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2021 Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender

Health Status and Political Involvement: Can the Welfare State Compensate for Inequalities?

Comparative Politics
Social Policy
Social Welfare
Electoral Behaviour
Public Opinion
Voting Behaviour
Carolin Rapp
University of Copenhagen
Carolin Rapp
University of Copenhagen

While democracies rest on egalitarian ideals, we encounter an unequal reality when examining who is involved in politics. We know that higher levels of inequality negatively affect both the level and distribution of electoral participation in advanced democracies. Apart from more traditional indicators of social inequality, such as income and education, recent research demonstrated that health status plays a decisive role in defining a person’s degree of political involvement. For example, ample evidence suggests that persons with a poor physical or mental health are more likely to refrain from voting.

The suggested Paper examines the way in which different forms of physical and mental illnesses influence an individual’s political involvement. In contrast to prior research, we go one step further by testing the health effect on multiple spheres of political participation—ranging from the widely studied voter turnout to less institutionalized forms of engagement such as participation in demonstrations and boycotts as well as attitudinal dimensions of political involvement. Moreover, policy feedback literature has revealed that beyond influences of individual resources or socialization, we must also consider the impact of public policy on political behaviour. Accordingly, we test if an extensive welfare state, in terms of its generosity, can compensate for the deleterious effects of health status on political involvement.

To test the relationships between an individual’s health and political involvement, we rely on the newest release of the European Social Survey (ESS7) comparing individuals in 20 European democracies. Additional models test whether health status has a uniform effect across groups, or if the effect varies in strength or direction depending on the generosity of the welfare state. Preliminary results reveal that the welfare state is capable of compensating for inequalities, whereby this effect highly depends on the type of political involvement we are looking at.
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