Social Movement Outcomes

Do social movements cause social change? How would we know?

We look to the success of the civil rights movement in the United States and conclude, “Yes, social movements matter.” But, there are many social movements around the world, and there are many social changes.

How do we know if social movements cause social change? Unfortunately, many factors contribute to social change and it is difficult to draw a straight line between social movement actions and the changes they seek. To understand why, we first must consider the problem of causality.

What is causality?

Let’s say that X represents a factor, such as a “social movement activity.” Let’s say Y is the outcome, such as “social change.” How do we know X –> Y?

  • An association between X and Y exists
  • X precedes (is before) Y in some meaningful way
  • The relationship between X and Y is not caused by Z, another factor, i.e. eliminating “spuriousness.”

Let’s look at X → Y

In this simplest version, assume that X causes Y. How? X comes before Y, in some meaningful temporal way. Even if we measure X at the same time as Y, we can still build a model in which X comes before Y.

But, what if there are many factors and many possible outcomes?

What if…

(i) there are multiple X (X1, X2, …Xn) that could reasonably impact Y and

(ii) we cannot isolate these factors, i.e. a real world situation in which the units of observation cannot be controlled? 

This problem applies to the study of social movement outcomes: there are multiple real-world factors that we cannot manipulate in an experiment that would cause Y. Moreover,

(a) there are factors regarding power that we cannot observe;

(b) we have multiple possible Y;

(c) all possible Y may change over time.

Without understanding the chain of causality, we risk misidentifying actual outcomes and misattributing outcomes to the movement. In other words, we may not observe outcomes we could have observed, and we may think the movement mattered when, in fact, it did not.

The movement may be a spurious factor.

How do we define “social movement”?

If we are going to measure the impact of a social movement on social change, we need to define what a social movement is. Let’s look at three common definitions of the term.

  • A social movement may be defined as an organized effort by a large number of people to bring
    about or impede social, political, economic, or cultural change.” They work outside of the system.
  • “Social movements are defined as networks of informal interactions between a plurality of individuals, groups and/or organizations, engaged in political or cultural conflicts, on the basis of shared collective identities” (Dani 1992). From Diani, M. (1992). The Concept of Social Movement. The Sociological Review, 40(1), 1–25.

See also: “Social movements” created by Sydney Brown. The video is lively and helpful.

As we can see, it is difficult to define the term. Some think of it in terms of organizations. Some in terms of networks and informal interactions.

Let’s say we pick a definition of social movement. How do we know if it causes social change?

Before I give you my answer, let’s ask OpenAI’s ChatGPT. This is an AI program that answers open ended questions. The answers are short (ca. 170 words).

Q: How do we know if a social movement causes social change?

A:

We can know if a social movement causes social change by examining the impact of the movement on the social, political, and economic structures of society. Some key indicators of social change include:

Changes in laws and policies: If a social movement leads to changes in laws or policies, such as new laws being passed or existing laws being amended, this can be a sign of social change.

Changes in social norms and attitudes: If a social movement leads to changes in social norms and attitudes, such as increased acceptance of marginalized groups or greater awareness of social issues, this can be a sign of social change.

Changes in social institutions: If a social movement leads to changes in social institutions, such as schools, hospitals, or government agencies, this can be a sign of social change.

Changes in the distribution of power and resources: If a social movement leads to changes in the distribution of power and resources, such as increased access to education or healthcare for marginalized groups, this can be a sign of social change.

By examining these and other indicators, we can determine if a social movement has caused social change in a society.

Pretty good, chatbot AI! But, let’s look to the human literature for an in-depth answer.

Social Movement Outcomes: Problems and Solutions

This is based on two articles, plus some of my own thinking.

Identify the movement

Does the movement have a clear form, or a clear organizational core? If not, researchers would have to piece together the different strands of the movement to identify it as an entity with goals.

Identify the goals of the movement

The application of “success” or “failure” applies to whether we can identify a clear set of stated goals of the movement and compare them to their outcomes. However, a “social movement” may be large and unorganized with no agreement among its members on any specific goal.

We must also be able to identify the goal at T1 to know if there was a change in T2.

Identify the target of the movement

A movement must interact with its target. But first, what are the specific targets of the movement?

Time matters

To measure outcomes, we need to identify the short-term vs. long-term goals. Again, this is difficult if we cannot identify the goals.

Domains of outcomes

Social, economic, cultural, political? What is their specific form, duration, and magnitude?

Let’s look at the domain of outcomes as according to Bosi and Uba (2009):

Political: “changes in policies, legislation, political institutions, and regimes, or the actions taken by political parties”

Cultural: “changes in the values and ideas of the public, the development of new cultural products and practices (for example, popular culture and language), and the formation of collective identity and subcultures”

Biographical: “the impact of mobilization on the lives of sympathizers and participants in social movements”

Why not economic change?

Scope of Outcomes

Narrow vs. Broad: Outcomes can be narrow, as observing specific actions and changes to intended targets. They can be too broad, such as unintended consequences.

Changes in outcomes over time

One outcome can seemingly become a “success” or “failure” as time passes. At T1, the outcome for a domain was (…), but at T2, the outcome for a domain became (…). How durable is the change?

Direct vs. indirect effects

One outcome may be, theoretically, the direct effect of a movement, but another outcome may be directly caused by another factor. However, the movement may have impacted that factor:

Direct: X → Y
Indirect: X → Z → Y

“The direct effect of social movement means that the impact of a movement is determined by controlling for other factors that could lead to the outcome of interest. The second effect suggests that social movements first affect some factor that later appears as crucial for a political, cultural, or biographical change.” (410)

Conditions matter

Movements may have an impact in some places but not others, because of differences in the social, economic, cultural, or political conditions. Under what conditions do these movements matter?

Mechanisms matter

What are the actors and actions on the chain between the movement and the outcome that caused change?

Imagine the complexity of methods: to understand biographical change from an intersectional approach to dynamic changes in outcomes over differing time spans. Our methods cannot cope. It is too difficult to track, statistically speaking. The best we can do is to create stories from qualitative methods, and hope the stories will spark intellectual understanding.

Bosi and Uba (2009) “Future perspectives”

  1. To understand the steps between movement and outcome, reach out to other fields;
  2. More cross-national, cross-time comparisons;
  3. Better measurement from collecting various forms of data, multi-source and complex databases;
  4. Examine a wider range of examples (cases), especially those outside of liberal left wing movements that dominate the literature;
  5. Go beyond governments to other targets, such as the elite, or corporations, or lobbying groups, etc.;
  6. Discuss multiple outcome domains in the same study.

This post was funded by the National Science Centre, Poland (2021/43/B/HS6/01155), “The Construction of Post-Pandemic Society: Covid-19 Street Protest in Poland.”

Copyright Joshua Dubrow 2022 politicalinequality.org

Youth and Political Participation

What does “Youth” or “Young” mean in political participation studies?

Most studies of political participation that feature multivariate regression use age as a linear variable.

The few that do present “age groups” (i.e. age ranges) as a series of dichotomous variables can differ quite a bit on how to conceptualize “youth” and “young” For example, Melo and Stockemer (2014) argue that “most studies place young adults within the 18–25 age range.” They offer no evidence for this claim. 

TLDR: For surveys, 18 – 29 is the safest age range for youth/young, but there are good theoretical reasons to use more complex measures.

Let’s look at how major studies on youth participation have measured “young” or “youth.”

What Age Is Youth/Young/Young People/Young Adult? Some Cross-national Political Participation Studies

Young/YouthMiddle AgeOld AgeReason why youth is coded this wayData used by the studyCite
18 – 3637 – 5354 +NoneISSP 2004Marien et al 2010
18 – 3334 – 4950 – 65 (next is 66+)SeveralESS 2008Melo and Stockemer 2014
12 – 4041 – 6061 – 102NoneESS 2004Quintelier 2007
Differs by country and gender; the upper range could be 20s or 30s.SeveralESS 2002Garcia-Albacete 2014

Some studies outside of political science place young adults as 18 – 29 (e.g. Global Generation Gap 2004 and PEW internet study 2010), or 18 – 25 (“Broad reach…) (see below).

What are age groups?

Scholars created age groups based on

(a) life cycle event that signals a transition to adulthood

Life cycle is based on the idea that the adulthood transition event is tied to an interest in politics and political participation. In theory, people “achieve” something in life (like getting married) and then they are interested in politics.

(b) generation

Generations are based on the idea that there was some historical context that influences the form, probability, and magnitude of participation.

(c) what political parties usually call as “young”

Political parties are important instruments of political interests and mobilizers of participation, and what they consider as young may have some influence on young people’s political engagement.

(d) arbitrary assignment.

Whatevs. No reason or logic given.

Problems of “age groups” like “young” or “youth” in comparative research

In comparative research, the concepts of age have methodological constraints.

Each concept (life cycle, generation, etc.) suggests an age range, but available survey data constrain the possibilities, especially the low end of the range. In cross-national and over-time research, life cycle event, generation, or party signal should be a functionally equivalent concept, e.g. we would have to know the life cycle events appropriate for each country and at each time point. Thus, if one wants to analyze trends in youth participation in a worldwide and long range perspective, the methodological constraints are daunting.

What are alternatives to age groups?

(a) Life cycle event

Garcia-Albacete (2014) found that “age of first marriage” is widely available and, in analyses of Western Europe, other life cycle events (e.g. age of first child, age of leaving parental home) structure the age range and relate to political participation in substantially the same way as age of first marriage. Data on age of first marriage is available in Wikipedia.

(b) Generation

I don’t see a good way to do this outside of Europe. We would have to decide, with little theory to guide us, what the generations of each world region would be and the events that would trigger their probability of participation (e.g. “why would generation [INSERT YEAR RANGE HERE] of Latin America be more/less likely to protest?”).

(c) PEW surveys approach

They use “18 – 29” a lot for their global surveys. They do not justify this.

(d) “Multiple Age Range” and data mining

Scholars can try both “Life Cycle Event by Gender and World Region” and the “PEW 18 – 29” approaches and see if there are differences. Atheoretical “throw it in the model and see what happens.” Not a good approach.

Cited References and Suggested Reading

Broad Reach and Targeted Recruitment Using Facebook for an Online Survey of Young Adult Substance Use” Journal of Medical Internet Research (2012)

Enhancing Youth Political Participation throughout the Electoral Cycle, A Good Practice Guide, UNDP, December 2015.

Erkulwater, Jennifer L. “Political Participation over the Life Cycle.” In The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy, edited by Kay L. Schlozman, Sidney Verba, and Henry E. Brady, 199-231. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Garcia-Albacete, Gema M. 2014. Young People’s Political Participation in Western Europe: Continuity or Generational Change? Palgrave MacMillan

Marien, Sofie, Marc Hooghe, and Ellen Quintelier. “Inequalities in non-institutionalised forms of political participation: A multi-level analysis of 25 countries.” Political studies 58, no. 1 (2010): 187-213.

Melo, Daniela F., and Daniel Stockemer. “Age and political participation in Germany, France and the UK: A comparative analysis.” Comparative european politics 12, no. 1 (2014): 33-53.

PEW 2004 “A Global Generation Gap”

PEW Internet study:” Social Media & Mobile Internet Use among Teens and Young Adults. Millennials.” 2010. Lenhart, Amanda; Purcell, Kristen; Smith, Aaron; Zickuhr, Kathryn

Quintelier, Ellen. “Differences in political participation between young and old people.” Contemporary politics 13, no. 2 (2007): 165-180.

World Youth Report 2007, Young People’s Transition to Adulthood: Progress and Challenges, UN DESA, 2007

Youth and Political Participation (2013) UN

Political Equality in V-Dem: “Power distributed by gender”

In a previous post, we discussed how the Varieties of Democracy “V-Dem” project measures “political equality.” V-Dem is an expert survey. They guide the expert-respondents’ attention to particular groups’ political equality. These groups are: (a) socioeconomic position, (b) social groups, (c) gender, and (d) sexual orientation.

In this post, we discuss how they measure “Power distributed by gender.”

See also

Political Inequality in V-Dem: “Power distributed by socioeconomic position”

Political Equality in V-Dem: “Power distributed by social groups”

Political Equality in V-Dem: “Power distributed by sexual orientation”

V-Dem: “Power distributed by gender”

V-Dem asks, “Is political power distributed according to gender?”

The two groups are men and women.

As with the others thus far, the scale ranges from zero to four, upwardly toward equality. The two groups are compared only with respect to “political power.”

The difference between (0) and (1) is slight. At (0), men have a “near-monopoly.” At step (1), men have a “dominant hold” and women have “marginal influence” (note the conflation of the terms, power and influence). The difference between (1) and (2) is also slight. At Step (2) men have much more than women, which I guess is somewhat less than a “dominant hold.”

Only at Step (3) do we see a clearer difference, where men have “somewhat more.”

Finally, at Step (4), we do not have complete equality, but “roughly equal” amounts.

Apparently, according to V-Dem, that is the highest level of gender equality society can aspire to.

Political Equality in V-Dem: “Power distributed by sexual orientation”

In a previous post, we discussed how the Varieties of Democracy “V-Dem” project measures “political equality.” V-Dem is an expert survey. They guide the expert-respondents’ attention to particular groups’ political equality. These groups are: (a) socioeconomic position, (b) social groups, (c) gender, and (d) sexual orientation.

In this post, we discuss how they measure “Power distributed by sexual orientation.”

Political Inequality in V-Dem: “Power distributed by socioeconomic position”

Political Equality in V-Dem: “Power distributed by social groups”

Political Equality in V-Dem: “Power distributed by gender”

V-Dem: “Power distributed by sexual orientation”

V-Dem creates two groups. Group (A) are the “heterosexuals” and “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) members of the polity who are not open about their sexuality.” Group (B) are LGBT who are open about their sexuality. V-Dem argues that these groups should be compared to one another in terms of their political power.

I do not follow the logic of the next two sentences: “Note that in comparing the political power of these two groups we are comparing their power per person. So, when we say that LGBT have less, equal, or more power than heterosexuals we mean relative to their share of the population (as near as this can be estimated).” What is “power per person”? Next, they argue that the LGBT should be compared to heterosexuals “relative to their share of the population.” Who does “their” refer to? Does it refer to Group A or Group B?

Step (0) is total exclusion except for voting (which “may” be). Step (1) is that LGBT has “much less power” but they can vote. Here, V-Dem introduces the term, “informal norms” to their political equality measure. These norms serve to keep LGBT from power. It can be argued that the informal norms also keep the other groups (socioeconomic, social, and gender) out of power. Step (2) is simply relational, and does not include the information of Step (1); it simply states that the power differential is “somewhat less.”

It is in Step (3) that we get a glimpse of what they meant about “power per person.” Here, LGBT and heterosexuals have “about the same” amount of power, “that is roughly proportional to their population.” So, if one group is 10 percent and the other is 90 percent of the population, does that mean that the 10 percent is about the same amount of power as the 90 percent? Or does it mean that the 10 percent is surely less political power because they are a numerical minority, but they still have some substantial political power?

Step (4), “LGBTs enjoy somewhat more political power than heterosexuals by virtue of greater wealth, education, and high level of organization and mobilization,” is notable for two reasons. First, unlike the other items, Step (4) is not political equality utopia, but rather it is political inequality. It also introduces a mechanism for political equality: wealth, education, organization, and mobilization. These mechanisms are missing from the other measures.

Political Equality in V-Dem: “Power distributed by social group”

In a previous post, we discussed how the Varieties of Democracy “V-Dem” project measures “political equality.” V-Dem is an expert survey. They guide the expert-respondents’ attention to particular groups’ political equality. These groups are: (a) socioeconomic position, (b) social groups, (c) gender, and (d) sexual orientation.

In this post, we discuss how they measure “Power distributed by social group.”

See also

Political Equality as Measured by Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem), which includes “power distributed by socioeconomic groups”

Political Equality in V-Dem: “Power distributed by gender”

Political Equality in V-Dem: “Power distributed by sexual orientation”

V-Dem: “Power distributed by social group”

V-Dem tells the expert to focus on “caste, ethnicity, language, race, region, religion, or some combination thereof” but not sexual orientation or socioeconomic status. They say nothing about “gender” as constituting social groups, here, probably because it comes next (“Power distributed by gender”).

V-Dem does acknowledge intersectionality but do not dwell much on it. After the list of social groups, they include the intersectionality-esque phrase, “some combination thereof.” Next, they write that “Social group identities are also likely to cross-cut, so that a given person could be defined in multiple ways, i.e., as part of multiple groups.” The “cross-cut” can be construed as an intersection.

We should not make too much of their attempt at intersectionality, however. The concept of identity, critical to intersectionality research (see Hughes and Dubrow 2017) is lost when they mention only that people can “be defined,” and makes no mention of how people define themselves. The next word after that sentence (that starts the next sentence) is “nonetheless,” defined as “in spite of that,” and thus lessens the impact of a potential accounting for intersectionality.

Clearly, intersectionality is not V-Dem’s purpose for this item.

Again, this is a zero to four scale that starts with one social group monopolizing power, and that this monopoly does not often change (it is “institutionalized”). V-Dem refers to this powerful “social group” as a “minority:” “Political power is monopolized by one social group comprising a minority of the population.” Minority, as it is often used in the social sciences, is usually about the relative power, status, and resources of a social group; here, they might mean numerical minority.

The next level toward equality (1) is several social groups, also being minorities, and also enjoying an institutionalized monopoly on power. The difference between (1) and (2) is that the several social groups are now a “majority:” “Political power is monopolized by several social groups comprising a majority of the population.” It is hard to see this as a step up towards equality. Whether the group is a numerical minority or a numerical majority does not seem to matter much for the degree of power they have. Thus, I see it as not a step up, but a step different.

When we get to (3), we get a very different step:

“Either all social groups possess some political power, with some groups having more power than others; or different social groups alternate in power, with one group controlling much of the political power for a period of time, followed by another – but all significant groups have a turn at the seat of power.”

There are several issues with this formulation, both for quantitative approaches to intersectionality research that feature power structures, and for political equality studies in general. First, the phrase, “all social groups possess some political power” is problematic because while V-Dem does define political equality (as a distributional thing) they do not define political power. Certainly, if we take the interdependency approach to political inequality, as Piven and Cloward (2005), does, we see the power process as not merely distributional one, but between opposing political actors.

For a discussion, see Definining and Measuring Power Resources.

Second, for social groups’ distribution of power V-Dem introduces a time element:

“different social groups alternate in power, with one group controlling much of the political power for a period of time, followed by another,”

which might mean that some groups have power at one point in time, and that is followed by another group in another time period. This time element is missing from their set-up to the issue of political equality and does not appear in the other “Power distributed by…” items. It is hard to know what an expert is to make of the sudden introduction of time.

Third, they introduce the term, “significant group,” as in: “all significant groups have a turn at the seat of power.” Since time is now an element, when is a group significant? When they have the power? Can a group be significant and not hold power before? Again, I do not know how the experts can make sense of the item.

Finally, point (4) is a social group political equality utopia, where “Social group characteristics are not relevant to politics.” There has never been a society where there are social groups and also where (and when) this utopia exists.

Political Equality as Measured by Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem)

If we want to measure the power structure of society, we can examine the extent of political equality. For a quantitative measure, one can use the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem, as it is commonly referred to) dataset’s “political equality” measure (see also Cole 2018).

In this post, I examine and critique the “political equality” measure of V-Dem, with a focus on how they contend with the issue of intersectionality.

What is V-Dem?

V-Dem is a democracy-measuring project that created “a multidimensional and disaggregated dataset” that is designed to capture the many different strands of democracy. V-Dem is based on expert surveys. They argue that democracy has seven principles: electoral, liberal, majoritarian, consensual, participatory, deliberative, and egalitarian.

The “egalitarian” dimension is where they situate the “political equality” measure. According to Coppedge et al (2015), the egalitarian dimension:


“…holds that material and immaterial inequalities inhibit the actual use formal political (electoral) rights and liberties. It therefore addresses the goal of political equality across social groups – as defined by income, wealth, education, ethnicity, religion, caste, race, language, region, gender, sexual identity, or other ascriptive characteristics. Ideally, all groups should enjoy equal de jure and de facto capabilities to participate; to serve in positions of political power; to put issues on the agenda; and to influence policymaking. (This does not entail equality of power between leaders and citizens, as leaders in all polities are by definition more powerful.) Following the literature in this tradition, gross inequalities of health, education, or income are understood to inhibit the exercise of political power and the de facto enjoyment of political rights. Hence, a more equal distribution of these resources across social groups may be needed in order to achieve political equality” (23).

V-Dem defines political equality in terms of capabilities and do not define it in terms of opportunities (they do not even mention outcomes). In the dictionary, “capable” can be defined as “having the ability, fitness, or quality necessary to do or achieve a specified thing.” Opportunity can be defined a set of circumstances that makes the thing possible. In opportunity, the focus is on the larger structures (including political regimes, policies and laws, institutions) that surround the group. Opportunities interact with capabilities in a similar way that a social structure influences a social group.

Thus, V-Dem’s focus is on the requisite characteristics that groups must possess – they must have within them the requisite characteristics to “participate,” to be in powerful positions, and to influence the agenda and policy.

The difference between capabilities and opportunities matters because, for V-Dem, the structures of power are found within the characteristics of groups rather than in the set of institutions and other circumstances where those social groups operate.

Defining Political Equality according to V-Dem

The project manager for the “political equality” measure is John Gerring who specializes in social science methodology and comparative politics. Gerring (V-Dem 2022 codebook v.12) does define political equality as “the extent to which members of a polity possess equal political power” (207). Gerring also argues that political equality is distributional: “It is … about the distribution of political power among identifiable groups within the population” (207). They make the well-known argument that political power cannot be directly observed.

Thus, power must be inferred from groups’ possession of power. According to V-Dem, the possession of power can be observed in: (a) Active participation, such as voting; (b) involvement in civil society organizations; (c) representation in government, which they say must be “secure”; (d) can set the agenda; (e) influence the decisions made by political decision-makers; and (f) influence how the decisions are implemented.

The V-Dem codebook v.12 defines the measure, “Political Equality” (pp. 207 – 209). V-Dem guides the experts attention to particular groups’ political equality: (a) socioeconomic position, (b) social groups, (c) gender, and (d) sexual orientation.

Let’s take them one at a time.

V-Dem: “Power distributed by socioeconomic position”

V-Dem tells the expert that all countries have economic inequality, whether wealth or income, to at least some degree. V-Dem is concerned here with the link, as Manza (2015) does, between economic inequality and the distribution of political power, or what they call the “political effects” of unequal economic distribution.

V-Dem posits three hypothetical groups – the wealthy, the average person, and the poor.

There are four possible responses: (0) Wealthy have a monopoly on power; (1) Wealthy are dominant, the average have little power, the poor none at all; (2) the wealthy have a “strong hold on power,” and the average and the poor have a little bit of power but only over the things that the wealthy do not bother to contest; (3) The wealthy and the average have about equal influence, and the poor has significant influence; (4) complete political equality between the three groups.

Links to the next measures:

Political Inequality in V-Dem: “Power distributed by social groups”

Political Equality in V-Dem: “Power distributed by gender”

Political Equality in V-Dem: “Power distributed by sexual orientation”

Political Voice and Economic Inequality: Institutional Factors

We at the POLINQ project examined 18 quantitative cross-national articles by major scholars in the leading journals to develop a typology of institutional factors that influence the relationship between political voice and economic inequality. We comment on how scholars have measured these factors, or “concepts.”

At a glance

  1. Institutional Factors that Link Voice to Inequality
    1. Economic
    2. Education
    3. Elections
    4. Democracy
    5. Government Forms
    6. Governance
    7. Political Parties
    8. Social and Ecological Conditions
    9. Values
  2. List of the 18 Articles on Political Voice and Economic Inequality

Economic

Economic Development: What Dalton and van Sickle (2005) called a “resource environment,” researchers typically argue that higher levels of economic resources increase probability of political behavior. Some form of this argument is used in at least 14 of the 18 papers. It is usually measured with GDP per capita and various iterations (tied to 2000 USD, adjusted for differences in purchasing power, and so on). Scruggs and Stockemer (2009) referred to it as “national wealth” and Teorell et al (2007) referred to it as “level of economic modernization.”

Economic Growth: Greater growth means greater resources which should, in turn, boost political participation. It is measured with change in GDP. Dalton and van Sickle (2005) examined this and found it was not significantly associated with political behavior.

Economic Globalization: Crenshaw et al (2017) write: “The integration of countries into the world economy creates greater global notice of contention, more salient targets, and more access to potential third party allies, resources, and witnesses who might respond to contenders.” Various measures are used.

Economic Inequality: Various theories posit the link between voice and inequality. Economic inequality is also referred to as income inequality. Usually measured with gini and usually with Solt’s SWIID, and other times with World Bank or CIA Fact Book. Karakoc (2013) squared Gini to account for change in Gini and found that it can boost participation.

Social Expenditure: This Welfare state argument is put forward by Lancee and Van de Werfhorst (2012) who argued that increased social expenditure (the funding of the welfare state) should boost participation. In interaction with income, social expenditure reduces the impact of income and economic inequality on civic and social participation. We explored this in the POLINQ project.

Education

Education: Coffe and Bolzendahl (2011) examined the effect of an education index (literacy rates and enrollment in schools) in analyzing the gender gap in political participation: “higher levels of education are positively related to women’s voter registration, and are marginally related to political contact.” Fornos et al (2004) used literacy and found it was not related to turnout in Latin America.

Educational Inequality: Found in Persson (2010): the effect of inequality varies by educational groups. There is a cross-national measure of educational inequality “Measuring Education Inequality: Gini Coefficients of Education for 140 countries, 1960-2000.”

Elections

Compulsory Voting: When people have to vote under penalty of law, turnout will be higher. Usually measured as a dummy (1 = compulsory, 0 = not).

Election Environment, e.,g. Election Year: Other forms of political participation are influenced by whether it is an election year. Solt (2015) found that signing petitions is lower in election years. See also Concurrent Elections: Turnout is higher when the presidential and the legislative elections are close in time (Fornos et al (2004)). See also Turnout: Greater turnout can influence other forms of turnout, but the direction is not clear. It can boost it in a “participative environment” or it can decrease it because voting is seen as primary form of behavior, the “only one you need,” and thus competes with other political behaviors. Stockemer (2014) did not find a significant effect. See also Founding Elections: The first election that is a break from authoritarian past should boost turnout. This is a significant factor.

Electoral Competition: Fornos et al (2004) argued that higher levels of competition means that people are intensely interested in voting and thus should turnout in higher numbers – this is not the case for Latin America. See also electoral disproportionality – when two parties have widely divergent seat shares, this depresses turnout. Scruggs and Stockmeyer (2009) also did not find a significant impact of competitiveness. They did find a significant effect on voting for the “decisiveness” of the election – when many seats are in play that could tilt the ideological balance of the legislature or government.

Electoral System: Scruggs and Stockemer (2009) argue that proportional representation systems encourage turnout because voter’s votes are more likely to produce an effect on party representation, and parties are more incentivized to encourage turnout. Majoritarian systems should have the opposite effect. They found that the effects are not significant. But, Solt (2015) found a negative effect of proportional representation systems on non-institutionalized forms of participation – when people see that proportional representation produces “more representative, consensual, and effective” governments, they tend to vote and not feel it necessary to engage in other forms. This seems similar to a “trust in institutions” argument.

Democracy

Level of Democracy: The general idea is that democracies allow for a greater range of political expression of the kind asked about in surveys; the higher the level of democracy, the greater the level of political participation. This is usually measured with Freedom House, Polity, etc. The results are mixed. See also Rule of Law, measured with good governance indicators. The greater the rule of law, the greater the openness of the political opportunity structure. Generally, Rule of Law has a positive association with political participation.

Years of Democracy: The older the democracy, the more comfortable citizens feel to engage in lawful forms of participation. This is measured with old/new, in Europe it is post-communism/not post-communism (or, “experience with socialism”), or with number of years since the democratic transition. Some show no effect, some show that post-communism matters.

Government Forms

Unicameralism: Fornos et al (2004) argues that in unicameral legislatures, voters have a greater say in the ideological direction of the government with a single election and can easily see the ideological direction. Bicameral structures can obstruct legislation and make a less clear ideological governance situation. They find that it increases turnout in Latin America.

Bicameralism: Two-tiered legislatures produce more “access points” to the legislative arena and should boost participation. Solt (2015) found this for demonstrating, but not other forms. Persson (2010) found evidence for this for voting.

Federalism: Federalism decentralizes power and produces more “access points.” Some find that it boosts participation of various kinds, others find no effect. See also Horizontal Decentralization in which decentralized governments opens up the political opportunity structure. Vrablikova (2014) found that it increases non-electoral political behavior. See also Vrablikova (2014) Territorial Decentralization which opens multiple access points to influence – this has a positive impact on participation.

Presidentialism: Another “access point” theory, in which power is separated into government branches, and the president’s executive branch is separate from the parliament’s legislative branch. Solt (2008) found that it impacts participation, but Solt (2015) found that it did not in Europe. See also Parliamentarism that, for the same reason, boosts participation.

Governance

Good and Effective Governance: Perceptions of the quality of governance should boost participation. Coffe and Bolzendahl (2011) use Worldwide Governance Indicators WGI and do not find this to be the case. Welzel and Deutsch (2012) measure it with World Bank Voice and Accountability index and find a positive association.

Corruption: Some find that corruption (also, Clientelism) reduces turnout. Others find that low corruption reduces the gap between men and women in participation, but does not have a strong effect on participation in general.

Political Parties

Party Pluralism: The more parties, the more chances for mobilization for voting. Or, the more parties, the greater the difficulties in creating governing coalitions and thus the people turn to other forms of participation. See also Multipartyism. A usual measure is how many parties there are in the elections. Some find that it boosts some form of participation, others find that it has no effect. Some find that it has a negative impact on voting.

Party Polarization: With great polarization comes a lower ability to form governing coalitions which concentrates power in the hands of the wealthy. This should reduce turnout among the poor and middle class. Polarization is measured with party ideologies quantified and a distance measure between them. Jaime-Castillo (2009) found this to be the case. See also Extremism, measured with WVS left-right scale and aggregated to the country level – Dalton and Sickle (2005) found that extremism increases protest behavior.

Union Density: Like parties, unions seek to politically mobilize voters. Higher density leads to higher turnout, and attending a demonstration.

Social and Ecological Conditions

Ethnic Fractionalization: The greater the degree of ethnic heterogeneity, the greater the associational participation (Karakoc 2013).

Population: Some find that larger countries have greater turnout, some find no impact. Crenshaw et al (2017) argue that larger places have more resources, audience, and tensions that lead to contentious politics. They find that population is positively related to protest.

Urbanism: For the same reasons as population, urbanism should boost participation, but Fornos et al (2004) did not find this for Latin America.

Values

Post-materialism and Emancipative Values: The greater the post-materialism, the greater the political participation. Some claim that this is the only variable that really matters.

List of the 18 Articles on Political Voice and Economic Inequality

Cicatiello, Lorenzo, Salvatore Ercolano, and Giuseppe Lucio Gaeta. 2015. “Income Distribution and Political Participation: A Multilevel Analysis.” Empirica 42: 447–479.

Coffe, Hilde, and Catherine Bolzendahl. 2011. “Gender Gaps in Political Participation Across Sub-Saharan African Nations.” Social Indicators Research 102: 245–264.

Crenshaw, Edward M., Kristopher K. Robison, and J. Craig Jenkins. 2017. “The Globalization of Political Contention:  The Effects of International Mass Media and Economic Globalization on Protest, Terrorism, and Warfare, 1976-2006.”

Dalton, Russell J., and Alix van Sickle. 2005. “The Resource, Structural, and Cultural Bases of Protest.” Center for the Study of Democracy UC Irvine.

Dalton, Russell, Alix van Sickle, and Steven Weldon. 2010. “The Individual–Institutional Nexus of Protest Behaviour.” British Journal of Political Science 40(1): 51–73.

Dubrow, Joshua Kjerulf, Kazimierz M. Slomczynski, and Irina Tomescu-Dubrow. 2008. “Effects of Democracy and Inequality on Soft Political Protest in Europe. Exploring the European Social Survey Data.” International Journal of Sociology 38(3): 36–51.

Fornos, Carolina A., Timothy J. Power, and James C. Garand. 2004. “Explaining Voter Turnout in Latin America, 1980 to 2000.Comparative Political Studies 37(8): 909–940.

Jaime-Castillo, Antonio M. 2009. “Economic Inequality and Electoral Participation. A Cross-Country Evaluation.” Comparative Study of the Electoral Systems (CSES) Conference.

Karakoc, Ekrem. 2013. “Economic Inequality and Its Asymmetric Effect on Civic Engagement: Evidence from Post-Communist Countries.European Political Science Review 5(2): 197–223.

Lancee, Bram, and Herman G. Van de Werfhorst. 2012. “Income Inequality and Participation: A Comparison of 24 European Countries.” Social Science Research 41: 1166–1178.

Marien, Sofie, Marc Hooghe, and Ellen Quintelier. 2010. “Inequalities in Non-Institutionalised Forms of Political Participation: A Multi-Level Analysis of 25 Countries.” Political Studies 58: 187–213.

Persson, Mikael. 2010. “The Effects of Economic and Educational Inequality on Political Participation.” ECPR.

Scruggs, Lyle, and Daniel Stockemer. 2009. “The Impact of Inequality on Turnout – New Evidence on a Burgeoning Debate.” Midwest Political Science Association.

Solt, Frederick. 2008. “Economic Inequality and Democratic Political Engagement.” American Journal of Political Science, 52(1): 48–60.

Solt, Frederick. 2015. “Economic Inequality and Nonviolent Protest.” Social Science Quarterly 96(5): 1314–1327.

Stockemer, Daniel. 2014. “What Drives Unconventional Political participation? A Two Level Study.” The Social Science Journal 51: 201–211.

Teorell, Jan, Mariano Torcal, and José Ramón Montero. 2007. “Political Participation: Mapping the Terrain.” Pp. 334–357 in Citizenship and Involvement in European Democracies: A Comparative Analysis, edited by van W. van Deth, José Ramón Montero, and Anders Westholm, Routledge.

Vráblíková, Katerina. 2014. “How Context Matters? Mobilization, Political Opportunity Structures, and Nonelectoral Political Participation in Old and New Democracies.Comparative Political Studies 47(2): 203–229.

Welzel, Christian, and Franziska Deutsch. 2012. “Emancipative Values and Non-Violent Protest: The Importance of “Ecological” Effects.” British Journal of Political Science 42(2): 465–479.

This was created with the help of Dr. Olga Zelinska for the POLINQ project funded by the National Science Centre, Poland.

Copyright Joshua Dubrow Politicalinequality.org 2022

Democratic Backsliding: Definition and Measurement

What is democratic backsliding?

Democratic backsliding is when a democratic country shows signs of becoming autocratic or authoritarian. Backsliding can occur when a democracy has just a foothold (e.g. Poland in the early 1990s) or is firmly established as a democracy (the USA).

How do we know when democratic backsliding occurs?

Social scientists typically use democracy measures, such as Freedom House, or Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem), or the Global State of Democracy, as a benchmark. First, they measure democracy in one year. That is their benchmark. Then, to measure change, in a subsequent year, they measure democracy again. A country that has a lower score from year to year may be backsliding.

However, democracy measures can have problems. A major problem is that they may not pick up smaller, more subtle signs of backsliding.

Enter Roberto Foa & Yascha Mounk. Their famous 2016 article, The Danger of Deconsolidation, used the World Values Survey, a cross-national survey dataset of many countries around the globe, to understand who supports democracy. They argued that major democracy measures do a passable job, but we also need to understand, from the ground level, changes in mass support for democracy.

In this post, we examine Foa & Mounk’s argument and some of their critics.

Related to this article

History of Democratic Backsliding Studies

The concept of “democratic backsliding” is also called “democratic deconsolidation.” An “established” democracy is consolidated. When it changes to authoritarianism, it has “deconsolidated.”

Democratic consolidation was a popular term in the 1980s and 1990s, around the time that the US had a policy of democracy promotion around the world. Around that time there was a proliferation of quantitative democracy measures.

Foa and Mounk in 2016 revived the term by trying to sound the alarm on “deconsolidation.” Because Foa and Mounk did not properly acknowledge the long history of democratic consolidation studies from the 1990s, they obscured those early studies’ original purpose, which was to sound the alarm on possible deconsolidation.

Foa and Mounk’s critics missed the point. We should be looking for the small and troubling signs of democratic backsliding. Foa and Mounk’s (F&M) 2016 article outlasts their critics because their fundamental point was correct, even if their measures of democratic backsliding had some flaws.

Democratic Backsliding is about Transition

Consolidation is mainly seen as a process from transition democracies to consolidated democracies. The concern has always been the survival of democratic regimes, and thus intrinsically about democratic backsliding. The emphasis of the 1990s literature seemed to be on how transition societies – especially Latin America and Eastern Europe – could solidify their democratic gains into long term stability. 

But Consolidated/Consolidation have always been fuzzy concepts. The various definitions can be compared and contrasted, but in the end (it’s sometimes called, “democratic decay”), there has been no singular definition of what a consolidated democracy looks like or what the process of consolidation entails. There are some similarities across authors’ arguments. F&M’s definition is a good place to start, but in the end, they do not offer enough specifics to identify a consolidated from a transitional democracy.

The literature has tendrils in many topics, such as democracy, democratization, states and regimes, transitions and development, political behavior (voting especially), and democratic values, but also civil society, bureaucracy, and economic development.

In the end, the core idea is that democracy is under threat of backsliding.

Foa and Mounk’s The Danger of Deconsolidation

Foa & Mounk seek to warn us that we may be unjustifiably complacent about the well-being of consolidated democracies. We have not anticipated other extreme events (like the collapse of the USSR) and we may be in the midst of one now. 

The authors note that, in North America and Western Europe, trust in institutions (such as parliament and the judicial system), party membership, and voter turnout has declined, and party identification has weakened. Voters are turning to anti-establishment parties, fueling a rise in populism. In these stable regions of the world, democracy seems to be in trouble.

Critics of the “decline of democracy” approach (Inglehart, Wezel, Norris, Dalton) argue that while support for particular governments regularly declines (what they call government legitimacy), support for democracy itself (what they call regime legitimacy) remains robust. The people know that democracy allows them these expressions of discontent and thus support the regime, but not the government.

F&M feel that that the critics argument is optimistic. They seek to challenge that view.

F&M use waves 3 through 6 of the World Values Surveys (1995–2014). With these data, they attempt to measure four types of regime legitimacy:

  1. Support for the whole system
  2. Support for “key” institutions of liberal democracy, e.g. civil rights
  3. Willingness to advance political causes
  4. Openness to authoritarian regimes such as military rule.

In their presentation style, they look at extreme values. The point of the article is to provoke and hunt for any sign, no matter how small, of deconsolidation.

1. Support for the whole system

In Figure 1, they measure support for the whole system with the “Percent of respondents rating it ‘essential’ (a rating of 10 on a 10-point scale) to ‘live in a country that is governed democratically’” (p. 7). They compare the US with “Europe.” The X axis is birth cohort by decade (1930s to 1980s) and the Y axis is percent that rated democracy as essential. Both the US and Europe show a negative relationship. The older cohorts (1930s to 1950s) still support democracy at above 50 percent. The younger cohorts (1960s to 1980s) are at 50 percent or less.

In Figure 2, their second measure of regime support is with “Percent responding that ‘having a democratic political system’ is a ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ way to ‘run this country,’ by age group.” They compare age groups in the US and Europe. Comparing age groups in the US as of 2011, the authors find a range of ca. 12 percent to nearly 25 percent, with older age groups evincing lower percentages. They find something similar in Europe, but the range is very small (from 6 percent to ca. 13 percent).

In sum, older people are more likely to support the regime than younger people.

2. Support for “key” institutions of liberal democracy, e.g. civil rights and 3. Willingness to advance political causes

It is possible that people can support democracy but not support its institutions or politically participate. Here, they don’t have graphs and don’t offer many numbers (but see Fig. 3).

They find that millennials support the idea that it is absolutely essential in a democracy for civil rights to protect liberty less (32 percent) than those born in the interwar and immediate post war environments (41 percent). The spread for Europe is much smaller (39 to 45 percent).  They also find that, in the US, 14 percent of baby boomers argue that it is unimportant in a democracy that people “choose their leaders in free elections” as compared to millennials, 26 percent make that argument. In Europe, the spread is smaller and ranges from 9 to 13 percent. They looked at other regions of the world and did not find the same result.

Foa and Mounk claim that there is a widening gap between age groups in “political apathy.” Older cohorts are more likely to be interested in politics and to engage in political participation (both conventional/institutional and unconventional/non-institutional).

In sum, older cohorts are more likely to support the key institutions of democracy than post-baby boomer cohorts.

4. Openness to authoritarian regimes such as military rule

Here, they look for support among Americans and Europeans for military rule that they consider as an anti-democratic idea. Unlike the previous sections, in this section they combine income with age. 

First, age: Overall, there is a trend in Americans who believe that it would be a good or very good thing if the army ruled the country (from 1 in 16 to 1 in 6). They note a predictable age gap in this attitude. “In Europe, the generation gap is somewhat less stark but equally clear, with 53 percent of older Europeans and only 36 percent of millennials strongly rejecting the notion that a government’s incompetence can justify having the army “take over”” (13).

Then, income. The authors looked at income groups and conclude that “whereas two decades ago affluent citizens were much more likely than people of lower income groups to defend democratic institutions, the wealthy are now moderately more likely than others to favor a strong leader who can ignore democratic institutions” (13).

And then, the combination of age and income. “In Europe in 1995, 6 percent of high-income earners born since 1970 favored the possibility of “army rule”; today, 17 percent of young upper-income Europeans favor it” (14).

In sum, they conclude that the affluent, the young, and the young and affluent are more likely to support military rule than other age and income groups.

“Is Democracy Deconsolidating?”

They ask the big question of whether all of this adds up to democratic deconsolidation. The authors present the finding of Przeworski and Limongi that “no consolidated democracy with a GDP per capita of over $6,000 in 1985 international prices has ever collapsed.” 

The authors claim that this finding has blinded further research in the idea that consolidated democracies can deconsolidate. In this article they address whether data can tell us if stable, wealthy, and consolidated democracies can become unstable and deconsolidated. 

How do we know if a democracy is consolidated? The authors quote Linz and Stefan: democracies are consolidated when they are the “only game in town.”

But the authors disagree with the premise, as they question how we would know if democracy is the only game in town. At the end of the article, Foa and Mounk offer their indicators of consolidated democracy:

“In our view, the degree to which a democracy is consolidated depends on three key characteristics: the degree of popular support for democracy as a system of government; the degree to which antisystem parties and movements are weak or nonexistent; and the degree to which the democratic rules are accepted.” (15)

In this article, they looked at “popular support for democracy,” but did not look directly at the degree to which antisystem parties are weak, or directly at the acceptance of democratic rules other than support for civil rights.

The authors note the rise of Trump, the rise of right wing populist parties, and the decline in approval of mainstream and long-established politicians as indicators of a challenge to democratic consolidation. As they summarize:

“Citizens of democracies are less and less content with their institutions; they are more and more willing to jettison institutions and norms that have traditionally been regarded as central components of democracy; and they are increasingly attracted to alternative regime forms.” (16)

Democracies that begin to deconsolidate may not fail, and democracy may not fall out of favor they argue. But, the signs of deconsolidation are apparent, they believe. 

Photo by rob walsh on Unsplash

Critics of Foa and Mounk Miss the Point

Critique by Ronald Inglehart

Ronald Inglehart challenged the thesis of Foa and Mounk in a 2016 reply called “How Much Should We Worry?”, also published in the Journal of Democracy.

Inglehart argued that the strongest effects of democratic backsliding, as measured by Foa and Mounk, are in the US, and thus F&M’s argument is mostly about America. Inglehart blames political dysfunction, growing economic inequality, and growing political inequality.

Inglehart then adds “value change.” The societies that F&M examine are undergoing a shift from materialism to post-materialism. It is a movement from insecurity to security. Secure people are more tolerant and tend to support democracy. Yet, within these societies, there are people who face an “existential insecurity” and the economic crises has exacerbated this sense. Existential insecurity means greater support for authoritarianism, xenophobia, and a breakdown of norms.

The young are particularly vulnerable, Inglehart argues: “Existential security has been declining for most of the population—especially the young, who face high levels of unemployment, even among those with university or postgraduate educations”.” (21).

In the long-run, modernization will win out. Why? Economic development leads to democracy because it creates the conditions in which democracy can flourish – economic security, an educated workforce, and a rise in self-expressive values.

When one argues that modernization leads to democracy, it is a classic way of theorizing: looking back in time, tying together trends, calling the trend something – modernization, in this case – and then declaring it a theory that would predict such a thing.

Critiques of Data and Methods

The other critics of Foa & Mounk’s 2016 The Dangers of Deconsolidation tend to attack the data and methods, writing that the signs are too small to matter or can be erased if one uses different measures or a different interpretation of the results.

For example, Alexander and Welzel argue that

“Foa and Mounk heavily overstate the age differences in democratic support. Second, the obvious age pattern in indicators of political disaffection has little to do with generations; it is instead a lifecycle effect: younger people showed stronger signs of disaffection already in earlier decades, but this age pattern is not linked to a uniform temporal trend towards increasing disaffection in the electorates of mature democracies…

Alexander and Welzel are right in that a core problem of democratic backsliding is political inequality:

“The source of the problem is certainly not the younger generation and its alleged loss of support for democracy. Instead, it is the growing marginalization of the lower social classes, their resulting ideological divergence from the increasingly progressive mainstream and the failure of the established parties, as well as the media, to adequately address the legitimate concerns of the “left behinds.””

Pippa Norris argues that, although backsliding has occurred in some countries, it has not done so in the West.

“Culturally, when more systematic survey data is examined across a broader range of more than two-dozen Western democracies and over a longer time period, in fact the claims by Foa and Mounk fail to prove consistently reliable and robust. The generational gaps presented by the authors are exaggerated both by cherry-picking cases and by the visual presentation and treatment of the survey data. Far from a uniform ‘European’ pattern, countries vary widely in public perception of democratic performance and persistent contrasts are observable. The data also suggests a persistent life-cycle effect.”

Erik Voeten argues that there simply has been no change.

“Millennials are not very different in their views of political systems than were young people in the mid-1990s. The evidence suggests that millennials in the U.S. are somewhat more skeptical of democracy than people of similar ages were twenty years ago. Nevertheless this evidence comes from one survey. Moreover, when we look at confidence in actual democratic institutions, then the opposite pattern emerges: older generations have lost faith in U.S. Congress and the Executive to a greater extent than millennials.

The take-away is not that there is no threat to consolidated democracies but rather that this does not come from abstract procedural preferences among (some part of) the populace for alternative regime types.”

However, these critics miss the point of Foa and Mounk: there are small and troubling signs of deconsolidation. The signs may be small. But they are troubling. Social scientists tend to miss major historical happenings and then jump to explanations of them after they occur. Foa and Mounk warned us of this in the first paragraphs of their article.

Foa and Mounk argue that, to prevent democratic backsliding, we need to pay attention to the small changes.

Further Reading

Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. 2005. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Alexander & Welzel. 2017. “The Myth of Deconsolidation: Rising Liberalism and the Populist Reaction” Journal of Democracy.

Diamond, Larry. 1999. Developing Democracy: Toward Consolidation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kwak, Joonghyun, Irina Tomescu-Dubrow, Kazimierz M. Slomczynski, and Joshua K. Dubrow. 2020. “Youth, Institutional Trust, and Democratic Backsliding.” American Behavioral Scientist 64, no. 9: 1366-1390.

Linz, Juan J., and Alfred Stepan. 1996. Problems of democratic transition and consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and postcommunist Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Przeworski, Adam, Michael E. Alvarez, Jose Antonio Cheibub, and Fernando Limongi. 2000. Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950–1990. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Copyright Joshua Dubrow Politicalinequality.org 2022

  1. What is democratic backsliding?
  2. How do we know when democratic backsliding occurs?
    1. Related to this article
  3. History of Democratic Backsliding Studies
    1. Democratic Backsliding is about Transition
      1. In the end, the core idea is that democracy is under threat of backsliding.
  4. Foa and Mounk’s The Danger of Deconsolidation
    1. 1. Support for the whole system
      1. In sum, older people are more likely to support the regime than younger people.
    2. 2. Support for “key” institutions of liberal democracy, e.g. civil rights and 3. Willingness to advance political causes
      1. In sum, older cohorts are more likely to support the key institutions of democracy than post-baby boomer cohorts.
    3. 4. Openness to authoritarian regimes such as military rule
      1. In sum, they conclude that the affluent, the young, and the young and affluent are more likely to support military rule than other age and income groups.
  5. “Is Democracy Deconsolidating?”
  6. Critics of Foa and Mounk Miss the Point
    1. Critique by Ronald Inglehart
    2. Critiques of Data and Methods
      1. Foa and Mounk argue that, to prevent democratic backsliding, we need to pay attention to the small changes.


POLINQ: Political Inequality and Political Voice across Nations and Time

What is POLINQ Political Inequality?

POLINQ is an acronym for political inequality, defined as structured differences in political influence and its consequences. POLINQ is also the acronym of the National Science Foundation, Poland funded project (2016/23/B/HS6/03916), which ran from 2017 – 2022, with Joshua K. Dubrow as the Principle Investigator.

POLINQ was housed at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, and featured PhD students from the Graduate School for Social Research.

POLINQ moved forward the study of political inequality across nations and time.


Table of Contents

  1. What is POLINQ Political Inequality?
    1. POLINQ Theoretical Model
      1. Political voice can be defined minimally or maximally
      2. Mechanisms for why political inequality endures: Elite coordination and mass discoordination
      3. POLINQ, social structure, and social groups
      4. POLINQ, economic inequality, social welfare, and clientelism
    2. Some conclusions of the POLINQ project
    3. Published Results of the POLINQ Project
      1. POLINQ Conceptual and Theoretical Articles
        1. (a) The definition of political voice
        2. (b) The elucidation of the role of economic and political grievances in generating political inequality
        3. (c) Contentious politics and repertoires of action in low-level democracies
        4. (d) The dueling roles of elites and masses in economic redistribution
      2. POLINQ Methodological Articles and Notes
        1. (a) POLINQ explored the potential impact of major economic and political events during survey fieldwork:
        2. (b) POLINQ explored the potential impact of wording of survey items in major cross-national surveys:
        3. (c) POLINQ investigated quantitative problems and solutions in accounting for intersectionality with cross-national surveys, including structural equation modeling and mixed-methods
        4. (d) the local sources of error and bias in cross-national data
      3. POLINQ sources of information and data
        1. (a) Open access sourcebooks on gender and politics:
        2. (b) POLINQ Database:
      4. POLINQ Substantive Findings
        1. (a) Stability of the individual determinants of political participation in Europe across time
        2. (b) Protest under conditions of democratic backsliding
        3. (c) The relationship between economic inequality, policies of economic redistribution, attitudes toward economic redistribution and economic inequality, and protest potential
        4. (d) The relationships between economic inequality, economic and political grievances, and protest
        5. (e) Protest within authoritarian regimes and other un-democratic institutions
      5. POLINQ Guest Edited Issues of International Peer Reviewed Journals
    4. Seminars of the POLINQ Project
    5. Conferences of the POLINQ Project
    6. Training of PhDs and Post-Docs of the POLINQ Project

POLINQ Theoretical Model

POLINQ’s main theoretical elaboration is on the relationships between voice, inequality, and institutions across various regime types and for various social groups.

Political voice can be defined minimally or maximally

Minimally, political voice is the expression of interests within the political system.

Maximally, political voice is (a) participation – verbal, physical, symbolic, monetary, or otherwise – in the political sphere by individuals, organizations, social groups, interest groups, or entire populations in electoral and non-electoral situations. In this maximalist sense, voice is also (b) representation by movements, organizations, or political leaders and other figures. From a voice perspective, representation is someone or something engaged in the expression of interests in the political sphere on behalf of others or to promote an idea.

Political voice’s two main dimensions — participation and representation– appear in different contexts and scholars can study voice from various methodological approaches.

Mechanisms for why political inequality endures: Elite coordination and mass discoordination

How does political inequality endure? We posit two mechanisms.

One mechanism is how elites reproduce inequalities, or “elite coordination.” A second mechanism is how social inequalities structure participation and contestation. We call this second mechanism, “mass discoordination.” The two key mechanisms of elite coordination and mass discoordination feed off of each other. The uneven distribution of power resources encourages the elite — who head the democratic institutions and set the rules — to pursue greater concentration; meanwhile, the elite-led institutions that allow such disparities to occur promote roadblocks that either prevent groups from participating, such as in the case of disenfranchised citizens, or discourages collective coordination around shared interests. The masses remain aggrieved yet disorganized.

POLINQ, social structure, and social groups

For everyday citizens, structured gender, economic, and age inequalities, in their intersection, prevent representative politics and political action from producing equality. Representation and participation should empower those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. Yet, across nations and time, an individual’s position in the social structure interacts with the economic and political environment to repress the mass actions that could, potentially, push the elites toward fair economic redistribution.

POLINQ, economic inequality, social welfare, and clientelism

Political participation is a core aspect of POLINQ and it is a foundation of European democracies. Of the social forces that act in tandem to influence political participation, economic inequality, social spending, and clientelism loom large. Whereas economic inequality in modern capitalist societies is associated with the maldistribution of political power and unequal political engagement, institutional contexts of the political economy can amplify or dampen the impact of economic inequality. In theory, social spending should mitigate the negative externalities of economic inequality through the provision of the social and economic resources to individuals and social groups that they need to participate in politics. Equitable social spending across socioeconomic strata should relieve social and economic burdens that make it difficult for disadvantaged groups to participate in democratic life, and thus buoy the participatory environment. Yet, social spending is not necessarily equally distributed; clientelism intervenes to push resources towards already politically and economically advantaged groups, thus lowering the level of political participation.


Some conclusions of the POLINQ project

Political voice inequality is the inequality in influence – directly via political participation and indirectly through party representation – over the government decisions that impact society. Exacerbating voice inequality are economic conditions, including economic inequality. Whereas macro-level economic inequality matters under some conditions, what matters more is how structural inequalities, economic ones included, impact vulnerable disadvantaged social groups. Grievances of the masses are multi-dimensional – economic, as well as social and political – such that low income and low political opportunities leads to political dissatisfaction with external institutions and, at points, is associated with lower protest potential; however, perceived societal discrimination based on social attributes can increase protest potential. Across democracies, the youth are both the future of democracy and are among the most economically vulnerable groups. They may blame the political institutions for growing economic problems. We find that their distrust in political institutions can lead to democratic backsliding. To understand representational inequalities of social groups, we needed better data. To this end, POLINQ created two new publicly available datasets that, taken together, form the POLINQ Database: Party Representation of Social Groups (PaReSoGo) and POLINQ-Participation: Political Inequality of Voice.


Published Results of the POLINQ Project

POLINQ’s main published results are conceptual and theoretical articles, methodological articles and notes, and substantive articles.

POLINQ Conceptual and Theoretical Articles

We sought to elaborate on extant concepts in the field of studies of political voice, institutions, and inequality. This includes:

(a) The definition of political voice

Dubrow, Joshua K. “Guest Editor’s Introduction: Political Voice in Europe.” International Journal of Sociology 51, no. 4 (2021): 257-259.

(b) The elucidation of the role of economic and political grievances in generating political inequality

Muliavka, Viktoriia. “Bringing grievances back into social movement research: the conceptual and empirical case.” Social Movement Studies (2020): 1-19.

Li, Olga. “Grievances and political action in Russia during Putin’s rise to power.” International Journal of Sociology (2021): 1-17.

and of the roles of cognition and attitudes in political inequality

Lavrinenko, Olga. “Cognition and protest in democratic and authoritarian regimes, 1981–2020.” International Sociology (2022): DOI: 02685809211068664.

(c) Contentious politics and repertoires of action in low-level democracies

Zelinska, Olga. “How Protesters and the State Learn From One Another: Spiraling Repertoires of Contention and Repression in Ukraine, 1990-2014.” American Behavioral Scientist 64, no. 9 (2020): 1271-1298.

(d) The dueling roles of elites and masses in economic redistribution

Lopez, Matias and Joshua K. Dubrow. 2020. “Politics and Inequality in Comparative Perspective: A Research Agenda.” American Behavioral Scientist 64(9): 1199 – 1210.

POLINQ Methodological Articles and Notes

POLINQ sought to understand the relationship the bases of political voice from a methodological point of view. POLINQ tested various ways to measure political inequality of voice, and the results are two datasets that, combined are the POLINQ Database.

As befitting an intellectually open project that evolved over time, POLINQ made various discoveries.

(a) POLINQ explored the potential impact of major economic and political events during survey fieldwork:

Muliavka, Viktoriia. “Political Participation and Institutional Trust of Young Adults in Ukraine: Matching Conditions of Economic Grievance and Political Mobilization with European Social Survey Fieldwork Periods, 2004-2012.” Ask: Research and Methods 27, no. 1 (2018): 61-86.

Voicu, Bogdan. 2019. “Do Differences in Fieldwork Period Affect Survey Comparability? Examining World Values Survey and European Values Study in Romania, 2017 – 2018.” Harmonization: Newsletter on Survey Data Harmonization in the Social Sciences (The Ohio State University and the Polish Academy of Sciences) 5(2): 20 – 27.

(b) POLINQ explored the potential impact of wording of survey items in major cross-national surveys:

Tomescu-Dubrow, Irina, Joshua K. Dubrow, Ilona Wysmulek, and Kazimierz M. Slomczynski. 2018. “Have Done ‘Ever’ Political Participation Items in Cross-national Surveys: Origins and Implications for Analyses,” Harmonization: Newsletter on Survey Data Harmonization in the Social Sciences (The Ohio State University and the Polish Academy of Sciences) 4(2): 2 – 11.

Dubrow, Joshua K., Irina Tomescu-Dubrow, and Olga Lavrinenko. 2022. “Contacting a public official: Concept and measurement in cross-national surveys, 1960s–2010sSocial Science Quarterly DOI: 10.1111/ssqu.13177

(c) POLINQ investigated quantitative problems and solutions in accounting for intersectionality with cross-national surveys, including structural equation modeling and mixed-methods

Dubrow, Joshua K. and Corina Ilinca. 2019. “Quantitative Approaches to Intersectionality: New Methodological Directions and Implications for Policy Analysis,” pp. 195 – 214 in The Palgrave Handbook of Intersectionality in Public Policy edited by Olena Hankivsky and Julia S. Jordan-Zachery. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

(d) the local sources of error and bias in cross-national data

Dubrow, Joshua K. 2021. “Local Data and Upstream Reporting as Sources of Error in the Administrative Data Undercount of Covid 19.” International Journal of Social Research Methodology. DOI: 10.1080/13645579.2021.1909337

POLINQ sources of information and data

In addition to providing methodological knowledge for the international scientific community, we also sought to provide sources of information and data. These included:

(a) Open access sourcebooks on gender and politics:

Dubrow, Joshua K. and Adrianna Zabrzewska (eds.). 2020. Gender Quotas in the Post-Communist World: Voice of the Parliamentarians. IFiS Publishers.

Zabrzewska, Adrianna and Joshua K. Dubrow (eds.). 2022. Gender, Voice, and Violence in Poland: Women’s Protests during the Pandemic. IFiS Publishers.

(b) POLINQ Database:

Zelinska, Olga; Dubrow, Joshua K.: Party Representation of Social Groups (PaReSoGo) [data]. Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences [producer], Warsaw, 2021. PADS21317. Polish Social Data Archive [distributor], Repozytorium Danych Społecznych [publisher], 2021. https://doi.org/10.18150/NPXPAT, V1

Described in: Zelinska, Olga, and Joshua K. Dubrow. “PaReSoGo: Dataset on party representation of social groups for 25 countries, 2002–2016.” Party Politics (2021).

Dubrow, Joshua K.; Lavrinenko, Olga: POLINQ-Participation: Political Inequality of Voice [data]. Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Polish Academy of Sciences [producer], Warsaw, 2021. PADS22001. Polskie Archiwum Danych Społecznych [distributor], Repozytorium Danych Społecznych [publisher], 2022. https://doi.org/10.18150/PC8QZQ, V1

POLINQ Substantive Findings

POLINQ analyzed cross-national data for our substantive discoveries. These included:

(a) Stability of the individual determinants of political participation in Europe across time

Dubrow et al 2022 “Contacting a public official: Concept and measurement in cross-national surveys, 1960s–2010s” Social Science Quarterly

(b) Protest under conditions of democratic backsliding

Kwak, Joonghyun, Irina Tomescu-Dubrow, Kazimierz M. Slomczynski, and Joshua K. Dubrow. 2020. “Youth, Institutional Trust, and Democratic Backsliding.” American Behavioral Scientist 64, no. 9: 1366- 1390.

(c) The relationship between economic inequality, policies of economic redistribution, attitudes toward economic redistribution and economic inequality, and protest potential

Lavrinenko, Olga. “Cognition and protest in democratic and authoritarian regimes, 1981–2020.” International Sociology (2022): DOI: 02685809211068664.

Lavrinenko, Olga. “Exploring Protest in Europe with a Multi-Level Cross-National Test of the Structural Cognitive Model.” International Journal of Sociology (2021): 1-15.

(d) The relationships between economic inequality, economic and political grievances, and protest

Muliavka, 2020 “Bringing grievances back into social movement research: the conceptual and empirical case,” Social Movement Studies

(e) Protest within authoritarian regimes and other un-democratic institutions

Li, Olga. “Grievances and political action in Russia during Putin’s rise to power.International Journal of Sociology (2021): 1-17.

POLINQ Guest Edited Issues of International Peer Reviewed Journals

POLINQ produced two guest edited issues. They are:

Dubrow, Joshua K. 2021. Political Voice in Europe. International Journal of Sociology, Volume 51, Issue 4.

Lopez, Matias and Joshua K. Dubrow. 2020. “Why Political Inequality Endures: Elites, Contestation and Participation in Modern Democracies.” American Behavioral Scientist 64(9).


Seminars of the POLINQ Project

The POLINQ project organized two rounds of seminars, pre-Covid 19 pandemic.

The first was at the University of Bucharest, Romania 2017 – 2018. The seminar centered on (a) the connection between politics and inequality across nations and time and, to add to graduate student training, (b) moving from ideas to manageable research projects, and publishing, in the social sciences. The second was at IFiS PAN 2019 – January 2020. This was a monthly meeting in which we discussed the latest academic research in the social sciences on the subject of politics.


Conferences of the POLINQ Project

POLINQ organized two major international conferences.

The international conference, “Politics and Inequality across Nations and Time: Theoretical and Empirical Approaches,” was held at IFiS PAN, December 12 – 14, 2018 in Warsaw, Poland. Presentations were on substantive and methodological issues related to political voice and economic inequality. There were 34 attendees from Europe, the United States, and Latin America. Of the fifteen conference presenters: eight were from institutions outside of Poland, and there were eight advanced researchers, three recent PhDs, and four PhD students. Students from the Graduate School for Social Research and the University of Warsaw attended. Participants hailed from across the social sciences, including sociology, political science, and economics.

POLINQ conducted post-conference interviews with some of the participants: Renira C. Angeles, Catherine Bolzendahl, Constantin Manuel Bosancianu, Gwangeun Choi, Jan Falkowski, Katerina Vrablikova, and Piotr Zagorski.

The second international conference, “Building Multi-Source Databases for Comparative Analyses,” was held December 16-20, 2019 at IFiS PAN and was in cooperation with the project “Survey Data Recycling: New Analytic Framework, Integrated Database, and Tools for Cross-national Social, Behavioral and Economic Research”, a joint endeavour of the The Ohio State University and IFiS PAN. It explored the sources of data for the POLINQ project, including survey and administrative data.


Training of PhDs and Post-Docs of the POLINQ Project

Within the grant period, one of our research assistants achieved their PhD in sociology (Olga Zelinska, 2020, IFiS PAN), and three of our young researchers – Marta Kolczynska (2019/32/C/HS6 /00421) (former post-doc), Olga Zelinska (2021/40/C/HS6/00229) (Graduate Research Assistant), and Olga Lavrinenko (2021/40/C/HS6/00150) (recent Post-doc) – were awarded National Science Centre, Poland Sonatina Post-Doctoral Scholarships.