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By Neil Carlson, Voter Turnout and Social Capital


Social capital is a concept that can facilitate a friendly merger between sociological and economic theories of political behavior. Rational-choice theories emphasize resources and constraints, and political-cultural theories focus on normative rules and habitual behavior; social capital integrates both. Mutual obligations instituted among members of society function as “credit slips ” which are both derived from preexisting cultural norms and subject to cost-benefit analysis by the individual. Previous research has suggested that elections constitute one such institution, composed of widely diffused mutual obligations. The decision to turn out is reanalyzed here in light of this approach, focusing on the respondent’s exposure to normative contexts that foster mutual obligations. Respondents act rationally upon the information represented by their political-cultural attitudes toward self, government, and regime. Nonvoters who are alienated and excluded from the political community, particularly the racial and ethnic minorities, can be distinguished from satisfied or apathetic nonvoters when these contextual controls are included. Civic engagement (membership in voluntary associations) is demonstrated to be a significant predictor of turnout in the 1996 presidential election. Th

Year: 1999
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