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Leighley: Group membership and the mobilization of political participation

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Leighley. 1996. Group membership and the mobilization of political participation. Journal of Politics 58 (May): 447-63.

In Brief

This short but (empirically) clever piece suggests that the sort of mobilization discussed by Olson (1965), Uhlaner, and Shachar/Nalebluff doesn't happen. Leighley uses data from a national study of associations--surveying both leaders and members. She examines both political (Republicans, NARAL) and nonpolitical organizations.


Membership in either type of organization (political or nonpolitical) increases "unintentional mobilization"--basically, Putnam's style of mobilization. People learn leadership and participation skills and then use them in politics.

Only political organizations attempt "intentional mobilization" (telling people to go vote). When members join the political organizations for purposive reasons (e.g. they join because they want to lobby for specific legal changes, or for some other beneit), then intentional motivation succeeds. When members join the political organizations for non-purposive reasons (such as solidary or selective incentives), mobilization does not work. (That selective and solidary incentives don't lead to mobilization undermines Olson's (1965) model of collective action--and many later models.)

We can't claim that leaders are activating their followers; instead, followers appear to activate their leaders. When followers join an organization for purposive goals, their leaders can mobilize them, but otherwise the leaders are weak.