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Opportunities for Inequality: Context and Disparities in Political Participation
Unformatted Document Text:  inequality does expand the racial gap for the composite measures of participation, but the results are largely inconclusive when the individual acts are examined. Contrary to expectations, we saw that the income gap actually narrows as black earnings become more unequal. Previous research has emphasized that black economic bifurcation depresses the participation of those in the lower income strata (Cohen and Dawson 1993; Alex-Assensoh and Assensoh 2001). Figure 13 shows that there is a disproportionate negative impact of inequality on higher income black people, and the loss of these generally active participants serves to increase the race gap in terms of overall participation. 4 Conclusion As articulated in this paper, an opportunity model of participation make three major theoretical claims: 1. Individual choices of how and when to participate are functions of policy concern and oppor- tunity. That is, individuals form constituencies of interests – groups defined only by politicalactivity aimed at some shared policy objective – in accordance with the levels of access,conflict, allies, networks, and threats present in the broader sociopolitical environment. 2. Given this set up, disparities along lines of race or gender should be explained by differences in how these groups recognize opportunities. These differences themselves stem from distinctivepolicy concerns and, perhaps most fundamentally, with the components of group identity. 3. Mobilization is held to operate both explicitly and implicitly in all participation decisions. The critical point here is that even if political entrepreneurs do not actively engage in mobilization,individuals recognize opportunities based on their subscription to particular identifications,so individual efforts are merely pieces of larger collective efforts towards collective goals. This study of participation gaps seeks to provide supporting evidence for these theoretical claims. I build on previous research by introducing the language of opportunities at the individual level of participation and illustrating that the effects of dynamic opportunities vary across individuals. The analysis in this paper does not entirely explain racial differences in the probability of taking political action. However, by illustrating the role of opportunities in shaping the behavior of participation gaps over time, there is firmer footing to begin a more comprehensive search for the root causes 32

Authors: Platt, Matthew.
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inequality does expand the racial gap for the composite measures of participation, but the results
are largely inconclusive when the individual acts are examined. Contrary to expectations, we saw
that the income gap actually narrows as black earnings become more unequal. Previous research
has emphasized that black economic bifurcation depresses the participation of those in the lower
income strata (Cohen and Dawson 1993; Alex-Assensoh and Assensoh 2001). Figure 13 shows
that there is a disproportionate negative impact of inequality on higher income black people, and
the loss of these generally active participants serves to increase the race gap in terms of overall
participation.
4
Conclusion
As articulated in this paper, an opportunity model of participation make three major theoretical
claims:
1. Individual choices of how and when to participate are functions of policy concern and oppor-
tunity. That is, individuals form constituencies of interests – groups defined only by political
activity aimed at some shared policy objective – in accordance with the levels of access,
conflict, allies, networks, and threats present in the broader sociopolitical environment.
2. Given this set up, disparities along lines of race or gender should be explained by differences in
how these groups recognize opportunities. These differences themselves stem from distinctive
policy concerns and, perhaps most fundamentally, with the components of group identity.
3. Mobilization is held to operate both explicitly and implicitly in all participation decisions. The
critical point here is that even if political entrepreneurs do not actively engage in mobilization,
individuals recognize opportunities based on their subscription to particular identifications,
so individual efforts are merely pieces of larger collective efforts towards collective goals.
This study of participation gaps seeks to provide supporting evidence for these theoretical claims.
I build on previous research by introducing the language of opportunities at the individual level of
participation and illustrating that the effects of dynamic opportunities vary across individuals. The
analysis in this paper does not entirely explain racial differences in the probability of taking political
action. However, by illustrating the role of opportunities in shaping the behavior of participation
gaps over time, there is firmer footing to begin a more comprehensive search for the root causes
32


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