Clarifying the Role of SES in Political Participation: Policy Threat and Arab American Mobilization


Wendy K. Tam Cho is associate professor of political science, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208. James G. Gimpel is professor of government, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742. Tony Wu is a Ph.D. student, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139.


Although there is much empirical support for the causal connection between higher socioeconomic status (SES) and political participation, there are ample instances of lower SES individuals participating and higher SES individuals abstaining from participation. Apparently other factors send some similarly situated individuals down the expected path and cause others to detour. In the same vein, several bodies of political science literature suggest that threatening circumstances can be politically motivating, but mobilization does not always follow. Our analysis of Arab American participation patterns suggests that the effects of socioeconomic status are mediated by socialization experiences and policy threat. If the political learning process includes the apprehension of worrisome government policy actions, it may provide the motivation for participation from those who have the ability to participate, but heretofore have chosen not to do so.