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date: 30 May 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Democratic government requires the participation of its citizens, but Downs shows that it is not in the self-interest of individuals to vote, or acquire political information. This chapter reviews the theoretical and empirical support for the three explanations for political participation: civic duty, expressive benefit, and altruism. The preponderance of evidence supports the civic duty and altruistic explanations for why people vote. But the civic duty explanation does not readily extend to the acquisition of political information, campaign contributions, or contributions to public interest groups. Additionally, neither civic duty nor expressive identification offers an explanation of why turnout increases in close elections or for strategic voting. Altruism incorporates probabilities in the determination of expected benefits from political participation and hence easily explains these phenomena. The preponderance of evidence, as indicated in this chapter, now favors the altruistic explanation for the different types of political participation.

Keywords: voting, political participation, altruism, civic duty, expressive benefit, self-interest

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