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A groundbreaking analysis of political hobbyism—treating politics like a spectator sport—and an urgent and timely call to arms for the many well-meaning, well-informed citizens who follow political news, but do not take political action.
Do you consider yourself politically engaged? Probably, yes! But are you, really? The uncomfortable truth is that most of us have good intentions. We vote (sometimes) and occasionally sign a petition or attend a rally. But we mainly “engage” by consuming politics as if it’s entertainment or a hobby. We obsessively follow the news and complain about the opposition to our friends or spouse. We tweet and post and share. The hours we spend on politics are used mainly as pastime.
Instead, political scientist and data analyst Eitan Hersh offers convincing evidence that we should be spending the same number of hours building political organizations, implementing a long-term vision for our local communities, and getting to know our neighbors, whose votes will be needed for solving hard problems. We could be accumulating power so that when there are opportunities to make a difference—to lobby, to advocate, to mobilize—we will be ready. Aided by cutting-edge social science as well as remarkable stories of ordinary citizens who got off their couches and took political power seriously, this book shows us how to channel our energy away from political hobbyism and toward empowering our values.
In an age of political turmoil and as the 2020 election looms, Politics Is for Power is an inspiring, vital read that will make you hopeful for America’s democratic future.
Tufts University political science professor Hersh argues in this earnest yet somewhat mislabeled debut that "political hobbyism," the practice of obsessively consuming political news without engaging in real-world activism, is not only a waste of time, but is actively harming American democracy. In 2018, Hersh surveyed "a random sample of 1,000 Americans" about their political engagement. The vast majority of respondents admitted that they didn't volunteer for a political organization, with most declaring that they didn't have the time to do so. Yet more than half also acknowledged spending an hour or more every day reading about politics or watching political news programs. Hersh argues that hobbyism inflames public opinion on both sides of the political spectrum, making elected officials less likely to compromise. He provides case studies of activists who put serious effort into advocating for their preferred causes, and, in the book's final 20 pages, offers specific guidance on how readers can stop being hobbyists and start participating in the political process by performing community service or becoming an elected delegate. Though it's billed as a how-to, the book leans more toward cultural study. While readers may wish that Hersh had included more practical advice, this richly detailed account effectively highlights an issue affecting contemporary political discourse.