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Article

Creative Participation and the Expansion of Political Engagement  

Yannis Theocharis and Joost de Moor

Creative participation refers to citizens’ invention of, and engagement in, new action forms that aim to influence, or take responsibility for, the common good in society. By definition, these action forms are constantly evolving and cannot be listed or summarized. Yet some, like guerrilla gardening, have over time become more established in political repertoires, and specific arenas are known to be particularly productive sites for their development. These include in particular the Internet, and lifestyles and consumption. The constant changes in how citizens become active represented by creative participation present considerable challenges for scholars of political participation—both in terms of theory and methodology. In particular, such forms test our ability to distinguish political from nonpolitical activities. However, how political creative participation is, is often subtle and implicit, and therefore hard to establish. Yet being able to do so is essential for an ongoing assessment of the quality of participatory democracy. With conventional forms of participation declining and creative participation becoming more common, scholars must be able to agree on definitions and operationalizations that allow for the comparison of participatory trends. For instance, a key concern has been whether creative forms of participation crowd out more conventional ones, like voting or lobbying politicians. Developments in survey research have been able to show that this is not the case and that creative participation may in fact increase conventional participation. In addition, qualitative research methods like focus groups and ethnography, allow for more open-ended explorations of this elusive research topic. As to who participates, creative participation has enabled traditionally underrepresented groups like women and young people to catch up with, and sometimes overtake, those older men who have long dominated conventional political participation. Still, education remains a key obstacle even to creative participation. The COVID-19 crisis that took hold of the world in 2020 has compromised access to collective action and public space. It has thereby once more put the onus on citizens to engage creatively with ways to influence, and take responsibility for, society. At the same time, the crisis presents a need and opportunity for political participation scholarship to engage more deeply with theoretical debates about what it means to be political or to participate.

Article

E-Participation  

Marta Cantijoch and Rachel Gibson

The study of e-participation is a young and growing discipline in which controversies are vibrant. One of these is the lack of a widely accepted definition of “e-participation.” Online political activities that involve little effort from the participant, such as liking or sharing political content on social media, are particularly divisive. Some scholars are reluctant to label expressive forms of online behavior as political participation. Others argue in favor of an adaptation of previous definitions to accommodate recent technological changes. Levels of engagement in different types of e-participation are increasing steadily over time. While differences between democracies are often stark, the upward trend has been consistent, especially since the emergence and expansion of social media. Whether this means that previously unengaged individuals are now taking part is one of the central questions of the literature on e-participation. To date, research has shown positive but modest results in support for a mobilizing effect. Particularly promising are findings suggesting that online tools are attracting younger participants to the political arena. Online forms of political engagement are often placed in a more general process leading to online and offline political participation. “Lean-forward” models that provide a contextualized understanding of the drivers and effects of e-participation are particularly insightful. In order to provide robustness to some of the questions that remain unresolved, scholars exploring e-participation should consider expanding their methodological repertoires. The trend is toward mixed designs that combine surveys and other forms of data (big data collected from social media or qualitative data).

Article

Race, Ethnicity, and Political Behavior  

Aida Just

Whether as a consequence of colonialism or more recent international migration, ethnic diversity has become a prominent feature of many contemporary democracies. Given the importance of ethnicity in structuring people’s identities, scholars have sought to incorporate ethnicity in their models of people’s political behavior. Studies focusing on individual support for group interests among ethnic minority members find that higher socioeconomic status generally leads to a reduced emphasis on ethnicity in forming individual political opinions. However, this relationship is often considerably weaker among ethnic minorities with frequent experiences of discrimination, pessimistic assessments of equal opportunities in a country, and social pressures from group members to comply with group norms. Research also shows that in comparison to majority populations, members of ethnic minorities are generally less active in politics, more likely to use contentious forms of political action, and support left-wing political parties that promote minority interests. Key explanations of differences between ethnic minorities and majorities in Western democracies focus on the importance of individual and group resources as well as political empowerment via representation in policymaking institutions, usually enabled by higher shares of minority populations within electoral districts.

Article

Political Culture in Africa  

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

Youth Politics in Africa  

Ransford Edward Van Gyampo and Nana Akua Anyidoho

The youth in Africa have been an important political force and performed a wide range of roles in the political field as voters, activists, party members, members of parliament, ministers, party “foot soldiers,” and apparatchiks. Although political parties, governments, and other political leaders often exploit young people’s political activity, their participation in both local and national level politics has been significant. In the academic literature and policy documents, youth are portrayed, on the one hand, as “the hope for the future” and, on the other, as a disadvantaged and vulnerable group. However, the spread of social media has created an alternative political space for young people. Active participation of young people in politics through social media channels suggests that they do not lack interest in politics, but that the political systems in Africa marginalize and exclude them from political dialogue, participation, decision-making, and policy implementation. The solution to the problem of the exclusion of young people from mainstream politics would involve encouraging their participation in constitutional politics and their greater interest and involvement in alternative sites, goals, and forms of youth political activism in contemporary Africa.

Article

Political Parties and Candidate Selection  

Gideon Rahat and William P. Cross

Candidate selection is about the decisions political parties make regarding who to put forward as candidates under their label for general elections. Beyond being the function that differentiates parties from other political groupings (especially considering the decline in parties’ performance of their other traditional functions), candidate selection is crucial for understanding power relations within parties, the composition of parliaments, and the behavior of elected officials. It also has an impact on the quality of democracy, especially with regard to the values of participation, competition, responsiveness, and representation. Candidate selection methods vary according to certain parameters. The two most important ones are the level of inclusiveness of the selectorate(s) (the body or bodies that choose the candidates) and their relative level of centralization. Beyond the few cases in which state laws define the process, the nature of candidate selection methods is influenced by various country-level factors, such as the electoral system and national political culture, as well as by party-level characteristics, such as party ideology. Reform of candidate selection methods occurs as a result of general developments, such as party change or personalization, party system developments, such as electoral defeat, and intraparty struggles. Although candidate selection is no longer “the secret garden of politics,” research still faces various obstacles. Consequently, the level of scholarly development is less advanced than the parallel study of electoral systems and their political consequences.

Article

Religious Communication and the Effects of Priming  

Gwyneth McClendon

Despite predictions that urbanization, economic development and globalization would lead to the recession of religion from public life, populations around the world continue to be highly religious. This pattern holds in most parts of the Global South and also in some advanced industrial democracies in the North, including in the United States. In grappling with the influence (or lack thereof) of religion on political life, a growing body of literature pays attention to how clergy–congregant communication might shape listeners’ political attitudes and behaviors. Considerable debate remains as to whether clergy–congregant communication is likely to change political attitudes and behavior, but there is a greater consensus around the idea that exposure to religious communication can at the very least prime (that is, increase the salience of) certain considerations that in turn affect how people evaluate political issues and whether they participate in politics. Religious communication is more likely to exert a persuasive and a priming influence among those already inclined to select into the communication and when the source of the communication is credible. More research is needed on the duration of religious primes and on the effects of religious communication in different political and social contexts around the world.

Article

Indigenous Politics and Resistance in Latin America: Continuity and Change  

Pascal Lupien

Indigenous social movements have become influential political actors in Latin America over the past three decades. Indigenous peoples continue to experience higher than average political, social and economic marginalization throughout the region. The powerful organizations created by Indigenous groups and the positive outcomes they have achieved despite these barriers have produced a body of research that examines how these social movements emerged, why some have succeeded in influencing policy, the construction of collective identity, and the strategies and tactics used. Indigenous movements have made claims based on their status as pre-colonial peoples; their demands include land rights, control over natural resources, cultural recognition, and political autonomy. Indigenous movements in countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador, and Mexico have used disruptive tactics such as marches and roadblocks to demand the attention of governments, the public and media. They have also strategically participated in building alliances across borders, supporting political parties, and undertaking legal action against powerful actors including the state and extractive industries. The high-profile Indigenous protest cycle that marked the 1990s and early 2000s across Latin America began to wind down during the first decade of the 21st century, but Indigenous movements continue to engage in both politics and protest. In the digital age, they have adapted their tactics to include social media and other technologies.

Article

Political Culture in Latin America  

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

Affective Intelligence and Emotional Dynamics in Voters’ Decision-Making Processes  

Pavlos Vasilopoulos

Affective intelligence theory offers a novel and systematic treatment on the impact of affective reactions on citizens’ information processes and political decisions based on neuroscience. Individuals have two distinct emotional systems that lead to two separate decision-making strategies. On the one hand, the disposition system, governed by enthusiasm and aversion, leads people to rely on habit or their sets of previously learned behaviors. On the other, the surveillance system is activated in novel or threating circumstances and is governed by anxiety. Once activated, anxiety leads individuals to seek for political information, break away from habitual political identifications, and consequently renders them more open to persuasion.

Article

Gender and Political Behavior  

Miki Caul Kittilson

The burgeoning field of gender and political behavior shows that the way in which ordinary citizens connect to the democratic process is gendered. Gender differences in voting behavior and participation rates persist across democracies. At the same time, countries vary substantially in the size of these gender gaps. In contemporary elections, women tend to support leftist parties more than men in many countries. Although men and women vote at similar rates today, women still trail men in important participatory attitudes and activities such as political interest and discussion. Inequalities in political involvement undermine the quality of deliberation, representation, and legitimacy in the democratic process. A confluence of several interrelated factors (resources, economy, socialization, political context) work together to account for these differences. Today, scholars more carefully consider the socially constructed nature of gender and the ways in which it interacts with other identities. Recent research on gender and political behavior suggests that political context affects different kinds of women in different ways, and future research should continue to investigate these important interactions.

Article

Party Identification and Its Implications  

Russell J. Dalton

Early electoral research in the United States discovered the most important concept in the study of political behavior: party identification. Party identification is a long-term, affective attachment to one’s preferred political party. Cross-national research has found that these party identities are a potent cue in guiding the attitudes and behavior of the average person. Partisans tend to repeatedly support their preferred party, even when the candidates and the issues change. Party ties mobilize people to vote to support their party, and to work for the party during the campaign. And, given the limited information most people have about complex political issues, party ties provide a cue to what positions one should support. This review describes how the level of partisanship among contemporary publics varies across nations and across time, and how these patterns have significant implications for democracies today.

Article

The Changing Nature of Political Party Membership  

Susan E. Scarrow

Party membership has long been an important channel for political participation in many countries. Strong membership organizations have helped parties win elections and stay connected with voters between elections, and membership opportunities have helped to mobilize some citizens who might otherwise have stayed out of politics. Yet in the last quarter-century, long-established political parties in parliamentary democracies have, with a few notable exceptions, experienced sharp enrollment declines, while newer parties have developed modest memberships at best. This has led many observers to question the continued viability of membership-based political parties. However, that is not the whole story. While some signs point to the obsolescence of party membership, there are other indications that parties are trying to reinvent the form, whether as a passport to individual political empowerment or as a pathway to digital citizenship. Most strikingly, many parties are experimenting with new procedures that give members a direct say in important party decisions. In this sense, the paradoxical story of party membership in the early 21st century is one of numerical decline accompanied by a possible increase in political relevance.

Article

The Effects of Civil War on Post-War Political Development  

Pellumb Kelmendi and Amanda Rizkallah

Civil war is one of the most devastating and potentially transformative events that can befall a country. Despite an intuitive acknowledgment that civil war is a defining political moment in a state and society’s history, we know relatively little about the legacies of wartime social and political processes on post-war political development. Scholars and practitioners have written extensively on the effects of different war endings and international interventions on post-war political outcomes—particularly as they concern the maintenance of security and stability. However, this scholarship has tended to treat the wartime period as a black box. Until recently, this bias has precluded systematic efforts to understand how the wartime political and social processes and context preceding international interventions and peace agreements have their own autonomous effects on post-war politics. Some of these processes include regional and local patterns of mobilization, armed group structure, political polarization, and violence, among others. Focusing more closely on the post-war effect of variation in wartime processes can not only improve our existing understanding of outcomes such as peace duration and stability but can also improve our understanding of other political development outcomes such as democratization, party building, local governance, and individual political behavior and participation. However, some scholars have started investigating the effect of wartime processes on post-war political development at three broad levels of analysis: the regime, party, and individual levels. At the regime level, democratization seems most likely when the distribution of power among warring parties is even and in contexts where armed actors find it necessary to mobilize ordinary citizens for the war effort. The transition from armed group to peacetime party has also received attention. Armed groups with sustained wartime territorial control, strong ties with the local population, centralized leadership, and cohesive wartime organizations are most likely to make the transition to post-war party and experience electoral success. Moving beyond case studies to more comparative work and giving greater attention to the precise specification of causal mechanisms would continue moving this research agenda in a productive direction. In addition, some scholars have examined individual behavior and attitudes after civil war. A central finding is that individuals who experience victimization during civil war are more likely to engage in political participation and local activism after the war. Future research should go beyond victimization to examine the effects of other wartime experiences. Harnessing the insights of the rich literature on the dynamics of civil war and the parallel advances in the collection of micro-level data is key to advancing the research on wartime origins of post-war political development. Such progress would allow scholars to speak to the larger question of how state and society are affected and transformed by the process of civil war.

Article

Political Participation and Religion: An Overview  

Jacob R. Neiheisel

Shaped by Marxist understandings of religion as a source of comfort, but not action, numerous scholars have explored whether various aspects of religion can be linked to participatory acts, either in politics or in civic life more generally. Decades of social scientific research on the subject offer no simple lessons regarding the relationship between religion and participation. Some elements or aspects of religion have been demonstrated to drive down levels of civic and political engagement. Although the whole picture is much more complicated, it is accurate to say that private devotionalism and other facets of religious belief that emphasize individual spirituality and a relationship with the divine over taking steps to improve conditions on Earth are going to promote detachment from the civic realm. By contrast, collective aspects of religious belief and practice often track with greater levels of political participation. These collective elements include the creation of religiously based social networks, as well as opportunities to practice civic skills and receive entreaties to political action. At a different level of analysis, government action on such moral issues as abortion and same-sex marriage has served as a spur to the political involvement of religious interests, whereas government regulation of religion has been shown to deter participation in the civic arena by religious organizations and groups. Taken together, the literature on religion and participation suggests that religion can serve as both a spur to civic and political engagement and as a suppressant, depending both on an individual’s approach to his or her faith and on the institutional dynamics that impinge on the political involvement of religious interests in the public square more generally.

Article

Political Behavior of Sexual and Gender Minorities  

Royal G. Cravens III

From the late 20th and into the early 21st centuries, scholars in the field of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) politics have produced a substantial body of literature that explores and explains the political attitudes and behavior of sexual and gender minorities. The interdisciplinary nature of the field is reflected in the broad range of approaches and theories that attempt to explain political phenomena among LGBTQ people. The majority of the literature reveals sexual minorities to be politically distinct from heterosexuals, in that sexual minorities are more ideologically liberal and, in the United States, more likely to support Democratic partisans. Largely because of heterosexism, sexual and gender minorities are also more likely to participate in political activities that directly implicate their sexual orientation or gender identity, such as volunteering with LGBTQ interest groups or attending “Pride” events, although sexual orientation and gender identity are significant predictors of a variety of attitudes and behavior. Recent research has demonstrated that LGBTQ people also participate in politics by running for office, mounting legal challenges to discriminatory laws or government actions, and collectively organizing locally, nationally, and internationally. Explanations for LGBTQ political distinctiveness have concentrated in three broad areas: selection, embeddedness, and conversion theories. While studies have provided supportive evidence for each hypothesis, the field has also increasingly turned to intersectional evaluations that admonish researchers to interrogate intragroup LGBTQ behavioral and attitudinal heterogeneity more fully. The infusion of intersectional theory into LGBTQ political research has revealed attitudinal and behavioral distinctions among sexual and gender minorities centered on axes of race and ethnicity, nationality, religion, age, and income, among others. The critical importance of disentangling the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity, the recognition of cross-cutting structures of oppression such as homophobia, sexism, and racism, and the emergence of subfields of LGBTQ political behavior are indicative of a burgeoning field of study. Looking to the future of LGBTQ political research, the political successes of the LGBTQ movement and evolving conceptions of sexual and gender identity have necessitated a reevaluation of LGBTQ political behavior in the 21st century. The continued diffusion of same-sex marriage, the electoral capture of LGBTQ voters, and the destabilization of identity categories that has been demanded by queer theory all pose unique challenges to the future of LGBTQ politics and political mobilization around the globe.

Article

Gender and Religiosity in the United States  

Mirya R. Holman and Erica Podrazik

Religiosity is a combination of public and private religious practices, beliefs, and experiences. While diversity exists in how religiosity is measured, three central components are consistent across the scholarship: organizational religious engagement, non-organizational religious activities, and subjective religiosity. To measure organizational religious engagement, scholars frequently look at church attendance and participation in congregational activities. Non-organizational religious activities include frequency of prayer, reading the Bible or other religious materials, or requesting others to pray for you. Subjective or intrinsic religiosity includes self-assessed religiousness (where respondents are asked, “How religious would you consider yourself?”) or strength of affiliation, as well as specific beliefs, such as views of the afterlife, hell, and whether the Bible is the literal word of God. Various groups express different levels of religiosity. One of the most well-documented and consistent group-based differences in religiosity is that women, including white women and women of color, are more religious than are men across religions, time, and countries. Women report higher rates of church attendance, engagement in religious practices (including prayer and reading the Bible), and more consistent and higher levels of religious interest, commitment, and engagement. Many explanations for these gaps in religiosity exist including differences in personality and risk aversion, gendered socialization patterns, and patriarchal structures within churches. Scholars have engaged in robust debates around the degree to which explanations like risk assessment or gender role theory can account for differences in religious behavior between men and women. Yet unresolved, these discussions provide opportunities to bring together scholarship and theories from religious studies, sociology, gender studies, psychology, and political science. Religiosity shapes a variety of important political and social attitudes and behaviors, including political ideology and participation. The effects of religiosity on political attitudes are heterogeneous across men and women—for example, highly religious women and men are not equally conservative, nor do they equally oppose gay rights. The process by which religiosity shapes attitudes is also gendered; for example, the effects of women’s religiosity on political attitudes and participation are mediated by gendered attitudes. And while religiosity increases political participation, the effects are not even for men and women, nor across all groups of women. Future research might examine the differing effects of religiosity on subgroups of men and women, including evaluations of how intersecting social categories like race, gender, and class shape both levels of religious engagement and the degree to which religiosity influences other political and social behavior.

Article

Democracy in the Crucible of Conflict  

Robert Ralston and Ronald R. Krebs

The field of international relations has long focused on understanding and explaining the causes of war. In contrast, scholars have devoted relatively little attention to war’s consequences. However, scholarly literature on the consequences of violent conflict, including its effects on liberal democracy, has burgeoned and improved in recent decades, since the 1990s. Existing research shows that security threats, mobilization, and warfare are neither entirely negative nor entirely positive with respect to liberal democracy. On the one hand, in the short run, these pressures erode liberal institutions and values. On the other hand, large-scale mobilization and warfare—both interstate and civil—encourage broader and more intense participation at the individual level and strengthen participation’s structural foundations. However, despite recent advances, there remains much that we still do not know, which suggests promising avenues for future research. The existing literature has not sufficiently or systematically distinguished among the effects of threat/insecurity, mobilization, and warfare. It has been stronger on empirical findings than on developing the mid-range theories and causal mechanisms that would make sense of those findings. It has been firmer on conflict’s impact on individual attitudes and predilections than on how and when violence reshapes larger political processes and structures. It has had more to say about conflict’s short-run effects than its long-term effects, especially with respect to contestation. The impact of violent conflict on liberal democracy remains a rich soil for future research.

Article

Constitutions and Constitutional Reforms in African Politics  

Muna Ndulo

Several African countries are currently engaged in the constitution-making process. In Africa, constitution-making usually takes three phases. The first phase took place at independence in the 1960s and was typically led by the colonial power. Constitution-making during this phase was part of the decolonization process. In the case of former British colonies, the independence constitution was British legislation which constituted the independent state. The second phase was from independence to 1989. During this phase, constitution amendments were made to the independence constitutions designed to concentrate power in the presidency. This was the era of authoritarian governments in Africa which culminated into one-party state systems of governance. The third phase, which runs from 1989 to the present, is associated with the worldwide wave of democratization. During this period, constitution-making has centered on rebuilding the political community as well as structures that had been distorted by political manipulation and violence during the era of authoritarian rule. This third phase is also marked by promoting the participation of citizens in the affairs of their own countries and the accountability of governments. A well-designed constitution can promote these objectives. In addition, inclusiveness and peaceful settlement of conflicts can be seen as a vehicle for national dialogue, good governance, and the consolidation of peace.

Article

Social Media and Elections in Africa  

Iginio Gagliardone

The analysis of the diffusion of social media in Africa and its relevance for politics has been caught in a paradox. On the one hand, social media have been saluted for their newness and for their ability, especially in connection with increasingly accessible portable tools such as mobile phones, to offer a level playing field for individuals to participate in politics and speak to power. On the other hand, this very enthusiasm has evoked relatively tired tropes used to frame the advent of other “new” technologies in the past, stressing what they could do to Africa, rather than exploring what they are doing in Africa. Early research on the relationship between social media and elections in Africa has tended to adopt normative frameworks adapted from the analysis of electoral contests in the Global North, presupposing unfettered citizens using social media to root for their leaders or demand accountability. A more recent wave of empirically grounded studies has embraced a greater conceptual and methodological pluralism, offering more space to analyze the contradictions in how social media are used and abused: how humor can be turned into a powerful tool to contest a type of power that appears overwhelming; or how armies of professional users have exploited people’s credulity of new media as “freer” from power to actually support partisan agenda. Interestingly, this latter approach has brought to light phenomena that have only recently caught global attention, such as the role of “fake news” and misinformation in electoral contests, but have played a determinant role in African politics for at least a decade.