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What is Political Participation? - Definition, Forms & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Political…
  • 0:58 Types of Political…
  • 2:53 Who Is it For?
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Through this lesson, you will learn what defines political participation, explore some examples, and gain insight into why political participation matters in democratic societies.

What Is Political Participation?

For many, as American citizens, one of the aspects of our culture that many are most proud of is the extent to which they can take part in the political system. Whether they are voting for a new congressman, serving on a jury, or participating in a public protest, they can be fairly certain that their actions are going to have an influence on American politics in some way. For them, this is important because it is one of the ways in which Americans can contribute to their communities and be active members of society.

These civic activities are what are known as political participation, and they are a critical part of any democracy. As the name suggests, political participation simply means that a person is participating in the political process by making his or her opinions and beliefs known. In the social sciences, the term 'political participation' is often used to describe an action taken by a citizen to influence the outcome of a political issue.

Types of Political Participation

There are many different forms of political participation, and whether you know it or not, you've probably taken part in some of them at different points in your life.

Some of the most common forms of political participation are:

  1. Voting: In a democracy, voting is the single most important form of political participation that a person can take part in because it ensures that politicians are elected by the people, rather than being assigned to their position of power by someone else.
  2. Protest: Whether or not it is a constitutional right, as it is in the U.S., public protests are another important form of political participation because you are making your opinions known in a very obvious way, with the hope that your actions will influence or initiate change in a particular area of politics.
  3. Public consultations: Like voting, public consultations (which are more commonly known as town hall meetings) offer ordinary citizens the chance to get together in a group with a politician or elected official in order to make their opinions and feelings known.
  4. Jury duty: Although most people shudder at the thought of having to attend jury duty, it is an important type of political participation because it ensures that people who are charged with a crime are judged by people like them, rather than allowing the outcome to depend entirely on a single person, such as a judge.

While these are some of the most common forms of political participation, there are many others. These include:

  • Signing a petition
  • Writing a letter to a public official
  • Blogging about a political issue
  • Donating money to a cause
  • Volunteering for a campaign
  • Joining an activist or interest group
  • Holding a public official position
  • Occupying a building in an act of protest
  • Committing a terrorist act

As long as the activity involves ordinary citizens expressing their opinions by contributing to the political process, you can probably assume that it is a form of political participation.

Who Is it For?

Theoretically, in every country in which it is not forbidden, political participation should involve everyone. For example, even though a person has to be eighteen years old to vote or serve on a jury, people under the age of eighteen are still able to participate in protests, be a part of town hall meetings, or express their political beliefs in the hope that they might influence others.

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