Proposal for the 2016 Pilot Study: The Nitty Gritty: The Unexplored Role of Grit and Perseverance in Political Participation

Political scientists and policymakers have long lamented the consistently dismal levels of civic
engagement in the United States. Despite widespread recognition that low levels of voter turnout are a concern for American democracy, it remains unclear how to remedy the problem. Existing theories of participation share the fundamental assumption that voting is costly. In addition to the informational costs associated with becoming informed about elections and registering to vote, citizens face a number of obstacles in turning out to vote, including locating and traveling to polling locations and navigating long lines on Election Day. In the United States, the costs of participation are incurred repeatedly, given the large number of elections held and the need to re-register with any changes in home address. Existing theories of participation focus on the individual resources—especially education, income, and mobilizing social networks—that enable individuals to participate. Individuals with higher levels of educational attainment have the cognitive resources to figure out voting requirements and make sense of the noise of political campaigns. Those with higher incomes have the ability to absorb the financial costs of participating. Those at the top end of the education and income distributions are also more likely to be in social networks where they will be asked to participate. Yet, policy efforts based on these theories have been notoriously unsuccessful.

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