Why do people become activists? Why do they decide to engage in civil actions? Are there any psychological traits that can be related to the motivation of activism? Participation and none partaking in civic and political activities is a socially relevant question embedded with the very essence of democracy, closely related to personality traits, demographic characteristics, and directly associated with both social psychology and political behaviour.
Back in 1969 Larry C. Kerpelman published a paper where he described how self-identified activists were found to be significantly more intelligent than non-activists. He also reported how self-described leftists were less concerned with social acceptance than right- or middle-oriented participants. Yet, as described by Kerpelman “[a] closely related problem is the frequent confounding of political activism with political ideology” (1969, p. 8).
Later on, L. Eugene Thomas’ (1971) findings supported the idea that socialisation processes and family interactions were negatively associated with student activism of males, but not for females for the conservative sample.
The Rational Choice account of voting behaviour placed a strong relationship between the national importance of voting and the individual calculus of voting. Downs (1957) suggested that the survival of democracy was such an important and noble cause that many individuals would feel obligated to go to the polls. An exciting fact about voting is that the act itself generates no tangible benefits to the individual, is utterly trivial and not worth the effort it involves. Especially if we measure the policy impact that a single vote would have as a precondition for democracy.
Therefore, from an individual economic perspective, voting represents more a cost than a benefit. If we think of some areas in the world such as Iraq, or Afghanistan where going to vote represents a four hour journey or, in some extreme cases, the real danger of being killed the perspective about voting motivation is much altered. Therefore, we ought to recognise that there is something else, probably intangible yet compelling enough that motivates people to go out and vote.
Here is a video with a social psychology perspective of political activism. I hope you find it interesting.