Look Who Is Disaffected Now: Political Causes and Consequences of Learned Helplessness in the U.S.

Thumbnail Image

Persistent link to this item

View Statistics

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Look Who Is Disaffected Now: Political Causes and Consequences of Learned Helplessness in the U.S.

Published Date




Thesis or Dissertation


Contemporary U.S. democracy currently faces a catch-22. While democratic legitimacy and functioning can hinge on the participation of its people, the U.S. has experienced declines civic and political engagement. Situated in the broader political behavior literature, this dissertation explores explanations for why people utilize different forms of political exit and voice through engagement or disengagement in instrumental and expressive political action, i.e., voting behavior and protesting behavior, respectively. To do so, this dissertation pushes the existing concept of disaffection by incorporating work from psychology on learned helplessness. To examine the impact of learned helplessness on political disaffection and political involvement, this dissertation utilizes both survey and experimental methods. This dissertation demonstrates that learned helplessness has discriminant validity when compared to, and incremental predictive validity above and beyond, constructs of political disaffection, e.g., internal and external efficacy, trust, and political interest. More consequently, this dissertation demonstrates that situations and experiences of repeated failure that lead people to feel uncontrollability have consequences for feelings of disaffection and the ways in which they engage politically. Throughout the dissertation, three areas of investigation are pursued: 1) What are the causes and consequences of learned helplessness? 2) How has learned helplessness contributed to exit and voice in the U.S.? 3) How does contemporary political context, i.e., income inequality or elite polarization, exacerbate learned helplessness, and potentially mediate the relationship between context and participation in instrumental and expressive political behavior?


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2017. Major: Political Science. Advisor: Joanne Miller. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 371 pages.

Related to




Series/Report Number

Funding information

Isbn identifier

Doi identifier

Previously Published Citation

Suggested citation

Farhart, Christina. (2017). Look Who Is Disaffected Now: Political Causes and Consequences of Learned Helplessness in the U.S.. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/209058.

Content distributed via the University Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor. By using these files, users agree to the Terms of Use. Materials in the UDC may contain content that is disturbing and/or harmful. For more information, please see our statement on harmful content in digital repositories.