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ZEW: US Population Lacks Opportunity for Political Participation


26 Oct 2016


Global Europe
Justice & Home Affairs
Equal Opportunities in the United States: US Population Lacks Opportunity for Political Participation

While from a legal perspective, the US population does have several ways to get involved in politics, the opportunity to exercise these rights mostly depends on factors which are beyond individual control. Individuals which are less privileged in terms of family background and childhood experiences are practically excluded from certain forms of political participation, particularly when it comes to membership in political organisations, participation in rallies and marches, and the direct contact to officials. This is the result of a recent study carried out by ZEW, which for the first time analysed the equality of opportunity in political participation in the USA.

For their analysis, the ZEW researchers used representative panel data from US educational institutions. These data not only provided information on external circumstances, such as cognitive skills, educational achievements, and religion, but also allowed tracing psychological dispositions of US Americans from childhood to adulthood.

In order to analyse the level of political participation, the researchers considered the registration for the 2000 US Presidential election – which was ultimately won by the Republican candidate George W. Bush – and actual vote casting. Further forms of participation the researchers focused on were personal contact to officials, participation in rallies or marches, membership in political organisations, volunteering in civic organisations, and finally, the vote frequency in statewide and local elections.

"When it comes to political participation, the United States are a land of limited opportunities," summarises Andreas Peichl, head of the ZEW Research Group "International Distribution and Redistribution" and co-author of the
study. "Our results show that the opportunity for political involvement in the US is up to 50 per cent determined by a person's social environment and childhood background, depending on the form of participation." The extent to which a person is politically active mainly depends on factors which are beyond individual control. According to Andreas Peichl, "Political participation is almost like a natural lottery."

The study is available for download at:

For more information please contact:
Professor Andreas Peichl, Phone +49(0)621/1235-389, E-mail