The Basics of American Government 3E

Chapter 15: Civic Engagement

Read or download the textbook here.


by Maria J. Albo

Protesters at the 2016 Women's Marchin Washington, D.C. Public Domain.This chapter will identify and explain how various forms of political participation influence government policy and facilitate an engaged citizenry. By offering comparisons of “engaged” vs. “duty based” citizenship, students will be guided through the process of political engagement from voting, through contacting elected officials, and other examples of grassroots democracy. Finally, the link between the Internet and engaged citizenship for the Millennial generation will be discussed.

The Occupy Movement. By Philafrenzy [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons.


Chapter 15: Civic Engagement

I. Our society expects and demands citizen participation.
A. Robert Putnam, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University argues in his 2000 book Bowling Alone that Americans are suffering from a lack of social capital.
B. Political participation is the only way to keep government accountable.
1. When political efficacy is high, individuals are likely to engage in political matters while when efficacy is low, citizens refrain from political participation.
2. Socioeconomic status as it relates to political participation
C. Responsibilities of Citizenship
1. Duty-based Citizenship encourages conformity and adherence to social norms while promoting basic activities such as registering with a political party, voting in all elections, donating to campaigns, and joining civic groups.
2. Engaged Citizenship refers to a more active role in politics and local communities beyond simply voting and belonging to a political party.
II. What is Engaged Citizenship (3 components)
  • Electoral participation
  • Political awareness
  • Civic activity
A. Electoral Participation
1. Most important component of engaged citizenship
2. We value the right to vote, but voting participation has steadily declined since the early 90s.
3. Election of 2008
4. Voter turnout rates in 2012 and 2016
B. Political Awareness
1. Democracy demands an informed electorate to function effectively
2. The more information we have access too, the less it seems we know.
3. More knowledgeable citizens participate in political life.
4. Social media as a news source
C. Civic Activity
1. Nation of “joiners”
2. Volunteer organizations as “schools of democracy”
3. These organizations help develop civic engagement skills and reinforce community ties.
D. The Engaged Citizen: A Manual
1. Russell Dalton: University of California at Irvine
2. A plan of study (curriculum)
3. Volunteerism
4. Access to extracurricular activities
III. Practicing Democracy
A. There are numerous ways to become involved in the democratic process.
B. Contacting Elected Officials by mail
C. Attend a town hall meeting
D. Meeting An Elected Official
1. Before the Meeting – Know the correct name, dress appropriately, no gifts, and keep your group small
2. At the Meeting – Be brief, be ready to answer questions, be respectful of time, no photographs
3. After the Meeting – Send a thank you note
E. Case Study: Social Media and the 2016 election
1. In the 2016 presidential election, social media became a necessary and vital campaign tool with both candidates actively multiple platforms in their campaigns.

Table 15.1: Types of Political Participation


Virtually never vote and are not involved in political matters.

Inactives are typically minorities, women, the young, and individuals with low socioeconomic status.

Voting Specialists

Vote regularly but have little participation in other aspects of political life.

Voting specialists are generally older and have strong ties to a political party.

Parochial Participants

Do not typically vote or engage in political matters but may seek government intervention on a special issue. Generally highly involved in local community matters.

Parochial Participants tend to be minorities and citizens of low socioeconomic status.


Do not vote regularly but are highly engaged in group and community activities aimed at solving social problems.

Communalists are usually of high socioeconomic status, white, Protestant, and well educated.


Vote regularly and are highly engaged in campaign activity. Highly partisan and very interested in political matters.

Campaigners are typically well educated, white and middle to high socioeconomic status.

Complete Activists

Vote regularly and are deeply involved in all aspects of social and political life.

Complete activists are typically well educated, white, and middle to high socioeconomic status.

Source: Verba, S., & Nie, N. H. (1972). Participation in America. New York: Harper & Row. 81-84b. 


Test Your Knowledge

Think you're an expert on political participation in the United States? Check your understandings using the flashcards below!



For Further Reading

Please see Chapter 15 References on pages 453-456 of the textbook for primary sources and readings.

News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016 By Jeffrey Gottfried & Elisa Shearer.

Republican Lawmakers Face Hostile Town-Hall Crowds by Clare Foran.