Political efficacy is a term used primarily in political theory and discussion to refer to the amount of faith and impact citizens feel or believe they have upon their government. When it is low, it indicates the citizens of a country have little faith in their government and feel like their actions have little or no impact upon the actions of their political leaders. Higher levels of efficacy, however, tend to indicate that citizens believe their government is doing what is best for them and that the actions they take on a common basis can have a positive impact on the government. This type of information is often determined through polling and surveys, and used by politicians and news broadcasters to understand the political climate of a country or region.
When studying this concept, political scientists tend to divide it into two forms: internal and external. Internal efficacy deals with how a person feels that his or her skills, knowledge, and abilities can have an effect on the political system. This type of efficacy often indicates the likelihood of a person to vote or become politically active, as he or she feels what he or she has to offer can really make an impact on the political system. While there is some debate regarding the potential causality between political efficacy and voter turnout, there does seem to be a strong correlation between those with higher internal efficacy and the likelihood for them to vote.
External efficacy has to do with how a person feels his or her government responds to his or her needs and how well the political system and government reflect his or her needs and concerns. This type can have a great deal to do with trust and to what degree a person feels his or her government cares about him or her and the needs of others like him or her. Low external efficacy can often indicate apathy toward politics or government, and citizens with a sense that the government does not represent them.
Both forms can be used as indicators of potential voter turnout, as well as prevailing attitudes toward the government and the popularity of anti-establishment movements. Those with lower political efficacy tend to be more likely to support reform candidates, though they may not actually vote as they feel that their actions do not actually affect the political process. Higher efficacy tends to indicate those who will likely vote because they believe they have an effect on the government, and may support the incumbent since they likely feel the government is already effectively representing them.