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ECPR Standing Group on the European Union 10th Biennial Conference LUISS, Rome

A Shift Towards Protest? On the Impact of Socio-Economic Deprivation and Disappointed Expectations on Political Participation in Central and Eastern Europe

Europe (Central and Eastern)
Comparative Politics
Political Participation
Electoral Behaviour
Political Activism
Tobias Spöri
University of Vienna
Tobias Spöri
University of Vienna

Political apathy and declining rates in political participation mean a great challenge to many democracies worldwide as they undermine the legitimacy of key institutions of representative democracy. Several studies have provided evidence for the influence of citizens’ general disenchantment, dissatisfaction with democracy and a high level of frustration on electoral participation.
Central and Eastern Europe is one of the regions on the globe, which is a good example for such development, in particular concerning the manifold upheavals since the beginning of the transformation in 1989. Great expectations in political and economic terms sprouted in the early 1990s, which have been mostly disappointed over time. Since then, the region has faced a tremendous decline in electoral turnout.
Generally, political participation is weaker than in so-called established democracies. In the literature, the post-communist heritage is treated as the predominant explanation for the lack of political participation in Central and Eastern Europe. In recent years, however, several large-scale protest movements emerged in the region and were able to mobilise many citizens, which questions the prevailing effect of a cultural heritage.
The paper goes beyond this predominant explanation and tests the impact of a range of political attitudes on electoral and protest participation. The large-N study takes general and regional specific variables into account such as attitudes towards democratic institutions and the perception of the transformation since 1989. The analysis is based on secondary data, e.g. the European Value Study or the Life in Transition Survey and studies ten countries (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia).
The main goal of the paper is to tackle protest participation of citizens who abstain from elections and their attitudes towards democracy. Are the so-called “losers of the transformation” those who participate in protest rallies?
In addition, the paper seeks counterbalancing the still prevailing “established democracy bias” in political participation research by contributing insights from a less studied region.
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