Understanding how citizens participate in politics is important because it shapes political culture and the tenor of democracy. The standard research framing of Pacific politics, centring around institutions both formal and informal, fails to fully account for the myriad of ways in which non-elite Pacific Islanders experience and relate to politics in their daily lives. This scholarly approach results in limited engagement with informal sites of politics and non-elite engagement with these sites. We argue that what is missing is a research approach that focusses on how ordinary people actively and purposefully participate in politics in the region, and what it means for Pacific Islanders to be citizens who participate in politics. The concept of political participation provides a more fruitful entry point to fully understanding the changing political dynamics of the region.