Abstract: Is Political Apathy Rooted in Institutional Inefficacy in the U.S.?

American political participation, most notably voting, is low compared to many other modern Western states—citizens and pundits alike commonly reference the prevalence of political apathy in the United States. An array of rational-material, ideational, and institutional explanations pinpoint potential causes for low participation. This research project focuses on institutional explanations: how the rules, systems, and organizations in place may induce greater frustration, distrust, and other negative feelings contributing to apathy and inaction. Understanding how American institutions may discourage political engagement can lead to reforming these institutions, which is vital, as a democratic system functions best with a well-informed and engaged citizenry. Many political scientists have conducted research on various institutions’ consequences on citizen behavior, but the results seem scattered; thus, through a literature review, I intend to synthesize previous research on different institutions’ effects—as well as briefly compare it to rational-material and ideational explanations—to achieve a coherence that answers the question: is political apathy rooted in institutional inefficacy in the U.S.? If so, how can we fix it?