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Brady, Verba, and Schlozman: Beyond SES

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Brady, Verba, and Schlozman. 1994. Beyond SES: A resource model of political participation. APSR: 829-838.

Abstract

Previous studies have controlled for socioeconomic status variables (income, education, etc) to predict political participation, but they haven't made clear why we should expect these variables to matter. Brady et al turn it around: Why don't people participate in politics? There are three answers: They can't, they don't want to, or nobody asked them to. In other words,

  • They can't: They lack the time (for participation), civic skills (for involvement), or money (for contributions).
  • They don't want to: They aren't interested in politics.
  • Nobody asked: They are isolated from the networks that mobilize people.

Using these independent variables, the authors show why people vote, make donations, or contribute their time to a cause:

  • Voting: Driven primarily by interest, though civic skills (e.g. education) also matter. Income and time are less important.
  • Donating money: Driven primarily by income. Neither free time nor civic skills seems to matter.
  • Spending free time on political activities: Driven by political interest; free time also matters, but civic skills has a greater impact. Income doesn't matter.

Measurement

  • Free time: time left over (in hours) after working, household chores, studying/school, and sleep.
  • Money: Family income to nearest $10,000.
  • Civic skills: A more complicated measure. Combines years of education, high school student government, verbal ability (vocabulary test), and degree of civic/communication skills displayed at work/church/etc.

Findings

  1. Resources vary in their relationship to SES. For example: income correlates well with SES, but free time doesn't (the poorest have more free time, but there's little correlation otherwise).
  2. They attempt to control for "political interest." It does appear to matter, but it doesn't supplant the effects of civic skills and income.
  3. The resource model works well for overall participation, but this summary measure (of participation) masks significant differences among specific political acts--differences which may be related to resources. There are three ways to participate: voting, donating, and volunteering.
    • Voting: Political interest matters more than resources. But civic skills seems to overlap with interest.
    • Donating: Strongly correlated with income; weak correlations otherwise.
    • Volunteering: Political interest matters. Civic skills matter more than civic interest. Income is irrelevant.