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CHAPTER 11 Cognitive Mobilization and Political Participation Among Western Publics 1 wo basic changes are taking place among Western publics. One is cognitive, the other evaluative, and they seem equally significant. We have discussed the nature and consequences of changing value priorities in some detail. Now let us turn our attention to another process that we will call Cognitive Mobilization. Western publics are developing an increasing potential for political participation. This change does not imply that mass publics will simply show higher rates of participation in traditional activities such as voting but that they may intervene in the political process on a qualitatively different level. Increasingly, they are likely to demand participation in making major decisions, not just a voice in selecting the decision-makers. The two processes tend to reinforce each other: change is occurring not only in the goals of Western publics but also in the way they pursue them. These changes have important implications for established political parties , labor unions, and professional organizations, for mass politics are increasingly apt to be elite-challenging rather than elitedirected . The source of these changes is a shift in the balance of political skills between elites and mass. Educational statistics probably furnish the clearest indicator of these changes, although education is merely one aspect of a broader underlying process. Among the Americans who turned seventeen years old in 1920, only 17 percent graduated from high school. Among the comparable group in 1930, the figure was 29 percent; in 1960 it was 65 percent, and in 1970, nearly 80 percent. As these figures show, there has been an enormous increase in the proportion getting a secondary education, but the expansion of higher education has been even more impressive. From 1920 to 1970 the American population almost doubled, but more than sixteen times as many college degrees were awarded in 1970 as in 1920. This pattern has prevailed throughout advanced Western countries. In all nine countries of the European Community, the 294 — Cognitive Mobilization proportion of the population from the ages of twenty to twentyfour that was receiving higher education at least doubled from 1950 to 1965. European Community estimates indicate that by 1980 the proportion receiving higher education will be at least three times as high as in 1950 with some countries showing a fourfold or fivefold increase. Recently the increase in the proportion getting higher education has leveled off in the United States (which already had a rate nearly three times as high as any of the European Community countries). This could be an indication that the United States has reached a saturation level, or it could be a temporary condition. But even if we assume it to be permanent, the mean educational level of the American electorate will continue to rise substantially for several decades, as older and less educated age groups die off and are replaced by more highly educated younger ones. The group born in 1900 contained about 54,000 holders of higher degrees; the group born in 1950 contains almost a million. The effects of rising educational levels are probably reinforced by the permeation of electronic media, which bring political information even to those without much formal education. Radio and (even more so) television make distant political events seem near and vital. Although television penetrated throughout the United States in the 1950's, it became a part of the typical European household only in the 1960's. In the brief span from 1963 to 1969, the proportion of French households having a television set rose from 27 percent to 69 percent.1 During this period, the figures for Italy are almost identical: television ownership rose from 29 percent to 69 percent; in West Germany, from 41 percent to 82 percent; and in Britain (which started earlier) from 82 percent to 92 percent. Today television is almost universal in Western nations. Together with other factors, it gives these societies unprecedented capabilities for rapid dissemination of information across large distances. A sharp decline in farm populations is reducing the number of people who are physically isolated, and is thereby helping make education and information about national politics more readily accessible. In the 1960's, the share of the French population that was working on the land fell by nearly one-half. In France, Italy, Germany, and the Benelux nations, the number of farmers is ex1 The figures for all four countries are from Reader's Digest Association, A Survey of Europe Today (London: Reader's Digest, 1970), 104. Political...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781400869589
MARC Record
OCLC
933516258
Pages
496
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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