Concept Analysis: Political Involvement

Concept analysis written for PR Research Methods course in Oct. 2018


Concept Analysis: Part I

Across literature, the conceptual meanings of political involvement are quite similar. Terms such as active, voluntary participation and engagement in the political process are used to describe those who partake in activities that will influence the decision making of their public officials and inspire other citizens to create change. Most importantly, political involvement has been conceptualized to incorporate actions, both explicitly political and non-political in nature. Scholars have also made the distinction between political engagement and civic engagement, with the latter focused more on advocating for one’s own community in all aspects (Atkin, Kim, & Lin, 2016, p. 25). Still, public action is not always concrete or outrightly measurable and therefore must then be operationalized.

Conceptual definitions of political involvement in academia are consistently multidimensional, showing that the construct goes beyond a singular dimension. The dimension of public action is common to all conceptual definitions, but others have the inclusion of political thought. This particularly links to political party affiliation, measured by one’s official registration to the Democratic or Republican Parties or a lack of party affiliation (Bas & Grabe, 2016, p. 1719). In other words, one’s political affiliation determines the essence of their political involvement.

Though conceptual definitions of political involvement tend to mirror each other, the way in which their indicators are developed through operationalization differs. Firstly, operational definitions of political involvement have stemmed from one’s partisan affiliation, national attachment/compliance with the local, state, and federal governments, participation in grassroots activism, and voting history (Andriot & Straughn, 2011, p. 558). These previously-stated indicators can be measured by one’s official registration to the Democratic or Republican Parties or lack of party affiliation, number of protests attended, breadth of campaign work (number of doors knocked, calls made, etc.), and their record for voting in every election. Of the explored literature, these indicators and concepts were common conceptual definitions, operational definitions, and measurements. However, some scholars’ definitions revolve around the inclusion of other factors.

The greatest difference in definitions comes with the incorporation of technological factors. In our hyper-connected society, social media use has taken on a unique role in the political process, giving individuals a platform to speak out about their beliefs. Political involvement has been operationalized to include posting political content on social networking sites, offline political discussions, and sharing content on social networking sites from public officials, candidates, activists, etc. (Atkin, Kim, & Lin, 2016, p. 27). Lower-order concepts such as membership to social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) can be traced and then the number of political engagements, including posting, sharing, and commenting, can be easily measured.

Aside from these forms of technological engagement, audiovisual and visual information have been posited to affect one’s extent of political involvement. Watching testimonies or features on social networking sites and TV in which the interviewee gives emotional responses about their first-hand experiences with social issues can encourage others to become politically involved (Bas & Grabe, 2016, p. 1721). Access and exposure to these testimonies are parts of this operational definition, as those who view these stories are more likely to donate money and volunteer time to social and political causes (Bas & Grabe, 2016, p. 1723). The amount of dollars donated and the hours spent volunteering for a cause clearly measure these lower-order concepts.  

As the final difference, willingness to engage in protests and other activities that are centered around group-based political participation has been connected to the five-factor model, used in psychology to assess personality traits. Certain personality traits may make someone predisposed to political involvement (Foschi & Lauriola, 2014, p. 341).

Concept Analysis: Part II

It is logical for scholars to include political action as the essential property of political involvement. Though political action can be marked as the clearest dimension of political involvement, these political actions can be contingent on other dimensions. For my conceptual definition of political involvement, individuals act and and think in ways that shape outcomes of the political process. Furthermore, demographic background is taken into account to explain why an individual might act and think in different political ways. Of the definitions I found across academia, none included demographic background, a dimension that undoubtedly affects the extent and nature of one’s political involvement. Thus, the three most significant dimensions in my conceptual definition are political action, political thought, and demographic background.

Each dimension is then operationalized. For political action, indicators include fundraising, campaigning, voting history, and political social media. These indicators align with academic operational definitions of political involvement. The measures of these indicators can then be marked as ratio measures, since they are concerned with the number and frequency at which an individual has participated in political efforts. Fundraising is measured by the amount of money donated toward a candidate or activist group. Campaigning is measured by the number of doors knocked, volunteer hours, and number of grassroots efforts and phonebanks partaken in. Voting history can be concisely linked to the number of times an individual has voted since they were age-eligible. Outcomes for political social media then relate to the number of retweets/shares on political content, original political posts, and public officials followed. Simply put, the greater number one is ranked for these indicators, the more politically involved they are.

Political thought is separated into political affiliation and government compliance. These indicators revolve around perceptions of patriotism being a commitment to collective ideals. This operationalization takes into consideration those who dissent against their government with the intention of improving social issues and shifting the political climate. The individuals who do respond to the government through protests and public disagreement engage in a nontraditional form of public involvement by this definition and tend to be the most educated (Andriot & Straughn, 2011, p. 556). The most effective measurement to look at in this case is someone’s political protest history, documenting the number of times they have attended one of these gatherings.

As mentioned before, demographic background is included in my definition because it accounts for some of the concepts and connections left out in other academic definitions. Reinforced by the relationship between education and political involvement, certain demographic factors may predispose an individual to be more politically engaged. Consequently, there is an interconnectedness between demographic and political thought. Indicators such as gender and region may directly influence one’s political affiliation, further driving their political involvement. Age can affect the frequency at which an individual votes. Above all, demographic background may explain why some individuals do not have high political involvement. Some demographic background indicators could restrict access to social media, money to donate toward political causes, and time to volunteer on campaigns. By scrutinizing the underlying factors that may restrict individuals from political thought and action, a more precise understanding of political involvement and its conceptual and operational definitions can be reached.


References

Andriot, A.L., & Straughn, J.B. (2011). Education, Civic Patriotism, and Democratic Citizenship: Unpacking the Education Effect on Political Involvement. Sociological Forum, Vol.26(3), p.p.556-580.

Atkin, D.J., Kim, T., & Lin, C.A. (2016). The Influence of Social Networking Sites on Political Behavior: Modeling Political Involvement via Online and Offline Activity. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Vol. 60(1), p.p. 23-39.

Bas, O., & Grabe, M.E. (2016). Personalized News and Participatory Intent: How Emotional Displays of Everyday Citizens Promote Political Involvement. American Behavioral Scientist, Vol.60(14), p.p.1719-1736.
Foschi, R., & Lauriola, M. (2014). Does Sociability Predict Civic Involvement and Political Participation? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol.106(2), p.p. 339-357.

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