Leadership and its effects on citizen participation in democracy

Over the past fifty years, active civic participation – including political participation, group membership, and volunteerism – has drastically declined (see Figure 1). At the same time, a focus on strong leadership, specifically the quantity of literature that extolls the benefits of strong leadership, has increased (see Figure 2). The correlation between the lack of active civic participation and an obsession with strong leadership has significant implications for our society and government. If people are not willing to actively participate in government, to actively make their voices and opinions heard, they are sacrificing the fundamental tenant of a democracy founded by the people, for the people on which the United States of America was founded. If the United States gives up civic participation and solely defers decisions to strong leaders, it will become a nation of passive followers instead of a nation of engaged citizens.

My research will specifically focus on leadership literature between 1965 and 2015. I will analyze the most popular piece of leadership literature of each five year period between 1965 and 2015, looking for the characteristics of strong leaders that prepare the rest of society to become passive followers. I hope to answer the questions, “How does a focus on strong leadership degrade civic participation?” and “How can we encourage more civic participation by removing or changing the current American ideal of strong leadership?”


Figure 1:


National Conference on Citizenship. (2006). America’s Civic Health Index: Broken Engagement.


Figure 2:


Provided by Joel Schwartz