The effects of economic adversity on electoral turnout : the case of Spain during the Great Recession (2008-2016).
This paper examines the effects of an economic crisis on electoral turnout, particularly the effects of economic deprivations and grievances among economically disadvantaged citizens. Previous studies defending the withdrawal thesis (Rosenstone, 1982), the role of resources (Brady, Scholzman & Verba, 1995), of grievances (Kern, Marien & Hooghe, 2015; Galais & Lorenzini, 2018) or the mobilisation argument (Carreras & Castañeda-Angarita, 2019), could not establish a clear relation between the effects of an economic crisis and the electoral turnout. Few studies could operationalise these effects due to a lack of available data regarding economic deprivations. These studies highlighted contradictory or heterogeneous effects. Can the citizens the most affected by a crisis, assert their voice through voting?
The hypothesis defended here is that the most disadvantaged citizens and those suffering economic deprivations, are more likely to vote in times of an economic crisis than in 'normal times'. In addition, political inequalities between the wealthiest and the victims of a crisis may worsen in some elections, while they can decrease under certain political conditions.
This article is based on a longitudinal study of post-electoral surveys of general elections in Spain between 2008 and 2016 produced by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas [Centre of Sociological Research]. Spain has been one of the European countries which has suffered the most because of the Great Recession. It has also experienced a disruption of its two-party system. Moreover, general elections are the most participative elections in the Spanish electoral system, where the victims of a crisis might be more likely to vote.
First, it is necessary to address the social profile of the crisis’ victims who participated in the ballots. Then, several logistic regressions can be elaborated to check on the effects of the independent variables: economic adversity and grievances, and of additional control variables: social resources, political attitudes and context.
Results show that economic adversity and grievances have had heterogeneous effects depending on political context and previous individual resources of the crisis' victims. The associated effects of financial deprivations, crisis-related grievances, and critical political attitudes, had a positive effect on electoral turnout in 2015, but not in 2008 before the crisis, nor in 2011 or 2016. This effect occurred in ‘unusual circumstances’, with an agenda-setting favourable to the interests of the victims of the crisis and the surge of new political parties. Against all odds, the citizens who were deprived of part of their wage, or who receive benefits, tended to vote more, while on the contrary, people who lost their job, or insecure workers, voted less. The lack of social resources of some citizens may explain the decreasing electoral turnout of the unemployed working-class, and less educated citizens in some less favourable political and economic circumstances, thus increasing political inequalities.
The current global pandemic and economic depression might rekindle discussions about the capacity of voting as a way to integrate every citizen to express their grievances in ‘storm and political distrust times’ (Kern et al., 2015; Santana, Rama and Bértoa, 2020).