This book confirms Alexis de Tocqueville’s idea, dating back a century and a half, that American democracy is rooted in civil society. Citizens’ involvement in family, school, work, voluntary associations, and religion has a significant impact on their participation as voters, campaigners, donors, community activists, and protesters.
The authors focus on the central issues of involvement: how people come to be active and the issues they raise when they do. They find fascinating differences along cultural lines, among African-Americans, Latinos, and Anglo-Whites, as well as between the religiously observant and the secular. They observe family activism moving from generation to generation, and they look into the special role of issues that elicit involvement, including abortion rights and social welfare.
This far-reaching analysis, based on an original survey of 15,000 individuals, including 2,500 long personal interviews, shows that some individuals have a greater voice in politics than others, and that this inequality results not just from varying inclinations toward activity, but also from unequal access to vital resources such as education. Citizens’ voices are especially unequal when participation depends on contributions of money rather than contributions of time. This deeply researched study brilliantly illuminates the many facets of civic consciousness and action and confirms their quintessential role in American democracy.
Is American citizenship in crisis? Yes, say most pundits, not to mention most scholars of contemporary political life. A more nuanced reply appears in this comprehensive study… Voice and Equality presents a challenging paradox. On the one hand, the discourse of class is becoming less salient—in a political regime that has never been heavily imbued with the rhetoric of economic inequality. On the other, the state of political participation in America is now such that ‘class’ matters profoundly.
This is undoubtedly an important book with revealing findings that contradict some popular assumptions about the health of democracy in the US. Despite the well documented loss of confidence in political institutions and the decline of electoral turnout, Americans continue to participate extensively in both political and non-political organisations. The voice of the people is clear and loud even if some voices are able to demand more attention than others.
The authors of this book have, together and separately, been fruitfully investigating political participation and inequality for years. Juggling a dazzling, mind-boggling array of original survey data, their new work makes the clear case that citizens’ experience outside the realm of official politics—experience at home, church, work, school, and ‘nonpolitical’ voluntary associations—infuses their ability and desire to participate in politics. The ideal image of the public sphere is that it [can] compensate for inequalities bred elsewhere; this study forcefully shows how public life actually amplifies them… The marvel of this compendium is that it keeps so many questions in the air simultaneously… The book is an extremely rich source of data with many startling, thought-provoking finding.
Voice and Equality is a major contribution to understanding patterns of political participation in the United States. First, it advances our knowledge of participation by providing descriptive details about the characteristics of those who engage in a variety of political actions beyond the electoral and campaign activities that can be examined through data collected in the American National Election Studies. Second, models to account for variation in several types of political activity are specified and tested. Third, the effects of participation on representation are assessed.
[The authors] have written a splendid and engaging empirical treatise—large-scale social science at its very best—on how social and economic resources influence the extent to which, and the ways in which, people participate in politics and voluntary organizations.
[A] significant event in the study of political participation and democratic politics…Voice and Equality documents our progress as a discipline in understanding the role of citizens in democratic politics. Day-to-day, such progress may be difficult to see, but over the longer haul it becomes quite apparent. Students of citizenship and democratic politics will want to read Verba, Schlozman, and Brady in order to witness that progress, as well as to understand the challenges that lie ahead.
- 664 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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