Political alienation

In political science, political alienation refers to an individual citizen's relatively enduring sense of estrangement from, or rejection of, the prevailing political system. In representative democracies, this often leads to voter apathy - the abstention from voting in that government's elections.

Content and categoriesEdit

Political alienation is not to be confused with voter apathy, which describes a person's indifference to voting and/or the voting process. Politically alienated, people feel compelled to vote, but are restricted by their sense of insignificance to the system. They feel that they are underrepresented or not represented at all by those running for office; their best interest or concerns are not regarded.[1]

Political alienation falls into two broad categories: political incapability and political discontentment. In the first instance, alienation is forced upon the individual by their environment, whereas in the second case it is voluntarily chosen by them.[2]

There are at least five expressions of political alienation:[3]

  1. Political powerlessness. An individual's feeling that they cannot affect the actions of the government.
  2. Political meaninglessness. An individual's perception that political decisions are unclear and unpredictable.
  3. Political normlessness. An individual's perception that norms or rules intended to govern political relations are broken down, and that departures from prescribed behavior are common.
  4. Political isolation. An individual's rejection of political norms and goals that are widely held and shared by other members of a society.
  5. Political disappointment. An individual's disinterest to a political decision or participation because of the ruling class bad behaviors, such as, leaders having scandals by doing shameful things.

Political alienation is adversely related to political efficacy.[2][3]

The most common electoral consequences of political alienation are abstention and protest voting.[2][3]

In the current election system in the United States, many voters feel that their vote will not matter in their state if they do not agree with the majority of the population. Voters who usually vote Democrat in the general election, but live in a primarily Republican state, often feel less inclined to vote. The same goes for Republicans who live in a primarily Democratic state. In these situations, voters feel as if their vote no longer matters in the electoral college.[4]

  • This idea prompted groups to propose new state boundary lines or new states in general. This idea is most notably tied to the Partition and secession in California

2016 U.S. General ElectionEdit

The 2016 U.S. General Election saw political alienation as one of the forefronts of the campaign. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton made appeals to the working class in Midwestern states by pointing out that they feel as if their votes carried little weight and said communities had been abandoned by past candidates. Trump and Clinton did the same with Black and Latino voters in urban areas, voicing concerns with political alienation in the past.[5]

The voter turnout in the 2016 election is estimated to have been 55.5% of those eligible to vote. This election also saw an increase in voters in swing states and a decrease in voters living in "locked" states. This made political alienation a primary issue during the election because of the low voter turnout in many states.[6]

Possible solutionsEdit

Belgian historian David van Reybrouck describes in his book Against elections the current problems in Western democracy as the democratic fatigue syndrome. As a solution for the alienation of voters from parties and politicians he advocates a deliberative democracy based on sortition.[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Glasberg, Davita Silfen; Shannon, Deric (November 16, 2010). Political Sociology: Oppression, Resistance, and the State. SAGE Publications, Inc; 1 edition. ISBN 1412980402. OCLC 815880812.
  2. ^ a b c Olsen, Marvin E. (1968). "Two Categories of Political Alienation". Social Forces. 47: 288. doi:10.2307/2575027. Retrieved 2011-06-21.
  3. ^ a b c Finifter, Ada W. (June 1970). "Dimensions of Political Alienation". The American Political Science Review. 64 (2): 389–410. doi:10.2307/1953840. JSTOR 1953840.
  4. ^ Wood, Michael (Fall 2014). "Political Alienation in American Society". Vermont Senior Thesis: 48.
  5. ^ "2016g - United States Elections Project". www.electproject.org. Retrieved 2018-10-26.
  6. ^ "2016g - United States Elections Project". www.electproject.org. Retrieved 2018-10-26.
  7. ^ "Book Review: Against Elections: The Case for Democracy by David Van Reybrouck". Retrieved 2019-03-10.

External linksEdit

Lesson Plan for The Encyclopedia of Democracy - Congressional Quarterly Books: Political alienation