Political Hobbyism and Political Power
What are ordinary “engaged” citizens doing when they’re doing politics? That’s the motivating question at the heart of my new book, Politics is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change (Scribner, coming January 14, 2020). Summarizing original research as well as a wide range of behavioral work in the discipline, I articulate a theory of political hobbyism. About a third of US residents say they spend hours a day on politics, but nearly all of that time is spent satisfying emotional needs and intellectual curiosities. Power is the topic of their intrigue, but not the goal of their actions. Through analysis of news consumption, voting, online activism, campaign contributions, and partisanship, I describe the phenomenon of political hobbyism. I argue both that this non-power-seeking form of engagement has risen over time and that it is harmful to the political process. I also describe alternatives to political hobbyism; specifically, the book showcases seven volunteer organizers who, in different ways, engage in politics to achieve concrete goals. The book addresses a lay audience, but to political scientists it offers a new paradigm for thinking about a range of common political behaviors and attitudes. The book also seeks to refocus the study of American mass political behavior around the segment of the mass public that is actually doing politics.