Measuring Political Participation
Endorsed by the ECPR Standing Group on Political Methodology
Political participation is the heart of modern democracy. From voting to writing to one’s representative, wearing a badge, becoming a party member, attending a demonstration to boycotting a product or occupying a building, each citizen has various opportunities to voice her opinion. Hence, there is a correspondingly rich literature on all kinds of political participation. Yet, (comparative) researchers in this area are often faced by at least one of the following challenges related to a valid and reliable measurement of the phenomenon at hand:
a) How can we accurately measure different forms of political participation? Relevant questions are often not included in the survey program(s) one employs or the question wording and items vary across surveys, countries and/or time. This is particularly true for the more unconventional, elite-challenging and bottom-up forms of citizen involvement.
b) What do we actually measure? Cross-national surveys encounter the difficulty that some types of participation, like ‘signing a petition’ for instance, mean different things in different countries
c) How valid is what we measure? Survey-based measurement of individual political behavior is error-prone, mainly due to measurement errors and/or a lack of representativeness.
The Section is a forum to discuss and evaluate ways to deal with these challenges from different perspectives. It strives to bring together primary investigators, data collectors and users of secondary data. We therefore welcome Papers investigating the above mentioned aspects from a theoretical or methodological angle as well as manuscripts using a more applied or experimental approach or meta-analyses.
1) Tackling measurement errors in self-reported participation
Panel Chair: Sylvia Kritzinger, University of Vienna
As Traugott (1989, 2) put it almost thirty years ago: "How much conﬁdence can we have in the responses to questions we ask?“ The main reason for doubts stems from the observation that turnout in elections and referenda based on self-reported participation systematically overestimates real-world turnout rates (e.g., Selb and Munzert 2013). Many studies argue that measurement errors, and in particular misreporting, are the most important source of bias (e.g., Ansolabehere/Hersh 2012; Belli et al. 2006; Zegloviz/Kritzinger 2013). They claim that respondents often indicate to have participated even though they abstained (Groves et al. 2009). In this light, the Panel invites Papers dealing with questions like: How important is over-reporting and does it differ between different institutional or political contexts? What can we do to improve our surveys? What are advantages and disadvantages of official participation data? And, lastly, in how far do measurement errors impact on the substantial results we get from survey-based participation studies?
2) How representative is the survey data we get?
Panel Chair: Pascal Sciarini, University of Geneva
One of the main challenges for an accurate estimation of turnout measures based on survey data is representativeness. In fact, most recent studies show that non-response, i.e., that some groups of the population are less likely to respond to political surveys, even more strongly contributes to turnout bias in surveys than measurement errors (Sciarini/Goldberg 2015). Another source of bias is undercoverage, which is even more rarely treated in empirical studies. The aim of this Panel is to discuss questions, challenges and possible solutions related to the representativeness of the data: How “wrong” are we when measuring participation using for instance phone-based or online surveys, respectively? Can we improve representativeness through mixed-mode designs? In how far does a lack of representativeness affect inference based on survey data?
3) Measuring voting intentions based on pre-election polls
Panel Chair: Lucas Leemann, University of Essex
Recently, several “unexpected” ballot results (e.g., the Brexit vote, Trumps’ win in the U.S. presidential elections, or the acceptance of the “mass immigration initiative” in Switzerland) have questioned pollsters’ ability to accurately predict people’s voting behavior. There are two main challenges; how will people vote and who are the ones that actually turn out to vote. Statistical research does offer new approaches to improve the quality of predictions (e.g., Leemann/Wasserfallen 2016). This Panel concentrates on design based or model based approaches that promise to tackle one of the two or even both challenges simultaneously. Finally, we also ask how polling results can be communicated to reflect the inherent uncertainty.
4) Measuring rising forms of political participation
Panel Chair: Ariadne Vromen, University of Sydney, Sophie Marien, University of Amsterdam & Anna Kern, University of Leuven
While items on more conventional forms of participation like electoral turnout and party membership are part of most political and many (general) social surveys, items on non-electoral forms of participation including the use of social media and digital participation are comparatively rare. With more unconventional forms of participation on the rise (Dalton 2008), in particular among the younger generation (Vromen 2014), the demand for valid and comparative measurements of unconventional participation grows. Yet, measuring these ways of online participation in particular comes with its own challenges (e.g. Gibson/Cantijoch 2013; Oser et al. 2013). This Panel therefore aims at fostering exchange on asking survey questions on more unconventional (online and offline) participation, but also on how to generate valid and comparative measures based on these items. We welcome Papers working with questions like: What are relevant forms of online participation to be considered in future surveys? How do online and offline political participation differ with regard to measurement issues? How can we link online and offline participation research theoretically as well as empirically? Do we need new data and new methods to answer new questions?
Dr. Christina Eder is Head of the Research Data Center ‘Elections’ at GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences. Her main areas of research interest include political behavior, political institutions and their measurement as well as women’s political representation.
Prof. Dr. Isabelle Stadelmann-Steffen is Associate Professor in Comparative Politics with the University of Bern. Her main research interests concern research on political behaviour and attitudes, comparative public policy, and Swiss politics.