Attitudes Towards Political Participation: An experiment on the Interplay between Conservatism and Context / by Flavio Azevedo

For decades, traditional forms of political participation have been shrinking in developed countries, as if governments were naturally democratic or warranted against authoritarian retrogression. But democratic governance is neither a natural state of power-sharing nor guaranteed to endure. Incidentally, as governments draw their legitimacy from the vested power in voting – and from a normative perspective, as civic engagement decreases so does a government’s power. This notion is still relevant today because established democracies consistently observe their electoral turnout eroding while skepticism and distrust toward the political processes become commonplace. The concern is that a progressively alienated population could, even if inadvertently, instigate democracies to capitulate to more robust forms of power assertion. This study attempts to contribute to this debate by investigating how attitudes towards political participation change as a function of situational (context) and dispositional factors (conservatism). For this, a scale was devised to gauge attitudes towards two different types of political participation: participative, wherein the individual and all of society is engaged vs. restrictive, wherein representative/elites are engaged in the name of society. A pretest-posttest control-group experiment with 202 participants assessed the interplay of context and conservatism in predicting shifts in attitudinal political participation. Results show a significant interaction eliciting an asymmetric effect of context and conservatism on the voters’ attitudes towards participation, while conservatives in negative and uncertain contexts increase endorsement for restrictive participation the opposite is observed for their ideological counterparts. Findings complement the literature by providing in-depth psychological explanations underlying voters’ decision to participate politically.

[Stage: Conference paper, to be presented at ISPP and ISJR 2016]