Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics
investigates who participates in America, how they participate, and why they participate. Sidney Verba, Kay Lehman Scholzman, and Henry Brady, who will henceforth be referred to as VSB, form conclusions based on a random survey of 15,053 people and then follow up with in-person interviews with 2,517 members of the original survey. The surveys were conducted in the mid 1990s.
VSB maintain that the rhetoric behind American democracy is based on a notion of equality. However, people don't participate equally in this country. Some people are signing petitions, going to rallies, donating money. Others can barely drag their butts to the voting booth in November. These different rates are the result of "unequal stockpiles of the resources necessary for participation."
VSB clearly believe that the unequal participation rate is a problem for democracy, though not everyone does. There are some who think that it's a good thing that uneducated people aren't participating. When they do, we end up with Sarah Palin on the ticket. However, VSB don't really tackle this question and instead leave us some footnotes on political philosophy to check out.
VSB say that the literature clearly shows that participation rates are strongly tied to one's education and income level (SES), but they want to go beyond this literature to probe what it is exactly about being middle class and educated that gets one to write the letter to a Congressman. They look at time constraints, money, motivation, participation in other volunteer activities and churches. They also look at a variety of political activities beyond just voting, including letter writing, attending rallies, and volunteering for a campaign.
This book is written for an academic audience. There aren't a lot of adjectives or well-turned phrases in there, which is a shame, because the findings are so interesting that it could have appealed to a wider audience. I'll blog about my favorite bits in the book throughout the day.