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Contextual Determinants of Political Participation in Western Democracies

Katerina Vrablikova
University of Bath
Katerina Vrablikova
University of Bath
Open Panel

Abstract

Why do people participate in politics? Researchers usually study factors at the individual level such as socio-economical status, civic attitudes and involvement in social networks. However, this explanatory model does not have much to say about contextual variation in political participation. The main question of this paper is: What are the contextual determinants of political participation across Western democracies and what is the mechanism of their influence? Drawing on the concept of political opportunity structure this study aims at two goals: Firstly, the effect of political opportunity structure of a respective state on individual participation is studied. Secondly, it expects that mobilization into participation is also dependent on political opportunity structure. The political opportunity structure is operationalized according to Koompans and Kriesi as the institutional design of a respective state (measured by fiscal decentralization, horizontal separation of powers and effective number of parties) and prevailing strategies used by its political elites when dealing with challengers (measured by the level of involvement of unions and employers’ organizations in policy-making). The cross-level interaction effect of political opportunity structure factors together with “mobilizing channels” (measured by political discussion and membership in social groups) is introduced to capture the mechanism connecting political opportunity structure with participation. The hierarchical linear modelling is used against the data coming from the ISSP 2004 in 23 European and North-American countries. The results show that there is a difference in both political participation and mobilization into participation caused by some national opportunity structure factors.