4 Groups of Citizens on the Basis of Levels of Political Participation (as Classified by Robert Dahl)

(3) The Power-seekers, and

(4) The Powerful.

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1. The Apolitical Stratum:

The apolitical stratum is constituted by those citizens who are neither concerned nor informed about politics. They are not active in the political process. They are apathetic towards politics and relatively inactive. In every political system the apolitical stratum is present.

Very often a large number of citizens, even in democratic systems, are apathetic towards politics. Robert Dahl projects the view: “In most polyarchies (Popular governments or democratic system something between a fifth and a third of the eligible voters do not usually vote in national elections. Much larger fractions abstain from other kinds of political activity.”

There are several factors which influence people in becoming political apathetic. Robert Dahl identifies the following reasons which lead to the emergence of the apolitical stratum.

i. Feeling of Low Rewards:

People are less likely to get involved in politics if they place a low valuation on the rewards to be gained from political involvement relative to the rewards expected from other kinds of human activity. Many people feel that political activity is less rewarding than other activities and hence they decide to remain away from politics.

ii. Lack of Real and Effective Choice:

A person is less likely to get involved in politics if he thinks that there is no significant difference in the alternatives before him and consequently, what he does will not matter. Some people decide not to participate in voting because the parties do not offer them a real choice.

iii. Self-assumed Insignificance:

An individual is less likely to become involved in politics if he thinks what he does will not matter because he cannot significantly change the outcome anyway. The weaker is one’s sense of political efficacy, the less likely one is to become involved in politics.

iv. Faith in Goodness of Decisions:

People are less likely to get involved in politics if they believe that the outcome will be relatively less satisfactory to them without their involvement. A citizen who believes that a particular political decision is important might nevertheless not become involved in it if he feels quite confident that the decision will turn out well anyway. Just as low confidence in one’s political efficiency discourages participation, so high confidence in the all-round justice, legitimacy, stability and fairness of decision in one’s political system may make one’s own participation seem unnecessary.

v. Lack of Faith in Self-role:

A person is less likely to get involved in politics if he feels that his knowledge is too limited to be effective if he may become involved in politics. In every country, a large number of people feel that they do not understand politics very well and hence, they decide to turn away from politics.

vi. Existence of Hurdles:

Finally, the greater the obstacles placed in one’s way, the less likely one is to become involved in politics. In the words of Robert Dahl, “When a person expects high rewards from an activity, he is willing to overcome great obstacles and incur high ‘costs’ to gain them. But when he believes that the rewards are going to be low or non-existent, even modest obstacles and costs are enough to discourage him. Why bother to climb over a fence if the grass is not greener on the other side?”

Besides these, several other socio-economic factors – illiteracy, poverty, ignorance, regionalism, casteism, sectoral communalism, unhelpful rules and regulations (poll tax, property qualification, registration fees and conditions, also act as hindrances in the way of political participation and can increase the area of apolitical stratum.

2. The Political Stratum:

The Political stratum consists of the people who are concerned and informed about politics, and are active in public affairs. It consists of the people who actively and freely participate in the political process.

The persons who belong to the political stratum accept that politics is a high rewarding activity and that they have to play a role in the decision-making and policy-formulation process. They are confident of their roles in politics and are fully oriented towards politics.

They are prepared to overcome the obstacles that may come in their ways. They participate in the political process by participating in the party activities and by organising and getting involved in interest group activity.

They organise and participate in political campaigns, conferences, demonstrations and movements. They try to occupy political roles and get actively involved in the process of decision-making and policy-formulation.

However, within the political stratum, some persons seek power more vigorously than others. They constitute sub-stratum-the power-seekers. Further, those who are in a position to gain more power than others constitute another sub-stratum – the powerful leaders.

3. The Power-Seekers:

The power-seekers are those persons who are eager to gain more and more influence over the policies, rules and decisions enforced by the government. They have political resources, which they are prepared to use for securing power. They try to get power either for promoting collective good or for achieving the goals of self-interest or even both.

They try to seek power for acquiring fame, reverences, security, respect, affection, wealth and many other values. The power-seeker believes that with power he can become more important, loved, respected and admired.

Power-seeker is a person who : (a) places a high value on gaining power; (b) demands power for the self; (c) has relatively high confidence that he can gain power; and (d) acquires at least a minimum proficiency in the skills of power.

4. The Powerful:

In the political stratum, those power-seekers who are in a position to gain and wield more power than others are referred to as the powerful. By a judicious use of their resources some people are in a position to gain and exercise power over others and they are the powerful. Though all powerful are not equally involved in the exercise of power in society yet their potential to do so makes it essential to refer to them as the powerful.

Their participation in politics is high, active and continuous. Their ability to gain and exercise more power than others is related to two factors: (i) differences in the amount of resources used, and (ii) differences in the skill or efficiency with which resources are used.

This classification of citizens, on the basis of the level of political participation, can be useful in analysing the political behaviour of the people and their role in the decision-making or policy-formulation.

Dahl’s classification of the people into two stratums-Political stratum and political stratum, and the sub-classification of the latter into two sub-stratums – the power seekers and the powerful, can be used for a systematic study of political participation of the people in various political systems. Comparative Politics uses the concept for comparing human behaviour of different people in different Political Systems.