Assessing How Participators Combine Acts in Their “Political Tool Kits”: A Person-Centered Measurement Approach for Analyzing Citizen Participation

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Scholars have recognized that a recent increase in the ways citizens participate beyond the electoral arena may be a promising avenue of renewal for citizen participation. In this article we test the theory that different kinds of citizenship norms motivate some citizens to specialize in electoral-oriented activities (e.g. voting), while others specialize in non-institutionalized activities (e.g. protest). The latent class analysis of data from the U.S. Citizen, Involvement and Democracy Survey (2005) in the current study assesses how actors combine a variety of acts in their “political tool kits” of participation, and facilitates a comparison to prior findings that analyze single political behaviors. Results indicate a participatory type that specializes in non-institutionalized acts, but the group’s high probability of voting does not align with the expectations in the literature. An electoral-oriented specialist type is not identified; instead, the findings show that a majority of the population is best characterized as disengaged, while a small group of all-around activists embrace all possible opportunities for political action. The actor-centered theoretical and measurement approach in this study identifies caveats to the theory that changing citizenship norms are leading to civic and political renewal. We discuss the implications of these findings for measuring different aspects of democratic (dis)engagement and participatory (in)equality.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)235-258
Number of pages24
JournalSocial Indicators Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2017


  • Citizen participation
  • Citizenship norms
  • Latent class analysis
  • Participatory inequality
  • Political participation

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences


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