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The Obligation Mosaic

Race and Social Norms in US Political Participation

The Obligation Mosaic

Race and Social Norms in US Political Participation

Many argue that “civic duty” explains why Americans engage in politics, but what does civic duty mean, and does it mean the same thing across communities? Why are people from marginalized social groups often more likely than their more privileged counterparts to participate in high-cost political activities? 
In The Obligation Mosaic, Allison P. Anoll shows that the obligations that bring people into the political world—or encourage them to stay away—vary systematically by race in the United States, with broad consequences for representation. Drawing on a rich mix of interviews, surveys, and experiments with Asian, Black, Latino, and White Americans, the book uncovers two common norms that centrally define concepts of obligation: honoring ancestors and helping those in need. Whether these norms lead different groups to politics depends on distinct racial histories and continued patterns of segregation. 
Anoll’s findings not only help to explain patterns of participation but also provide a window into opportunities for change, suggesting how activists and parties might better mobilize marginalized citizens. 

264 pages | 27 line drawings, 25 tables | 6 x 9

Chicago Studies in American Politics

Political Science: Political Behavior and Public Opinion


The Obligation Mosaic is a clearly written, thoroughly researched book that provides valuable insight into our understanding of political participation. It offers answers to questions that have challenged the field of political science for decades while breaking new ground in the topics and methods of political participation research.”

Katherine J. Cramer, University of Wisconsin–Madison

“Every few years, a new book comes along that reorients your understanding of a topic you care about deeply. The Obligation Mosaic is such a book. Two broad features make this imaginative work a must-have for scholars of American political behavior. First, Anoll injects much-needed nuance and range into the study of group norms and how they condition what our collective identities mean and why they matter for mass politics. Second, Anoll breaks new conceptual ground on the connection between group norms and group identities, and what she has to say is relevant to those who study intra- and intergroup politics in the US and beyond. This book is simply remarkable in its approach to building a theory that can apply to multiple racial and ethnic groups while using the same moving parts.”

Efrén O. Pérez, University of California, Los Angeles

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. The Value and Meaning of Political Participation
Chapter 2. The Racialized Norms Model
Chapter 3. Which Norms?
Chapter 4. Finding Purpose in the Past
Chapter 5. Taking Care of Those in Need
Chapter 6. Norms and National Turnout
Chapter 7. Norms and High-Cost Participation
Chapter 8. The Present and Future of Participatory Social Norms
Appendix A Participatory Social Norms Survey Instrumentation
Appendix B Supplemental Material for Qualitative Interviews
Appendix C Supplemental Empirical Analyses
An online data appendix can be accessed at

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