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The characteristics of the participants in modes of participation: The effect of institutional openness

Open Panel

Abstract

The characteristics of political participants are paramount for determining the impact of different forms of participation, since they shape the quality and equality of them. This paper examines how the institutional openness of the state shapes the characteristics of the participants in four modes of participation: party activism, protest, associational activism, and consumer activism. The differences for the participants among these modes of participation are examined with regards to three categories of fundamental characteristics: socio-demographic characteristics, attachment to and sentiments about the political system and society, and individual ties to the surrounding community. These present three different answers to the questions posed by Verba et al. (1995: 14-15) as to why citizens do not participate: because they cannot due to a lack of key socio-demographic resources, because they do not want to due to a lack of psychological engagement and/or trust in the authorities, or because nobody asked due to a lack of involvement in associations of recruitment. Since the different forms of participation differ in their relation to the formal political apparatus, the institutional structure is likely to mediate these characteristics. For this reason, the differences among the modes of participation are examined in open and closed institutional systems. The data is from the first round of the European Social Survey from 2001 and includes 35684 respondents from 18 established democracies. The results suggest that the institutional structure does indeed affect the characteristics of the participants in the modes of participation.