Menu Adam R Brown

Notes navigation: Browse by titleBrowse by authorSubject index

Verba and Nie: Participation in America

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Verba and Nie. 1972. Participation in America: Political democracy and social equality. New York: Harper and Row.

In Brief

Socioeconomic forces (but also group consciousness, community size, party membership, etc) affect 'who' participates. This, in turn, affects what opinions government 'responds' to. See the flowchart on pg 22 (and on pp. 18-22).


Chapter 1: Overview

Three themes

  1. What forces determine who participates? (Part II of the book)
  2. Who actually participates? (Part I of the book)
  3. How would governmental outputs (specifically, allocations) differ if a different set of citizens participated? (Part III of the book)

Model: See the flowcharts on pages 18-22, especially on pg 22.

Part I: Who Participates? (Chapters 2-7)

Chapter 2 (?)

Factor analysis: This is how they got the four modes of participation. They just mined the four modes.

Part II: What Forces Determine Who Participates? (Chapters 8-14)

Key points in Part II (from pgs 263-4):

  1. Socioeconomic status predicts participation well. High SES leads individuals to develop a set of "civic" attitudes, leading to participation.
  2. Other forces modify the SES model:
    • Affiliation with voluntary associations (increases the gap between high- and low-SES people
    • Partisanship also increases the gap
    • Political beliefs also increase the gap (especially the conservative policy preferences of high-SES Republicans)
  3. Black group consciousness reduces the black-white disparity
  4. The model appears to work over time (1950-1970), not only in 1967.
  5. The variables listed here do not have uniform effects on the four types of participation studied.
  6. Participation is higher in smaller communities. Urbanization decreases participation.

Chapter 8: SES and participation

Socioeconomic status (SES) correlates strongly with participation. Of the four modes of participation, SES correlates well with campaign activity, voting, and communal activity (but not particularized contracting). See Fig 8-3 (pg 131) and Fig 8-4 (pg 132). As Figs 8-5 and 8-6 show (pgs 134-5), SES's effect on activity is mediated by civic orientations.

Chapter 10: Race and participation

Chapter 14: The Record of 1950-1970

Part III: Does it Matter Who Participates? (Chapters 15-19)

Chapter 15: Participation and Policy Preferences

Those who participate have different policy preferences than those who do not. Thus, if politicians look only to participators (letter writers, voters, protesters, etc) to gauge the public mood, they will frequently (but not always) be wrong--and not always in the same direction.

(Possible criticism: Endogeneity threat. The authors claim that people with particular policy views participate more. Perhaps there is reverse causation, though: Could it be that people choose not to participate because they feel that the system does not respect their views? If you are convinced that the government only listens to people with particular views (at least in 1967), would you tune out?)

Conclusion (Chapter 20)

Chapter 20 mainly summarizes the findings already listed above. It does add one more interesting tidbit: Within each socioeconomic bloc, highly active citizens agree more with government policies than less active citizens.

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Verba, Sidney (author)Nie, Norman (author)American PoliticsParticipationDemocracyEqualitySocioeconomic StatusRacismVotingResponsiveness

Wikisum home: Index of all summaries by title, by author, or by subject.