With increasing evidence on deepening cleavages along geographic lines, we argue that the local political climate plays an important role in political decision-making and engagement. In this study, we aim to understand the role of political contexts in shaping different forms of political participation, whether centered in the local community or in digital spaces. We specifically consider two important contextual factors that potentially relate to participation: the partisan composition of the neighborhood environment and the nature of political representation at the state government level. We introduce two sets of competing arguments: Mobilization and Resignation vs. Activation and Complacency to explain different participatory mechanisms. Using both national survey data collected during the 2016 U.S. election period and zip code and state-level contextual data, we employ three-level multilevel modeling to tease out how multiple factors operating at different levels are related to online or public forms of participation. In general, our findings reveal that individuals living in a state with political underrepresentation are more likely to engage in public forms of actions. Additionally, we examine subgroup analyses to show how contextual relationships with participation are different according to political orientations, such as party identification and political interest.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
2798 Democrats with leaners, 1115 pure Independents, and 1683 Republicans with leaners. 6 did not indicate their party identification.
While random slope models were also considered for the possibility that the slope of individual-level variables would vary based on the neighborhood unfavorability or state underrepresentation, we could find little evidence for significant variation. Therefore, we opted for random intercept models for parsimony.
Abrams, S. J., & Fiorina, M. P. (2012). “The big sort” that wasn’t: A skeptical reexamination. PS: Political Science & Politics, 45(2), 203–210.
Baringhorst, S. (2008). The political empowerment of citizen consumers – opportunities and problems of anti-corporate campaigning on the net. In T. Häyhtiö, & J. Rinne (Eds.), Net working/networking: Citizen initiated Internet politics (pp. 281–309). Tampere: Tampere University Press.
Bélanger, P., & Eagles, M. (2007). Partisan cross-pressure and voter turnout: The influence of micro and macro environments. Social Science Quarterly, 88(3), 850–867.
Bell, B. A., Ferron, J. M., & Kromrey, J. D. (2008). Cluster size in multilevel models: The impact of sparse data structures onpoint and interval estimates in two-level models. Proceedings of the joint statistical meetings, survey research methods section, 1122–1129. American Statistical Association
Bennett, W. L., Segerberg, A., & Knüpfer, C. B. (2018). The democratic interface: Technology, political organization, and diverging patterns of electoral representation. Information, Communication & Society, 21(11), 1655–1680.
Best, S. J., & Krueger, B. S. (2011). Government monitoring and political participation in the United States: The distinct roles of anger and anxiety. American Politics Research, 39(1), 85–117.
Bishop, B. (2009). The big sort: Why the clustering of like-minded America is tearing us apart. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Bloch, M., Buchanan, L., Katz, J., & Quealy, K. (2018, July 25). An extremely detailed map of the 2016 presidential election. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/upshot/election-2016-voting-precinct-maps.html
Bode, L., Hanna, A., Yang, J., & Shah, D. V. (2015). Candidate Networks, Citizen Clusters, and Political Expression: Strategic Hashtag Use in the 2010 Midterms. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 659(1), 149–165.
Bolsen, T., Druckman, J. N., & Cook, F. L. (2015). Citizens’, scientists’, and policy advisors’ beliefs about global warming. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 658(1), 271–295.
Boutyline, A., & Willer, R. (2017). The social structure of political echo chambers: Variation in ideological homophily in online networks. Political Psychology, 38(3), 551–569.
Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. Academic Press.
Brooks, D. (2001). One nation, slightly divisible. Atlantic Monthly, 288(5), 53–65.
Brunell, T. L. (2006). Rethinking redistricting: How drawing uncompetitive districts eliminates gerrymanders, enhances representation, and improves attitudes toward congress. PS: Political Science & Politics, 39(01), 77–85.
Campbell, D. E. (2013). Social networks and political participation. Annual Review of Political Science, 16(1), 33–48.
Centola, D. (2015). The social origins of networks and diffusion. American Journal of Sociology, 120(5), 1295–1338.
Chadwick, A. (2017). The hybrid media system: Politics and power. Oxford University Press.
Christensen, H. S. (2011). Political activities on the Internet: Slacktivism or political participation by other means? First Monday. Retrieved from https://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3336/2767.
Clarke, P., & Wheaton, B. (2007). Addressing data sparseness in contextual population research: Using cluster analysis to create synthetic neighborhoods. Sociological Methods & Research, 35(3), 311–351.
Cramer, K. J. (2016). The politics of resentment: Rural consciousness in Wisconsin and the rise of Scott Walker. University of Chicago Press.
Dilliplane, S. (2011). All the news you want to hear: The impact of partisan news exposure on political participation. Public Opinion Quarterly, 75(2), 287–316.
Eveland, W. P., & Hively, M. H. (2009). Political discussion frequency, network size, and “heterogeneity” of discussion as predictors of political knowledge and participation. Journal of Communication, 59(2), 205–224.
Garrett, R. K., Gvirsman, S. D., Johnson, B. K., Tsfati, Y., Neo, R., & Dal, A. (2014). Implications of pro- and counterattitudinal information exposure for affective polarization. Human Communication Research, 40(3), 309–332.
Gerber, A. S., Huber, G. A., Doherty, D., & Dowling, C. M. (2012). Personality and the strength and direction of partisan identification. Political Behavior, 34(4), 653–688.
Gervais, B. T. (2014). Following the news? Reception of uncivil partisan media and the use of incivility in political expression. Political Communication, 31(4), 564–583.
Gimpel, J. G., & Hui, I. (2017). Inadvertent and intentional partisan residential sorting. The Annals of Regional Science, 58(3), 441–468.
Glaeser, E. L., & Ward, B. A. (2006). Myths and realities of American political geography. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20(2), 119–144.
Glenn, N. D., & Grimes, M. (1968). Aging, voting, and political interest. American Sociological Review, 33(4), 563–575.
Glynn, C. J., & Park, E. (1997). Reference groups, opinion intensity, and public opinion expression. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 9(3), 213–232.
González-Bailón, S., Borge-Holthoefer, J., Rivero, A., & Moreno, Y. (2011). The dynamics of protest recruitment through an online network. Scientific Reports, 1(1), 1–7.
GreenBlatt, A. (January, 2019). With one-party control in most states, minority parties are “teetering on irrelevance.” https://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-state-politics-governors-2019.html
Grossmann, M., & Hopkins, D. A. (2016). Asymmetric politics: Ideological republicans and group interest democrats. Oxford University Press.
Hayes, D., & McKee, S. C. (2012). The intersection of redistricting, race, and participation. American Journal of Political Science, 56(1), 115–130.
Himelboim, I., Sweetser, K. D., Tinkham, S. F., Cameron, K., Danelo, M., & West, K. (2016). Valence-based homophily on Twitter: Network analysis of emotions and political talk in the 2012 presidential election. New Media & Society, 18(7), 1382–1400.
Hmielowski, J. D., Hutchens, M. J., & Beam, M. A. (2020). Asymmetry of partisan media effects?: Examining the reinforcing process of conservative and liberal media with political beliefs. Communication, 37(6), 852–868.
Ho, S. S., & McLeod, D. M. (2008). Social-psychological influences on opinion expression in face-to-face and computer-mediated communication. Communication Research, 35(2), 190–207.
Huckfeldt, R., Beck, P. A., Dalton, R. J., Levine, J., & Morgan, W. (1998). Ambiguity, distorted messages, and nested environmental effects on political communication. The Journal of Politics, 60(4), 996–1030.
Huddy, L., Mason, L., & Aarøe, L. (2015). Expressive partisanship: Campaign involvement, political emotion, and partisan identity. American Political Science Review, 109(01), 1–17.
Jamieson, K. H., & Cappella, J. N. (2008). Echo chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the conservative media establishment. Oxford University Press.
Johnston, R., Manley, D., & Jones, K. (2016). Spatial polarization of presidential voting in the United States, 1992–2012: The “big sort” revisited. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 106(5), 1047–1062.
Jost, J. T. (2017). Ideological asymmetries and the essence of political psychology. Political Psychology, 38(2), 167–208.
Kennedy, L., Corriher, B., & Root, D. (2016, December 5). Redistricting and representation. Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/democracy/reports/2016/12/05/294272/redistricting-and-representation/
Klofstad, C. A., Sokhey, A. E., & McClurg, S. D. (2013). Disagreeing about disagreement: How conflict in social networks affects political behavior. American Journal of Political Science, 57(1), 120–134.
Knobloch-Westerwick, S., & Lavis, S. M. (2017). Selecting serious or satirical, supporting or stirring news? Selective exposure to partisan versus mockery news online videos. Journal of Communication, 67(1), 54–81.
Koller, M. (2016). robustlmm: An R package for robust estimation of linear mixed-effects models. Journal of Statistical Software, 75(6), 1–24.
Kosmidis, S. (2014). Heterogeneity and the calculus of turnout: Undecided respondents and the campaign dynamics of civic duty. Electoral Studies, 33, 123–136.
Latané, B. (1981). The psychology of social impact. American Psychologist, 36(4), 343.
Lilleker, D. G., & Koc-Michalska, K. (2017). What drives political participation? Motivations and mobilization in a digital age. Political Communication, 34(1), 21–43.
Makse, T., & Sokhey, A. E. (2014). The displaying of yard signs as a form of political participation. Political Behavior, 36(1), 189–213.
Mason, L. (2018). Uncivil agreement: How politics became our identity. University of Chicago Press.
Matthews, J. S., & Johnston, R. (2010). The campaign dynamics of economic voting. Electoral Studies, 29(1), 13–24.
McClurg, S. D. (2006). Political disagreement in context: The conditional effect of neighborhood context, disagreement and political talk on electoral participation. Political Behavior, 28(4), 349–366.
Metzger, M. J., Hartsell, E. H., & Flanagin, A. J. (2015). Cognitive dissonance or credibility? A comparison of two theoretical explanations for selective exposure to partisan news. Communication Research, 47(1), 3–28.
Miller, J. M., Krosnick, J. A., Holbrook, A., Tahk, A., & Dionne, L. (2016). The impact of policy change threat on financial contributions to interest groups. In J. A. Krosnick, I.-C.A. Chiang, & T. H. Stark (Eds.), Political psychology: New explorations (pp. 173–204). Taylor & Francis.
Mondak, J. J., & Halperin, K. D. (2008). A framework for the study of personality and political behaviour. British Journal of Political Science, 38(2), 335–362.
Noelle-Neumann, E. (1974). The spiral of silence a theory of public opinion. Journal of Communication, 24(2), 43–51.
Olsen, M. (1965). The Logic of Collective Action. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.
Oser, J., Hooghe, M., & Marien, S. (2013). Is online participation distinct from offline participation? A latent class analysis of participation types and their stratification. Political Research Quarterly, 66(1), 91–101.
Platt, M. B. (2008). Participation for what? A policy-motivated approach to political activism. Political Behavior, 30(3), 391–413.
Rocha, R. R., Tolbert, C. J., Bowen, D. C., & Clark, C. J. (2010). Race and turnout: Does descriptive representation in state legislatures increase minority voting? Political Research Quarterly, 63(4), 890–907.
Scala, D. J., & Johnson, K. M. (2017). Political polarization along the rural–urban continuum? The geography of the presidential vote, 2000–2016. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 672(1), 162–184.
Shah, D. V., McLeod, D. M., Rojas, H., Cho, J., Wagner, M. W., & Friedland, L. A. (2017). Revising the communication mediation model for a new political communication ecology. Human Communication Research, 43(4), 491–504.
Shingles, R. D. (1981). Black consciousness and political participation: The missing link. The American Political Science Review, 75, 76–91.
Slater, M. D. (2007). Reinforcing spirals: The mutual influence of media selectivity and media effects and their impact on individual behavior and social identity. Communication Theory, 17(3), 281–303.
Stephanopoulos, N. O., & McGhee, E. M. (2015). Partisan gerrymandering and the efficiency gap. University of Chicago Law Review, 82, 831.
Stroud, N. J. (2011). Niche news: The politics of news choice. Oxford University.
Taber, C. S., & Lodge, M. (2006). Motivated skepticism in the evaluation of political beliefs. American Journal of Political Science, 50(3), 755–769.
Tam Cho, W. K., Gimpel, J. G., & Hui, I. S. (2013). Voter migration and the geographic sorting of the American electorate. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 103(4), 856–870.
Van Zomeren, M., Spears, R., & Leach, C. W. (2008). Exploring psychological mechanisms of collective action: Does relevance of group identity influence how people cope with collective disadvantage? British Journal of Social Psychology, 47(2), 353–372.
Verba, S., Schlozman, K. L., & Brady, H. E. (1995). Voice and equality: Civic voluntarism in American politics. Harvard University Press.
Wojcieszak, M., Bimber, B., Feldman, L., & Stroud, N. J. (2016). Partisan news and political participation: Exploring mediated relationships. Political Communication, 33(2), 241–260.
The authors thank the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Damm Fund of the Journal Foundation, and the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri for their generous support of the research.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.
About this article
Cite this article
Suk, J., McLeod, D.M. & Shah, D.V. Spatial Polarization, Partisan Climate, and Participatory Actions: Do Congenial Contexts Lead to Mobilization, Resignation, Activation, or Complacency?. Polit Behav 45, 1859–1882 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-022-09801-6