Alienation refers to a sense of estrangement from someone or something. It is distinguished from apathy, which means a lack of interest or feeling. In a political context, alienation refers to a person's detachment from or rejection of the political system. Apart from its specialized Marxist usage, political alienation is usually experienced in two primary ways. Those who believe that political forces operate outside of their control or influence feel a lack of political empowerment (having no ability to change the political process) or efficacy, with associated feelings of meaninglessness (that the political process is beyond understanding and unpredictable). Political alienation can also take the form of political discontentment, including the deliberate withdrawal from political activity. In this case, citizens believe that political norms have largely broken down in the larger society (normlessness) and determine to take no part in the process, thereby isolating themselves politically. Citizens who are discontented yet engaged and not alienated may vote for and otherwise support dissident causes or candidates that have no real chance of winning as a form of protest or to bring attention to a particular issue. The type of alienation experienced by citizens often, though not always, correlates with their socioeconomic level and influences how they vote in elections. In the United States, people who experience a lack of civic empowerment or political efficacy generally tend to come from lower socioeconomic levels, have attained a lower level of education, and favor Democratic candidates and policies. In contrast, people who experience political discontentment generally occupy the middle class or higher socioeconomic levels, and, if still active at the ballot box, tend to vote for Republican candidates and policies.

SEE ALSO Apathy ; Civic Agency ; Civic Empowerment Gap ; Cynicism ; Political Efficacy .

Cory Jensen
Schenectady County Community College