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The practice of voting: Immigrant turnout, the persistence of origin effects, and the nature, formation and transmission of political habit

TitleThe practice of voting: Immigrant turnout, the persistence of origin effects, and the nature, formation and transmission of political habit
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsPikkov, D.
UniversityUniversity of Toronto
CityToronto, ON
Keywordsaction theory, culture, dual-process cognition, habit, immigrant integration, immigrant participation, immigrant political participation, observational learning, political socialization, practice theory, social learning theory, turnout, voting

This dissertation is a multi-layered examination of the practice of voting, with a focus on the electoral turnout of immigrants. Chapter Two's statistical analyses show that pre-migration cultural familiarity with democracy, formalized as levels of democratization in source countries, strongly shapes the likelihood of post-migration voting among Canadian immigrants. These origin effects, comparable in size to the best predictors of turnout that we have, exert a persistent influence - affecting turnout not only among the foreign-born, but also among the native-born second generation. Multilevel models demonstrate that the shifting source country composition of immigrant period-of-arrival cohorts provides an alternate explanation for what have previously been identified as generational, racial, and length of residence or 'exposure' effects among immigrant voters. This provides further evidence that voting is in most cases habitual, and raises questions about the acquisition, transmission, and reproduction of a voting practice. Chapter Three's narratives of political development, gathered through in-depth, semi-structured interviews, confirm the importance of parental influence, and suggest that the 'stickiness' of practical capacities like voting may be the result of powerful processes of observational social learning. Providing a new twist on dominant models of political socialization, observation of parental voting appears to be the pivotal event in a path-dependent process of political learning, with acquisition of values and beliefs playing a supporting, rather than a leading role. Chapter Four reviews recent efforts among sociologists to amend action theory to make more room for habit, and these efforts are discussed in reference to contemporary research on turnout. I argue that these theoretical revisions still retain too sharp a focus on the cognitive aspects of practice. There is a lack of appreciation for the ways that action itself - our own previous actions and the actions of those close to us - can directly structure outcomes. Evidence from cognitive neuroscience is used to more precisely delineate habitual behaviour and thought. Where the intergenerational transmission of voting behaviour is concerned, culture is often coded directly into embodied practice. Efforts to encourage electoral participation should be built on a better understanding of voting's substantial behavioural aspects.

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