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Beyond the Self: Social Identity, Altruism, and Political Participation


James H. Fowler is associate professor of political science, University of California—San Diego, San Diego, CA 92093. Cindy D. Kam is assistant professor of political science, University of California—Davis, Davis, CA 95616.


Scholars have recently extended the traditional calculus of participation model by adding a term for benefits to others. We advance this work by distinguishing theoretically a concern for others in general (altruism) from a concern for others in certain groups (social identification). We posit that both concerns generate increased benefits from participation. To test these theories, we use allocations in dictator games towards an unidentified anonymous recipient and two recipients identified only as a registered Democrat or a registered Republican. These allocations permit a distinction between altruism and social identification. The results show that both altruism and social identification significantly increase political participation. The results also demonstrate the usefulness of incorporating benefits that stem from sources beyond material self-interest into rational choice models of participation.