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Risk Attitudes and Political Participation


  • I am grateful to Adam Berinsky, John Geer, Don Kinder, Adam Levine, Efrén Pérez, Beth Simas, Liz Zechmeister, and participants at the Harvard Center for American Political Studies Workshop and the Center for Political Studies Interdisciplinary Workshop on Politics and Policy at the University of Michigan for constructive advice. All errors are my own.

Cindy D. Kam is Associate Professor of Political Science, Vanderbilt University, PMB 0505, Nashville, TN 37203 (


This article contributes to existing explanations of political participation by proposing that citizens’ attitudes towards risk predict participation. I argue that people who are risk accepting participate in political life because politics offers novelty and excitement. Analyses of two independent Internet surveys establish a positive, significant relationship between risk attitudes and general political participation. The analyses also suggest that the relationship between risk attitudes and action varies with the political act: people who are more risk accepting are more likely to participate in general political acts, but they are no more or less likely to turn out in elections. Further analyses suggest that two key mechanisms—novelty seeking and excitement seeking—underlie the relationship between risk attitudes and political participation.