The Dynamics of Political Participation: An Analysis of the Dynamic Interaction between Individuals and their Political Micro-Environment

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While political choices are rarely isolated or simultaneous, the vast majority of empirical models in political science assume they are. This dissertation examines the dynamic interactions over time between individuals and their micro-environment, in which a single factor both influences, and is influenced by, the act of voting. These dynamic interactions occur in a surprisingly broad swathe of the current literature on American voting behavior, as implicit but unexamined elements of four major research traditions. When these interactions are present, they establish feedback cycles that pose both theoretical and statistical challenges if not analyzed appropriately. Researchers ignoring these cycles tend to underestimate long term influences on voting behavior, make unrealistic assumptions about changes in voting behavior over time, and produce biased results under certain conditions.

I propose a methodology that can successfully identify and model these interactions: employing simulation models to represent dynamic interactions in an intuitive format, and using optimization techniques to conduct parameter estimation and hypothesis testing against empirical data. To guide the development of these simulation models, I outline a theoretical framework of the major pathways by which dynamic interactions can influence voting behavior.

I then present two applications of this methodology, to study the dynamic impacts on voting of political mobilization, and of social conformity over time. In both cases, the models receive strong statistical support, in benchmark tests against existing econometric models and against empirical data on voting behavior. Both mobilization and social conformity have unstudied indirect impacts that can lead to an additional 1.7% to 4% increase in voter turnout beyond existing models. Targeted use of peer pressure can lead to even more significant increases in turnout - up to a 30% increase among otherwise indecisive voters. In the long term, targeted mobilization can create cadres of repeatedly-mobilized activists, which raises questions about whether political campaigns effectively use their mobilization funds to build their parties in the long term. These two simulation models also provide a foundation for a host of new research questions, ranging from the impact of high-intensity get-out-the-vote drives on future mobilization efforts, to the effects of an aging population on turnout behavior over time.