Document Type

Article - On Campus Only

Publication Date



Although exploring the political participation of the poor is of paramount significance in the current social policy and welfare environment, the dearth of quantitative, in-depth analysis speaks to the difficulty of conducting research revolving around the political participation of impoverished citizens. In an attempt to gain a fuller understanding of political participation among the urban poor, we investigated variations in economic hardship, political attitudes, and interactions with government agents of a sample of 462 low-income men and women in one of the poorest congressional districts in the country. By working from a theoretical perspective that allowed us to understand better how urban poverty affects the willingness to participate in the political system, we uncovered important nuances and differences in factors that affected political behavior among citizens living in poverty. Our data revealed two central findings: First, material resources and the demographic attributes usually associated with a propensity to participate politically drove political activism even among urban poor respondents. Second, and more importantly, severe economic hardship, as well as formative contact with government agents whom citizens living in urban poverty routinely face, served as significant experiences that bolstered the willingness to participate in the political system. Ultimately, we conclude that the decision to participate in the political system cannot be divorced from the very specific manner in which citizens encounter government.

Recommended Citation

Lawless, Jennifer L., and Richard L. Fox. “Political Participation of the Urban Poor.” Social Problems, vol. 48, no. 3, 2001, pp. 362–385.