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Citizen participation is at the core of democratic politics, and the task of explaining why some people participate in politics when others do not is perhaps the central issue in political science. Individuals—who manage campaigns, undertake voluntary activity in different types of organizations, conduct elections, and run for elective office—literally operate the political system; democratic politics is impossible without them. If explaining political participation is a core issue in political science, explaining high-intensity participation is, arguably, the most important problem in this core area.
Paul F. Whiteley and Patrick Seyd propose a modified rational choice model to best explain this high-intensity participation. Their "general incentives" model combines variables from social psychological accounts of behavior with variables from rational choice accounts. The model is applied to the tasks of explaining why some people become highly active and also why others "burn out" and subsequently become inactive. The evidence shows that in the grass roots of the British parties political participation in general is in decline, and the authors go on to argue that this poses serious problems for the Westminster model of parliamentary government.
Centering attention on British Labour and Conservative parties over a ten-year period, this study of high-intensity participation involves a number of different panel surveys and charts the dynamic of participation in these parties over time. By means of a series of encompassing models and empirical tests, High-Intensity Participation identifies the most plausible account of participation.
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