What is Political Efficacy?

G. Wiesen

Political efficacy is a term used primarily in political theory and discussion to refer to the amount of faith and impact citizens feel or believe they have upon their government. When it is low, it indicates the citizens of a country have little faith in their government and feel like their actions have little or no impact upon the actions of their political leaders. Higher levels of efficacy, however, tend to indicate that citizens believe their government is doing what is best for them and that the actions they take on a common basis can have a positive impact on the government. This type of information is often determined through polling and surveys, and used by politicians and news broadcasters to understand the political climate of a country or region.

News broadcasters look at survey data on political efficacy to understand the political climate of a country.
News broadcasters look at survey data on political efficacy to understand the political climate of a country.

When studying this concept, political scientists tend to divide it into two forms: internal and external. Internal efficacy deals with how a person feels that his or her skills, knowledge, and abilities can have an effect on the political system. This type of efficacy often indicates the likelihood of a person to vote or become politically active, as he or she feels what he or she has to offer can really make an impact on the political system. While there is some debate regarding the potential causality between political efficacy and voter turnout, there does seem to be a strong correlation between those with higher internal efficacy and the likelihood for them to vote.

Political efficacy can be an indicator of voter turnout.
Political efficacy can be an indicator of voter turnout.

External efficacy has to do with how a person feels his or her government responds to his or her needs and how well the political system and government reflect his or her needs and concerns. This type can have a great deal to do with trust and to what degree a person feels his or her government cares about him or her and the needs of others like him or her. Low external efficacy can often indicate apathy toward politics or government, and citizens with a sense that the government does not represent them.

Low political efficacy is usually expressed as apathy.
Low political efficacy is usually expressed as apathy.

Both forms can be used as indicators of potential voter turnout, as well as prevailing attitudes toward the government and the popularity of anti-establishment movements. Those with lower political efficacy tend to be more likely to support reform candidates, though they may not actually vote as they feel that their actions do not actually affect the political process. Higher efficacy tends to indicate those who will likely vote because they believe they have an effect on the government, and may support the incumbent since they likely feel the government is already effectively representing them.

Political efficacy is common among young voters who feel marginalized by the government.
Political efficacy is common among young voters who feel marginalized by the government.
Political efficacy refers to the amount of faith that citizens have in their government.
Political efficacy refers to the amount of faith that citizens have in their government.

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Discussion Comments


Greenweaver-I was watching Glenn Beck, the other day when a biographer was talking about Obama and his family.

His father, a professed communist, wrote in article 1965 that is perfectly acceptable to tax 100% of people’s earnings.

He deeply influenced Obama’s political ideology and it is these beliefs that shape many of his policies.

He never even put anyone from the business world in any cabinet position. It is the businesses that are breaking economy and when businesses are given tax cuts it stimulates them to continue to grow and expand and add more workers less creating a positive economy.

If Obama really wanted businesses to survive he would put successful business executives in his cabinet to get their input since he's never run a business himself.


Crispety- I totally agree with you. They did a man on the street interview with Obama voters and none of them knew anything about the man. They just thought he was cool. The fact that he had limited experience as a senator for only a few years and has surrounded himself with socialists and communists all his life was a big clue as to what he was going to do.


Oasis11- If people would take time to study his background and learn about his platform and what he actually wanted to do they would've realized that everything that's going on right now is exactly as he planned it.

How people thought it was going to be a different result I don't know, but I hope this is a lesson for people to really take the time to learn about the candidate before you vote. Because you like the way someone speaks is not enough. You really need to understand what their plans and how that will effect you.


Mutsy- I think elections are too important and these elections have a lot at stake. If people aren't willing to take the time to learn a little bit about the government, then I don’t think they should vote.

I think people should be motivated to vote on their own. They should not be forced to vote. If you look at the last Presidential elections, there were so many people that were seduced by Obama’s flowery political rhetoric that they failed to learn about his platform and what he said he was going to do.

Obama is doing exactly what he said he was going to do, so people should not be surprised. The results that we are having today are based on Obama's policies and what he said we were going to do.

Now that people are miserable as when they realized that they voted for a president that has strong socialist ties and inclinations they want someone else. Elections have consequences which is why you have to be an informed voter.


SurfNturf-I personally think that people with no sense of political efficacy should not vote. Voting is a privilege that should be reserved for people that take time to understand the candidates and the issues at hand.

John Stossel did a study on random people in the streets of New York and showed them pictures of important political figures including the Vice President, and most of the people surveyed could not recognize any of the political figures.

However, when he showed the picture of Judge Judy, most of us sample was able to recognize her. This is sad that people can not recognize the leaders of many of our political institutions.


Sunny27-I saw him on Fox news. He said that the Republicans are going to take over the House and the Senate.

Some Democrats will not even put their party affiliation on some of the advertisements on TV. The dissatisfaction with Congress is going to cause many incumbents to lose their seats. Some of these people are the people that never had to defend their seats.


Icecream17-People believe that political reform is necessary to save the country and many believe that our nation has to reverse course and go entirely in a different path in order for our country to be prosperous again.

Political consultants or pundits as they are often called have started to comment on the conservative ascendency that is starting to take place.

Dick Morris, the former political advisor to President Bill Clinton, even states that Republicans could pick up anywhere from 60 to 100 seats in the in the upcoming congressional election.

This will surely make politics news.


Latte31-I agree with you. Clearly the president's political ideology of socialism does not fare well with the American people.

The American people are rejecting Obama's policies and are becoming more politically active which raises their external political efficacy.

More and more people are becoming motivated to vote in this election in order to change the political course that our country has taken.


Cafe41- I agree that the Tea Party is a positive political development.

Our nation was founded as a political democracy and the founding father’s warned of excessive powers of the government.

They realized that human nature causes some people to seek more power regardless of how the American People feel. This is exactly what is happening. Increasing governmental regulations in order to grow the government and have those in government obtain more power. The American public is rebelling and the modern Tea Party is the result.


I think that we live in a time in which people with no sense of political efficacy is growing. People want political reform and have little faith that the government will make any positive changes.

For example, congresses’ approval ratings are in the 20’s and the President’s approval rating is in the 40’s with the majority of American’s disapproving of his job performance.

I think the only positive political news that has come of late has resulted in a surge in the Tea Party movement which is based on the founding father’s political ideology and principles.

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