Public policies draw the boundaries of political community, defining who is included in membership, the level of inclusion of various members, and the meaning of citizenship. For instance, immigration policies extensively define political boundaries of members and non-members. Furthermore, some policies state eligibility criteria for rights or benefits, or gives guidelines on citizen participation, which imply different degrees of member inclusion in the polity. This phenomenon is best expressed in the United States’ trend of distributing civil and political rights to individuals basing on ethnicity, race, immigration status, or gender among others. Such encounters significantly influence citizens’ sense of status. Public policies can have positive or negative interpretive effects, which may determine individuals’ willingness towards public participation and influence the levels of social trust.
Public policies, due to their influence on the resources, engagement, and recruitment, can greatly enhance civic participation (Campbell 117). First, the policies can influence resources by providing a base-income that creates time or money for politics. Availability of time and accessibility to money is likely to encourage members to actively take part in public life. For instance, the Great Recession had severe transformations on the poverty structure of America: poverty levels grew rapidly among young members and declined dramatically among older citizens. The trend of older people’s extensive involvement in public life in America best explains the influence of money and time on civic participation. Seniors are motivated to participate in public life due to the need to protect their benefits (Campbell 117). Such interests have driven various political and social changes including deflected cuts since the 1980s, demonstrating how policies steer engagement. Lastly, public policies invite citizens to take part in public maters by identifying groups with a common identity and benefits, and encourage them to vote at high rates during elections (Campbell 118). During campaigns, politicians address rallies and inform members about the benefits in place after voting, which inspires the public to vote.
Public policies can have positive or negative and positive interpretive effects, which may promote or undermine social trust (Campbell 120). Social trust is a belief or conviction that other people are reliable, honest, and truthful. Public policies such as the Universal Social Welfare Benefits enhance social trust through equal treatment of members and eligibility to benefits without necessarily requiring them to prove that they deserve. Mettler and Soss, for instance, contend that the GI Bill after WWII not only enhanced the social economic status of the veterans but also promoted social trust whereby the veterans believed that the government was trustworthy and generous (57). Furthermore, the veterans were impressed knowing that their fellow citizens were investing in them. In the education sector, policies like high-quality K-12 education create a sense of equal opportunity among privileged and unprivileged students, as well as promoting income equality. This, in turn, increases trust levels among parents and students. Negative interpretive effects of public policies like Public Housing and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) involve the demeaning process of proving criteria, lack of transparency, unequal treatment, and unresponsiveness (Mettler and Soss 58). This suppresses social trust among members.
Public policies, undoubtedly, can influence civic participation through their positive or negative interpretive effects. These insights can be helpful in promoting public participation among millenials and generation Z, who demonstrate low interest in public life. The government can make high education more accessible by reducing tuition costs, improving K-12 public education, and discouraging harsh disciplinary policies at school. Such policies would help the young citizens to achieve the American Dream: good education, good housing, and decent housing, hence, the motivation to take part in public life. Corruption has also suppressed social trust among the young members. Deep democratization with increased pluralism, reform activism, and accountability can help promote civic participation in the next generation.
Campbell, Louise Andrea. “Social Policy and Civic Participation”. How Policies Make Citizens: Senior Political Activism and the American Welfare State. Princeton University Press. 2005.
Mettler, Suzanne and Soss, Joe. “The Consequences of Public Policy for Democratic Citizenship: Bridging Policy Studies and Mass Politics”. Perspective on Politics, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 55-73. March 2004. Course Material: File 298688777. 27 April 2019.