Date of Award

May 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

First Advisor

Thomas M. Holbrook

Committee Members

Kathleen Dolan, David Armstrong, John Bohte, Erin Kaheny


Civic Engagement, Personality Traits, Political Participation


In this dissertation, I ask why some people participate more intensely in political life than others, a classic question in political science. Previous answers have focused on socioeconomic status, demographics, socialization, political context, attitudes, and resources. To date, very little political science research has acknowledged that individual personality traits may play a role in determining political behaviors. I argue that there is good reason to believe that individual personality traits influence individual participatory habits in the political realm. In short, what I am suggesting is that some people have natural predispositions toward participating (or not participating) in politics and civic activities. I argue that understanding the relationship between individual personality attributes and political behavior is necessary to build a more complete understanding of the antecedents of political participation. This dissertation makes several contributions to the literature and our understanding of democratic politics. First, I integrate the psychology literature on personality and the political science literature on political participation, expanding our understanding of who participates and why. Second, I develop theoretical insights as to how (and which) personality traits translate into political action. Third, I develop several measures designed to capture personality traits that lead some people to participate more than others. I use longitudinal and cross- sectional data to test my hypotheses. I find that individual personality traits have important effects on political engagement. In some cases, the effects of personality rival or exceed the effects of canonical predictors of political participation. Future research on political and civic participation should continue to examine how deeply rooted individual differences shape participatory decisions.