Ideological Extremism and Public Participation

Social Science Quarterly, Forthcoming

Posted: 4 Jun 2005

See all articles by Andrew B. Whitford

Andrew B. Whitford

University of Georgia - Department of Public Administration and Policy


Does aggregate ideological extremism reduce public participation? Does participation in governance processes fall when the social environment shifts to the extreme left or the extreme right of the political spectrum? Our main hypothesis is that the aggregate ideological orientation of the social environment constrains volunteerism in social regulatory programs. Methods. We test our hypothesis using a panel tobit analysis of data from the federal Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. Results. Our model of public participation (expressed as volunteerism) shows that participation expands when the ideological position of a state's citizens is at the extreme left or right of the political continuum. We show the differential effects of two types of aggregate ideological orientation: of citizens and their political leaders. We further find that participation is greatest in states with extremely liberal citizen ideological positions. Conclusions. These findings paint a more complex picture of the effect of extremism in the social environment on public participation measured as production volunteerism. In sum, public participation is greatest when there the social environment is ideologically polarized, and social regulation is strongest when volunteerism is greatest.

Keywords: volunteerism, long term care, political ideology

JEL Classification: H11, H40, H77, I31, L33

Suggested Citation

Whitford, Andrew B., Ideological Extremism and Public Participation. Social Science Quarterly, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Andrew B. Whitford (Contact Author)

University of Georgia - Department of Public Administration and Policy ( email )

Athens, GA 30602
United States
706-542-2898 (Phone)
706-583-0610 (Fax)


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