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Keywords:

  • political efficacy;
  • political participation;
  • disability;
  • employment

Political efficacy is a widely studied phenomenon and an important predictor of political participation, but little is known about the political efficacy of the millions of people with disabilities in the United States. This paper reports the results of a nationally representative telephone survey of 1,240 people—stratified to include 700 people with disabilities—following the November 1998 elections. Several measures of efficacy that help predict political activity were found to be significantly lower among people with disabilities than among otherwise similar people without disabilities. Although lower levels of internal efficacy and civic skills could largely be explained by educational and employment gaps, lower levels of other variables (external efficacy, perceived influence of people with disabilities, and perceived treatment of people with disabilities) remained after applying a wide range of controls, indicating that people with disabilities are less likely to see the political system as responsive to them. This perception is concentrated among non–employed people with disabilities. The lower efficacy levels linked to “disability gaps” in employment, income, education, and group attendance appear to account for as much as half of the disability political participation gap; hence, policies intended to increase employment and educational opportunities for people with disabilities have potentially important political effects.