participation is one of the key elements of democracy and entails the setting of targets as well as processes to achieve them with regard to all kind of social issues in the society.
Election process can be seen as a traditional way in which people participate in politics by making their needs and desires known to the authorities. These motives affirm the choice of leaders during election process. However, there are numerous ways in which citizens can participate in politics but these modes vary from one country to another. When people participate in politics, there are always seeking to gain from the collective goods associated with the voluntary organization such as a political party. Whiteley, Seyd and Richardson (1994) argue that once the policies of political parties are implemented, it affects everyone in the society regardless whether one participated in the politics or not.
Mode of political participation
There are a number of dimension in which individuals participate in politics. Some of these activities include voting done by citizens in conflict and its outcomes affect everyone. Voting is a common way in which citizens exercise their political participations though it conveys little on voter's choice of leaders. Voting is an individual act and presented in regular elections.
Citizens can also undertake political participation by being involved in campaign activities. Here, citizens can take part in campaigns in attempts of influencing and directing the outcomes of the elections by conveying their preferences. Verba, Kim & Nile (1987) confirm that in campaigns, the preferences of individuals can be identified as they can be at times close to the candidates. During campaigns, cooperation among citizens is more important than during voting in order for them to exert influence over the outcome of the voting process.
In some case, citizen can also take part in communal activity where they meet with government official for discussions regarding social issue in place. It can also involve the cooperation of groups that are non-partisan in an attempt to address an issue outside the normal electoral. The success of the influence will be determined by intensity of the pressure mounted by the participating groups on the government.
Low political participation
Shukla (2007) contends that "that the success of democracy is not possible without a sound political participation" (p.63). This participation must come from all group and classes of citizen's in the country. Despite the importance of political participation, there is still low participation in politics within the society. Smith & Haider-Markel (2002) believe that some citizens may fail to participate in political matter as a result of discrimination.
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This discrimination can be due to racial, religion, ethnicity or sex orientation and these groups will shy away from political participation. In the US for instance, sex group is not a protected category thus vulnerable to discrimination. In some instances, some people seem not to be concerning with political participation due to the fear that single issues may lead to protest from both parties (Mabileau, 1989). As a precaution of avoiding feuds, a number of people may shun political activities in an attempt to avoid an opportunity that may lead to fights and tension.
Chatterjee, (2007) argues that some citizens especially women usually do not engage in political activities due to fear of violence being subjected to them and consequently, women may fail to engage in politics. Smid (2003) on the other hand assert that the political participation of the American people has gone down due to political parties losing links with existing community based organization and at the same time remaining to be candidate centered. Mason, Khakhulina and Kluegel (2000) agree that, failure of elite groups and other interest groups in marshaling people has led to declining level of political participation in the United States.
Low voter turn out
While it may seem that low voter turnout is always a bad thing, sometimes the occurrence of this scenario is beneficial. Heard, A., & Nelson, M. (1987) in their book, Presidential election argue that low participation promote democracy by preventing its dilution since most of nonvoters perceive democracy to be having little value. The two scholars further maintain that sudden increase in political participation may reflect social conflict and discontent and may pose threat to democratic institutions. In another perspective, prevalence of low voter turnout implies that people are satisfied with the political system in place (Kasfir, 1976).
Political participation is a mark of democracy which allows for citizens to engage in activities aimed at influencing the government towards attending to their needs and demands. Through the use of mode like voting, communal activities and campaigns, citizens can influence political systems in favor of their social needs and goal. However, lack of mobilization of citizens by elite groups in the society and lose of contact between political parties and the citizenry have led to low political participation. In spite of this, low voter turnout may sometimes imply that people are satisfied with the current political system in place.
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