AP US Government and Politics: Political Participation Notes

Key Takeaways: Political Participation

  1. When the Constitution was ratified in 1788, only white, landowning men could vote, and U.S. senators were not directly elected by the citizens. Over time, various amendments extended voting rights, including the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments.
  2. Political scientists study demographics to understand and predict voter turnout. Generally, citizens older than 65, those with higher incomes, and those with more education tend to have the highest turnout; conversely, citizens under 30 years old, those lacking college education, and those earning lower incomes tend to have much lower turnout. Voting laws and registration requirements are also major drivers of voting turnout.
  3. Linkage institutions are groups that connect people to the government and assist in turning the citizens’ concerns into political issues that prompt governmental action. The media, political parties, and interest groups are examples of linkage institutions.
  4. A political party is an organization of people with similar political ideologies that seeks to influence public policy and control the government through electing its candidates. American politics has been dominated by the two-party system, which today is made up of the Democratic and Republican parties. While interest groups focus primarily on policy outcomes, political parties seek to win elections.
  5. Several third parties, such as the Libertarian, Reform, and Green parties, have emerged over time. Major barriers have prevented them from electing national candidates, including the winner-take-all system and the incorporation of third-party ideas into Democratic and Republican platforms.
  6. The president and vice president are elected by the Electoral College following the general election. With very few exceptions, electors from each state plus Washington, D.C., vote for the candidate who won their statewide popular vote. This winner-take-all approach of distributing electors has raised questions about the extent to which the Electoral College facilitates or impedes democracy.
  7. In Citizens United v. FEC (2010), the Supreme Court held that political spending by corporations and other groups is a form of free speech that is protected by the First Amendment. This ruling has sparked the creation of super PACs and ignited debate over the role that money can and should play in elections.
  8. The media influences how the public learns about political issues and events. Mass-media coverage raises awareness of certain topics, thereby increasing the public demand for government action. Social media and the changing nature of media are significantly changing the way campaigns are run and political issues are communicated.

Key Terms: Political Participation


  • Universal suffrage: The extension of the right to vote to all adult citizens, with no qualifications based on race, sex, or property ownership.
  • Thirteenth Amendment: An amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery; ratified in 1865.
  • Fourteenth Amendment: An amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining national citizenship and forbidding the states to restrict the basic rights of citizens or other persons; ratified in 1868.
  • Fifteenth Amendment: An amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting the restriction of voting rights on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude (e.g., slavery); ratified in 1870.
  • Jim Crow laws: Any of the laws that enforced racial segregation in the South between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century.
  • Twenty-Fourth Amendment: An amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbidding the use of the poll tax as a requirement for voting in national elections; ratified in 1964.
  • Voter registration: A system in which citizens must register to vote in advance of election day; some states allow election-day registration.
  • Nineteenth Amendment: An amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing women the right to vote; ratified in 1920.
  • Twenty-Sixth Amendment: An amendment to the U.S. Constitution lowering the voting age to 18; ratified in 1971.
  • Voter eligibility: Any U.S. citizen who is at least eighteen years old on election day and not disqualified due to a felony conviction; some states add additional criteria that trigger disqualification, such as being declared mentally incompetent by a court.
  • Seventeenth Amendment: An amendment to the U.S. Constitution providing for the election of two U.S. senators from each state by popular vote and for a term of six years; ratified in 1913.
  • Retrospective voting: A theory that voting decisions are made after taking into consideration factors such as the performance of a political party, an officeholder, and/or the current administration.

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