Community effects on political participation : the role of social capital, heterogeneity and government competencies
This is a study about political participation and the influence that local contexts have on citizens' participatory habits. The question of why some people participate in politics while others do not has spawned a rich body of research. While varied in its scope and focus, the bulk of the empirical studies of political participation, and indeed the major theoretical accounts of participation, center on individual-level characteristics. Previous research has illustrated the importance of factors such as income, education and other sociodemographic and attitudinal variables in explanations of political participation. However, even after controlling for these, there still exists significant variation in participation across communities. That is, beyond the effect that the characteristics of individuals have on participation, different aspects of the social and political environment in which individuals operate, have an effect on their behavior. In this thesis it is argued that the social and political environment structures incentives for participation in several ways. The institutional and social character of a person's community has a direct effect on their political behavior. Community-level factors also affect political participation indirectly. While there is good evidence that individual-level characteristics in the form of resources, motivation and mobilization drive political participation, this thesis argues that the effects of these are mediated by the institutional and social context within which individuals find themselves. The study also makes a case for treating different forms of political participation separately. It is argued that the contextual factors explored in the thesis have varying effects on individual types of participation. In order to test these arguments, the thesis analyzes the effects of community racial diversity, local government institutions and social capital on both electoral and nonelectoral political participation in American cities. The data used for this study come from several sources. Individual-level survey data come from the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark survey-a survey of close to 30,000 individuals across the United States. Respondents to this survey are matched with sociodemographic data on their place of residence and information on local government finances from the United States Census and the Census of Governments as well as data from the International City/County Management Association's Municipal Form of Government survey, containing information on the form and size of local government, provisions for direct democracy and local electoral rules among others. Combined, these sources of data provide information on roughly 15,000 individuals nested in over 1000 cities.