Original Paper

Political Behavior

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 453-479

First online:

What does “Political” Mean to You?

  • Jennifer FitzgeraldAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, University of Colorado at Boulder Email author 

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How do regular people define the term “political”? This original study gives Americans and Canadians an opportunity to express their interpretations of the concept. It identifies a great deal of inter-personal variation in terms of how many and what kinds of topics people perceive as the stuff of politics. And this variation comes in predictable patterns: the findings reveal correlations between socio-political attributes (such as gender, nationality and ideology) and the boundaries people draw around the political domain. The study also provides insight into the ways people distinguish the political from the non-political in their minds. And importantly, individuals’ interpretations of the term “politics” relate systematically to other measures of self-reported political behavior including political interest and frequency of political discussion. These results can be used to refine survey analysis and to broaden knowledge of day-to-day citizen politics.


The political Categorization Comparative political behavior Validity United States Canada