Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

Document Type




Are political actors influenced by their acceptance of risk? By political actors I mean individuals in society or government that have an influence on political outcomes. By risk acceptance I mean the degree to which an individual is comfortable with uncertainty and willing to challenge the status quo. The purpose of the present dissertation is to further enhance scholarly understanding of the causal psychological mechanisms that influence political behavior by considering individual risk acceptance.

Kam’s (2012) theoretical framework suggests that risk-accepting individuals are more likely to participate in politics because they seek out exciting and novel activities. She does not, however, find any evidence that the risk accepting are any more likely to vote. I argue that enforced compulsory sanctions provide exciting opportunities for the highly risk accepting to abstain from compulsory elections, but also create higher levels of uncertainty for those with low levels of risk acceptance, which leads to a greater likelihood of voting for the latter but not the former. If you are a risk acceptor, you may be willing to violate the compulsory voting requirement.

I also expand Kam’s (2012) theoretical framework in Chapter 5 by considering how risk acceptance influences the decision to protest. I argue that because nondemocracies are more repressive than democracies, the risk accepting may be more likely to protest in non-democratic countries than their less risk-accepting counterparts. On the other hand, low risk-accepting individuals may be more hesitant in their willingness to risk life and limb by challenging the status quo of non-democratic regimes because non-democratic countries are more likely to repress political detractors.

Finally, political scholars theorize that legislators are hesitant to make risky decisions in office, yet they provide surprisingly little empirical evidence that risk acceptance influences legislative decision making. In Chapter 6 I use a novel theoretical framework and measure of risk acceptance to predict legislative decision making in the United States House of Representatives.



Committee Chair

Hogan, Robert