Year of Publication

2014

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Document Type

Master's Thesis

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Dr. Thomas Janoski

Abstract

Common knowledge dictates that cynicism and mistrust of politics is rampant among US citizens, wreaking havoc on participation in the American political process. Social Capital theories are commonly used to effectively explain US political behavior, but fail to account for alienation from the political process or the influence of peers. I argue that models of political participation would be improved by the inclusion of political alienation variables, which have fallen into disuse in recent decades. Using data from the US Citizenship, Involvement, and Democracy Survey (2006), this paper relies upon negative binomial regression with nested models to compare the explanatory power of social capital variables with models including political alienation and peer influence variables to assess the value of such concepts. Results indicate that while the parent variables of political alienation (powerlessness, meaninglessness, and mistrust of political institutions) improve model accuracy and influence political participation, the latent variable remains ambiguously useful. Powerlessness and mistrust revealed significant effects, but mistrust failed to fit into the latent concept of political alienation, and meaninglessness did not produce significant results. Peer influence only significantly affected political participation when participants specifically discussed political matters with peers. Implications and concepts for future research follow.

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