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Political participation, norms of citizenship, and heterogeneous motivation – Experimental and survey evidence

Tanja Dannwolf
Universität Mannheim
Tanja Dannwolf
Universität Mannheim
Gema García Albacete
Universität Mannheim
Carsten Schmidt
Universität Mannheim
Open Panel

Abstract

Why do people participate in high cost political protest activities such as demonstrations and petitions? To rational choice theory, the existence of such public goods presents a paradox. Political participation research, however, has suggested comprehensive models to explain individuals’ decision to participate (see Whiteley et al.). According to these models, the decision to participate in demonstrations is determined, among other factors, by motivation, e.g. dissatisfaction with the status quo, and norms of citizenship. For apparent reasons, the effect of dissatisfaction with specific issues is difficult to assess with the usual survey data. The paper tests these two main expectations in an experimental setting. Starting from a standard public good game, we design an experiment that reflects crucial theoretical considerations: a dichotomous investment decision, and returns from the private and the public account that vary across individuals, thus reflecting the different motivations and payoffs of individuals from a demonstration. Three treatments are designed to allow determining the effect of different heterogeneity in motivations. Furthermore, we test expectations derived from the general incentives model of Whiteley and colleagues with a reduced version of the European Social Survey. We expect individuals with a strong sense of civic duty and experience in protest activities to be more likely to participate. Our results indicate that having subjects with heterogeneous motivations avoids the typical deterioration of contributions to the public account over time. Related to that, we find that heterogeneity in preferences lowers aggregate contributions. Finally, testing the general incentive model in the post experiment survey points out correlations between contributions to the public activity in the experiment and the self-stated past participatory experience. Civic norms reveal an additional positive impact on the likelihood of participation in the public activity in the experiment.