For decades, political scientists have investigated the roots of political preference and political knowledge. We have theories that work well to explain both, but we can still only see hints at why some people take a strong interest in politics while others don’t care at all. Why do some people go further still and become activists or candidates for public office?

For the causes of political activation, we often look to family dynamics and professional experiences. In the classic, decades-old view, political socialization occurs in the home, usually in early adulthood.Other factors matter too, of course, especially educational attainment and socioeconomic status. People who become politically activated typically stay activated, and those who don’t are unlikely to become activated later on. We may learn to become voters and partisans at home and in our communities, but is this also where political activists and officeholders are made?

Register to Vote, 1960s

Kheel Center / flickr
Historic photo of 1960s African-American voter education drive.

In the interviews of Idaho political actors scattered throughout this fifth print edition of The Blue Review we read about what activates this interest in politics and what keeps it going. In many cases, a particular issue — the environment, schools, a war — or a particular candidate sparks a political career. In other cases, it’s an aptitude for the machinery of politics that prompts political activism. Browse for all of the #politicalanimal profiles.

Given the emphasis in political science literature on candidates for office, it is especially interesting in the interviews that follow to hear from those with other roles in public affairs. Recent scholarship on parties examines how party elites still exert strong influence on who wins party nominations. Nearly all studies of candidate recruitment emphasize how important party representatives and activists are to finding viable candidates.

It is not often explored, however, how these gatekeepers came to be in their positions of influence. As the study of political parties and nominations moves toward a broader view of the political party as a network of interests, these unelected political activists and other elites are beginning to garner more of our attention.

What is your personal “moment of politicization?” Tweet it to us. As political careers become increasingly thankless pursuits, we run the risk that talented and dedicated people are no longer willing to serve their communities, states and the nation. Among the articles on regional and national politics in this issue including think pieces on the Tea Party’s future, implementation of marijuana laws in Colorado and the rhetoric of Western governors you will find brief sketches of some people who found a passion for politics despite the many obstacles. Fortunately for the quality of our democracy, these dedicated individuals represent a bulwark against increasing cynicism and political disengagement.

Browse profiles of these Idaho political actors below, and with the #politicalanimal tag

China GumLeo MoralesIlana Rubel

Dean FergusonJim EverettBen Wilson

Wayne HoffmanJason LehositShelby Scott

Emily Walton
Briana LeClairJohn Reuter

Laird LucasChris Carlson

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.