Political Participation
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A key source of power at both the individual and community levels stems from exercising political influence over decisions affecting the community. People who participate in politics feel more empowered and have higher life satisfaction. This describes the effects that political participation has on a voter’s sense of power and autonomy, sense of well-being, and self-rated health.

Evidence of the Relationship between Predictor and Related Outcomes

  • People living in states with low voter turnout were more likely to report that they were in fair or poor health (when asked to rate their own health on a five-point scale from poor to excellent), compared with people in states with high voter turnout (odds ratio of 1.48) (Blakely, Kennedy and Kawachi 2001).
  • At the local level, white people who are eligible to vote outvote Hispanic and Asian American people by almost two to one, and they surpass voting rates of Black people by significant margins (Leighley 2001; Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995). Black and Hispanic Americans are less likely to be engaged in political activity than white Americans (Verba et al. 1993). Although this lack of political engagement is largely explained by the unequal distribution of resources (such as education) disadvantaging Black and Hispanic people, additional structural barriers exist to limit voting among people of color, such as the financial costs related to voter registration, as well as the time needed to learn about the candidates and issues, locate and travel to polling places, and wait in line at a time that works with one’s schedule.
  • Zimmerman and Rappaport (1988) construct 11 indices of empowerment representing personality, cognitive, and motivational measures. Individuals reporting a greater amount of involvement in community activities (including 26 activities, such as voting, signing a petition, organizing people, attending meetings, contributing money to organizations, writing letters to government officials, and working political campaigns) and membership in voluntary organizations (such as honor societies, political groups, service organizations, and hobby clubs) scored higher on indices of empowerment. These are based on correlations, and the direction of causation is not explored.
  • Klar and Kasser (2009) conducted a series of studies on college student and national samples, finding that people who self-identified as a political activist, expressed commitment to the activist role, and reported engaging or intending to engage in activist behaviors showed higher levels of well-being on several dimensions, including life satisfaction, positive affect, personal growth, purpose in life, vitality, and social integration.
  • Terriquez and Lin (2020) found that “first-and-a-half” and second-generation youth in California participating in activist groups, especially groups involving low-income youth and grassroots campaigns focused on addressing inequalities, engaged in other political activities disproportionately more than their nonmember peers. These activities include voting (81 percent versus 60 percent) and protesting (35 percent versus 7 percent). Further, those involved in the youth organizing groups (mostly low-income youth in grassroots campaigns that address educational inequalities, health issues, environmental justice, juvenile justice, immigrant rights, and other issues) attempted to increase their parent’s political involvement, encouraging political knowledge, efficacy, and activity, significantly more frequently than those in the general population (88 percent of the time versus 12 percent of the time; Terriquez and Kwon 2015).

How Investments Can Influence the Predictor at State or Local Levels

Changing election timing to be more standardized and accessible could affect participation rates, as evidenced by a study showing that turnout in municipal elections is approximately 17 percentage points higher in even years than in odd years (Berry and Gersen 2010). Furthermore, people of color compose a greater share of the electorate in elections that include state and federal contests (Hajnal, Kogan, and Markarian 2021).

Focusing initiatives and investments aimed at adolescents both in and out of school can significantly encourage short- and long-term political participation. For example, studies have proven that “quality social studies and ethnic studies curricula, as well as other school-based activities that are relevant to children of immigrants’ lives and communities, can encourage critical thinking and development of civic skills and practices through active engagement” (Terriquez and Lin 2020, 750). Specifically, Willeck and Mendelberg (2022) found that the manner in which civic education is taught has a causal impact on political participation; namely, active learning enhances the impact of education on political participation, especially for marginalized students.

Additionally, participation as an adolescent in politically oriented groups, which can be created and funded by private and philanthropic initiatives, can significantly advance civic knowledge and skills. Terriquez and Lin (2020, 763) reported that a significant number of youth involved in YVote, an initiative aimed at training adolescents and young adults in voter education and outreach, learned “a lot” about (1) issues that affect their communities (86 percent of respondents), (2) voting rights (61 percent of respondents) and (3) overall understanding of how government elections affect their communities (70 percent of respondents). Regarding civic skills, participants also reported “a lot” of improvement in their interpersonal communication (64 percent of respondents) and public speaking (48 percent of respondents). Finally, significant shares learned “a lot” about how to impact policies (72 percent of respondents), organize (43 percent of respondents), and register voters (46 percent of respondents). The community organizing youth groups can provide a significant range of benefits through training members to analyze policies, conduct research on issues, coordinate meetings, speak in public, recruit allies, navigate policy decisionmaking processes at different levels of government, and get out the vote. Moreover, they can address young people’s developmental needs and the effects of structural violence, offer their members intensive mentoring, support their college and career plans, and train them in culturally informed practices to overcome trauma and legal exclusion. As a result, members are often inspired to translate their intersectional perspective into concrete acts of support for communities facing multiple layers of social marginalization (Terriquez and Milkman 2021).


The primary reference is marked with an asterisk.

Berry, Christopher R., and Jacob E Gersen. 2010. “The Timing of Elections.” University of Chicago Law Review 77 (1).

*Blakely, Tony, Bruce Kennedy, and Ichiro Kawachi. 2001. “Socioeconomic Inequality in Voting Participation and Self-Rated Health.” American Journal of Public Health 103 (1): 37–57.

Hajnal, Zoltan, Vladimir Kogan, and G. Agustin Markarian. 2021. “Who Votes: City Election Timing and Voter Composition.” American Political Science Review 116 (1): 374–83.

Klar, Malte, and Tim Kasser. 2009. “Some Benefits of Being an Activist: Measuring Activism and Its Role in Psychological Well-Being.” Political Psychology 30 (5): 755–77.

Leighley, Jan E. 2001. “Strength in Numbers? The Political Mobilization of Racial and Ethnic Minorities.” Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Terriquez, Veronica, and Hyeyoung Kwon. 2015. “Intergenerational Family Relations, Civic Organisations, and the Political Socialisation of Second-Generation Immigrant Youth.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 41 (3): 425–47.

Terriquez, Veronica, and May Lin. 2020. “Yesterday They Marched, Today They Mobilised the Vote: A Developmental Model for Civic Leadership among the Children of Immigrants.” Journal of Ethnic & Migration Studies 46 (4): 747–69.

Terriquez, Veronica, and Ruth Milkman. 2021. “Immigrant and Refugee Youth Organizing in Solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives.” Gender & Society 35 (4).

Verba, Sidney, Kay Lehman Schlozman, and Henry E. Brady. 1995. “Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Verba, Sidney, Kay Lehman Schlozman, Henry Brady, and Norman H. Nie. 1993. “Citizen Activity: Who Participates? What do They Say?” American Political Science Review 87 (2): 303–18.

Willeck, Claire, and Tali Mendelberg. 2021. “Education and Political Participation.” Annual Review of Political Science. 

Zimmerman, Marc, and Julian Rappaport. 1988. “Citizen Participation, Perceived Control, and Psychological Empowerment.” American Journal of Community Psychology 16 (5): 725–50.

Domains, Predictors or Metrics
Responsible and Just Governance

Related outcome: Active civic engagement; good physical health

Mobility principle engaged: Power and autonomy

Person in wheel chair illustration