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October 21, 2008 / C H Thompson

Political participation

political participation by Sam Cook a former student

This page looks at how people participate politically, with pressure groups being one of the processes. People participate politically through the following ways:

Voting – voting is usually seen as the most imporant form of political particiaption. However in the 2001saw just 59% of those eligible to vote actually bothering to vote! Indeed turnout at local elections is even lower, falling to around 30% in some areas. Turnout details here

Political party membership – this is declining for many parties. For example Labour has seen its membership fall from 400,000 in 1997 to around 250,000 in 2003. Listen to the reasons here

Pressure groups – membership of these groups tends to fluctuate. For example trade union membership is in decline, whereas so pressure groups like the Friends of the Earth and the Green Party have grown. Read the reasons for the growth in Green Party membership here. It’s also important to recognise the extent to which social-class plays in choice of pressure group by reading through the social composition of different types of pressure-group3.

Demonstrations – there is growing evidence of an increase in people turning to demonstrations as a means od political participation. This link takes you to a page which shows the comparative rates of participation, though the text book argues UK participation rates in political demonstrations are even higher

Petitions – the most common form of political action in 2000 was signing a petition. Petitions come in two main forms e-petitions and paper petitions. Here’s a couple of examples of paper petitions Torbay fire petition and Mothers’ Day petition. While Change.org illustrates the process of e-petitions.

Internet – there’s growing evidence that more people are using the internet as a political tool, especially as a way participating in all the methods listed above (with the exception of physical demonstrations) you can demonstrate via the internet by creating/signing up to websites which boycotting certain things. Internet based or digital political activism is increasingly popular form of political activism with younger people. In addition the internet has seen a growth in political blogs a point discussed in this Guardian article.

Media – the electorate can write letters which are published in newspapers, or phone in radio or TV shows such as Question Time.

The following page examines the most popular forms of political participation. Despite such optimistic figures voter apathy remains a massive issue which is discussed here.

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