Perspectives on Politics

Research Article

The Relationship of Leadership Quality to the Political Presence of Civic Associations

Hahrie Hana1, Kenneth T. Andrewsa2, Marshall Ganza3, Matthew Baggettaa4 and Chaeyoon Lima5

a1 Wellesley College. E-mail:

a2 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. E-mail:

a3 Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. E-mail:

a4 School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University. E-mail:

a5 University of Wisconsin at Madison. E-mail:


Member-based civic associations, or citizen groups, have two crucial roles in American democracy. They advocate for members' interests in the public arena, but also operate as Tocquevillian “schools of democracy” linking citizens to politics and equipping them with the skills of democratic citizenship. Yet scant research has examined the interrelationships of these two roles. Does the work that civic associations do in developing democratic participants enhance the work they do advocating for members' interests in the public arena? We bring together two previously disparate strands of research on civic associations by arguing that a key factor affecting the political presence of civic associations is leadership quality. We focus on the relationship of leadership quality to political presence, using data from a unique 2003 study of 226 local entities of the Sierra Club. We show that organizations with more skilled and committed leaders have higher levels of political presence. This contrasts with previous research that has focused primarily on community context and resources as explanatory factors. This study shows that political presence is related to the extent to which leaders develop their skills and demonstrate commitment to the organization.

(Online publication March 15 2011)

Hahrie Han is the Sidney R. Knafel Assistant Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College and a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy for 2009–2011 (

Kenneth T. Andrews is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (

Marshall Ganz is a Lecturer in Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (

Matthew Baggetta is an Assistant Professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University (

Chaeyoon Lim is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (


A list of permanent links to supplementary materials provided by the authors precedes the reference section.