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Article

Henrik Oscarsson and Lauri Rapeli

Political sophistication refers to the role of expertise and the use of information in the forming of political judgments. Citizens in a democracy need a sufficient level of political sophistication to make sense of politics and to hold office holders accountable. Most people do not seem to be as sophisticated as theory would expect, and political sophistication also seems to be very unevenly spread among individuals. The consequences for democratic governance continue to be a matter of much scholarly debate. Although most researchers agree that sophistication among citizens tends to be low, many issues in the research field are deeply contested. First, several concepts such as awareness, sophistication, and knowledge are used more or less interchangeably in analyses of the political competence of citizens. It is, however, unclear whether the terminology conceals essential conceptual differences. Second, the empirical strategy of using surveys to measure sophistication has been heavily criticized. For some, the survey is an unsuitable method because it measures the respondents’ ability to produce correct answers under suboptimal conditions, rather than measuring what they actually know about politics. For others, the survey questions themselves are an inadequate measure of sophistication. Third, it is not clear what the effects of citizens’ political sophistication or lack thereof are on democratic governance. According to one group of scholars, the aggregated opinions and electoral choices of democratic publics would not look very different even if they were more sophisticated. The opponents of this low-information rationality theorem claim that increases in citizens’ sophistication would lead to substantial differences in democratic output. In other words, perceptions of the significance of sophistication for democracy deeply divide scholars working in the field. There is less disagreement concerning the individual-level determinants of sophistication. Although being male, well educated, and in a socially advantaged position still stand out as the strongest predictors of high sophistication, recent findings provide a more nuanced understanding of how sophistication is distributed among citizens. In addition to many enduring disputes, some questions remain largely unanswered. Without cross-nationally standardized survey items, scholars have struggled to conduct comparative studies of political sophistication. Therefore, role of political institutions as facilitators of political sophistication is to some extent uncertain. Whether and how sophistication changes over time are equally important, but mostly unexplored, questions.

Article

Robert Nyenhuis and Robert Mattes

A useful summary of political culture is a people’s values, knowledge, and evaluations of their political community, political regime, and political institutions, as well as how they see themselves and others as citizens. Although the current map of Africa was originally drawn by European colonial powers, its states and state boundaries are no longer artificial abstractions. Ordinary Africans have developed a strong identification with their national identities, even as many maintain strong attachments to subnational linguistic, regional, or religious identities. Africans also say they want those states to be governed democratically, though the depth of their commitment to all aspects of democratic governance is not always consistent. Other aspects of political culture are marked by important contradictions. Even though people can be highly critical of incumbent leaders, they tend to exhibit high and often uncritical levels of trust in government and state institutions. At the same time, they express very low levels of trust in other citizens, or at least in those who do not share common ethnic or local identities. Yet they have high levels of membership in community organizations and are often involved in local politics. And though they express a high level of interest in politics, most Africans exhibit low levels of political efficacy. But Africa is not a country, and these attitudes often are often very different across the continent. Indeed, in many places, it is far from certain whether citizen support is sufficient to sustain the multiparty systems and democratic rule that emerged in the 1990s.

Article

Elizabeth J. Zechmeister and Daniela Osorio Michel

Political culture in Latin America leans democratic and participatory. Even amid institutional backsliding in the early 21st century, most leaders assume office and claim their mandate via elections. However, in the face of significant governance challenges, reservations regarding democracy and democratic processes are on the rise. In 2014, 68% of individuals in the average Latin American country expressed support for democracy. Five years later, in 2019, that figure was 58%. Support for state-led redistribution declined during this period as well. In brief, there are signs that the public is moving away from a social democratic orientation. Generalizations about political culture risk overlooking significant heterogeneity in Latin American beliefs and inclinations. Survey data, especially from comparative projects, permit assessments of the region’s political culture across time, countries, and population subgroups. Analyses of these data paint an appropriately nuanced portrait of Latin American political culture. Support for core democratic values is highest in the Southern Cone countries of Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile. Support for democratic institutions and processes is far lower in countries that have experienced recent instability and governance challenges, including Honduras and Peru. In Latin America, the young tend to be less committed to democratic institutions and processes. Those in rural areas tend to be more inclined to engage in local politics. Those who are poor tend to perceive themselves as less capable of understanding key national issues. Finally, women tend to be politically more conservative. How people in the region believe politics ought to be organized and function—that is, political culture in Latin America—matters. This is because the public’s inclinations to express core democratic values and to engage in the system shape political outcomes. Where individuals lack confidence in the democratic state, they are less prone to support it. Further, they are more likely to issue demands, and to look for leadership, outside of formal political channels. The comparatively low and decreasing levels of support for democracy place Latin America at a crossroads. Failure to meet key governance challenges—corruption, inequality, crime—could accelerate declines in confidence and interest in participatory democracy, to the detriment of political culture and democratic consolidation in Latin America.

Article

Action readiness is considered a central property of emotions in most psychological theories. Emotions are the engine of behavior. They are the motivating, directing, prioritizing function of the brain, and impel to an immediate reaction to challenges and opportunities faced by the organism. Nevertheless, under sociopolitical malaise, emotions do not always lead to action. People leave in societies characterized by particular emotional cultures, climates, and atmospheres that set the background to what emotions are felt under which circumstances. The impact of an emotion depends on how relevant, that is, emotionally significant is the event for the individual; on the implications of the event for the person’s well-being and immediate or long-term goals; on the individual’s capacity to cope with or adjust to the consequences of the event; and on the significance of the event with respect to individual and collective self-concept and to social norms and values. Although emotions trigger action, events with high emotional intensity may mobilize defense mechanisms that distort facts, so that the event may appear distant or not concerning the individual personally. In such cases action is hindered because the meaning of the emotive event, although fully intellectually understood, does not have personal emotional reality. If the defense mechanisms prove inefficient or collapse, the event may be experienced as traumatic, that is, as a shocking occurrence that brings about a rupture in the continuity of existence, numbing of senses and mental faculties, and inability to think about what happened for periods that may last from days to years, although individuals and collectives may appear quite normal in carrying out everyday routines. Interpretative “emotion work” in formal or informal contexts may change emotions from immobilizing to mobilizing, or from destructive to constructive, as the traumatic event is being “worked through” and a cohesive narrative about it develops. But even then, action and in our case, political action, depends on the individual’s available repertoire—political efficacy and resilience—built up from past recoveries and a sense of support from social networks, and hope in assessing the costs and benefits from the harms brought by acting and the harms brought by non-acting.

Article

Bert Klandermans and J. Van Stekelenburg

Social identity processes play a crucial role in the dynamics of protest, whether as antecedents, mediators, moderators, or consequences. Yet, identity did not always feature prominently in the social or political psychology of protest. This has changed—a growing contingent of social and political psychologists is involved now in studies of protest behavior, and in their models the concept of identity occupies a central place. Decades earlier students of social movements had incorporated the concept of collective identity into their theoretical frameworks. The weakness of the social movement literature on identity and contention, though, was that the discussion remained predominantly theoretical. Few seemed to bother about evidence. Basic questions such as how collective identity is formed and becomes salient or politicized were neither phrased nor answered. Perhaps social movement scholars did not bother too much because they tend to study contention when it takes place and when collective identities are already formed and politicized. Collective identity in the social movement literature is a group characteristic in the Durkheimian sense. Someone who sets out to study that type of collective identity may look for such phenomena as the group’s symbols, its rituals, and the beliefs and values its members share. Groups differ in terms of their collective identity. The difference may be qualitative, for example, being an ethnic group rather than a gender group; or quantitative, that is, a difference in the strength of collective identity. Social identity in the social psychological literature is a characteristic of a person. It is that part of a person’s self-image that is derived from the groups he or she is a member of. Social identity supposedly has cognitive, evaluative, and affective components that are measured at the individual level. Individuals differ in terms of social identity, again both qualitatively (the kind of groups they identify with) and quantitatively (the strength of their identification with those groups). The term “collective identity” is used to refer to an identity shared by members of a group or category. Collective identity politicizes when people who share a specific identity take part in political action on behalf of that collective. The politicization of collective identity can take place top-down (organizations mobilize their constituencies) or bottom-up (participants in collective action come to share an identity). In that context causality is an issue. What comes first? Does identification follow participation, or does participation follow identification?