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

The Meaning of Political Voice

What does political voice mean?

Political voice is commonly understood as an important part of democracy.

Academics and the public use the term political voice. While academics use the term often, it is more important to know how the public uses and understands the term. After all, there is more of the public than there are academics.

As part of the ongoing POLINQ project, I examined dozens of sources in magazines and newspapers to get a holistic picture of the meaning of political voice.

Here is the complete meaning of political voice

Political voice is a part of democracy, a say in the political sphere (e.g. individuals, groups, and whole populations are “finding their political voice,” explicitly in terms of vote franchise or elections, or as a seat in or near the decision-makers not necessarily party or elections-related, as demonstrations and other activism; political discussion; building social movements and lobbying), or as connected to existing social movements, organizations, or political leaders (a kind of representation), or as something expressed by politicians and other political figures, something expressed by political organizations, or as a literal, physical voice.

That’s a lot!

Political Voice Painting Created by DALL-E AI politicalinequality.org
“Painting of Political Voice” by Dall-E

Here is how I got to this definition. Let’s look at it, part by part.

Here are the elements of political voice as they appear in popular magazines and newspapers, and the US Congressional Record.

Below you will find the element of political voice, and examples of how magazines and newspapers across the United States have expressed that element.

Political voice as…

… a part of democracy

“Democracy, which insists that everyone should have a political voice, cannot manifest itself in the absence of trust, which is now stingily meted out as though it’s a scarce and precious resource.”

Astra Taylor. (June 1, 2019). Reclaiming the Future. The New Republic

.… a say in the political sphere.

— Individuals, groups, and whole populations are “finding their political voice” (unspecified)

“It is time for a bolder approach that embraces change. Opportunities to support such fundamental reforms in such strategically important states are rare, and they give the United States a chance to endear itself to growing populations that are increasingly finding their political voice.”

JUDD DEVERMONT “Africa’s Democratic Moment?; The Five Leaders Who Could Transform the Region”. Foreign Affairs. July/August 2019July/August 2019.

“Not surprisingly, there seems to be an increasing body of American liberals out there who foretell the end of a “liberal Iraq” because religious Shia now have a political voice.”

Reuel Marc Gerecht. (February 14, 2005 – February 21, 2005). Birth of a Democracy; From the February 14 / February 21, 2005 issue: Soon the whole Middle East will see Iraq’s national assembly at work.. The Weekly Standard.

“Economic liberalization is indeed breeding a middle class with a new set of demands, including protection of private assets, access to unfiltered information, and a greater political voice. So far, however, the middle class has not organized in any meaningful way to push for wholesale political change. Instead, that change is occurring primarily in response to the negative effects of China’s market transition.”

Elizabeth Economy. (May 2004 – June 2004). Don’t Break the Engagement. Foreign Affairs.

“That agreement remained in effect for half a century–until the civil rights movement, when Southern blacks, who understandably didn’t look kindly on Confederate heroes and flags, gained a political voice.”

jason zengerle. (August 2, 2004). Lost Cause. The New Republic.

“The process in standing up the Anbar Salvation Council, a group of local tribes and former insurgents opposed to al Qaeda’s harsh brand of Taliban-like sharia law, has been ongoing since the summer of 2006….Part of the success of the Anbar Salvation Council is that it provides the Sunnis in Anbar with a political voice as well as security against al Qaeda. The Anbar Salvation Council’s political component is the Anbar Awakening. Seven new tribes have just joined the political party.”

Bill Roggio. (April 30, 2007 Monday). The Roggio Report; Anbar Awakening Spreads, Petraeus Connects Iran to Attacks in Iraq.. The Daily Standard.

“Having no political voice, the civil rights bill fails, and the civil courts fail to do them justice.”

Congressional Globe, February 22, 1867 p. 1709

… demonstrations and other activism

“Organized by a new rightist group, the Young Americans for Freedom, the event was greeted as evidence that the “silent generation” might be shaking off its apathy and finding a political voice. (The Times published a front-page report on the “spectacular” rally, and followed up with a four-part series on campus activism.)”

SAM TANENHAUS. (October 24, 2016). The Right Idea. The New Yorker.

… political discussion

“I, too, felt optimistic watching the men and women in that first group discussion. They seemed eager to debate the candidates’ relative merits and clearly relished their newfound political voice.”

SARAH E. MENDELSON (January 2015 – February 2015). Generation Putin; What to Expect From Russia’s Future Leaders. Foreign Affairs.

— Building social movements and lobbying

“Soon armed citizens acquired a political voice: in 1977, at the N.R.A.’s annual meeting, conservative activists led by Harlon Carter, a former chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, wrested control from leaders who had been focussed on rifle-training and recreation rather than on politics, and created the modern gun-rights movement. In 1987, the refashioned N.R.A. successfully lobbied lawmakers in Florida to relax the rules that required concealed-carry applicants to demonstrate “good cause” for a permit, such as a job transporting large quantities of cash.”

EVAN OSNOS. (June 27, 2016). MAKING A KILLING. The New Yorker.

“He said the about 200 persons have attended several recent organizational meetings and many have volunteered to begin voter registration drives in their areas. “We are now going to hammer out a platform and then get some of out people in power,” Brown said. “We have never had a political voice in the county, not even during the desegregation era of the 1960s.”

By Vernon C. Thompson, Washington Post Staff Writer. (March 5, 1977, Saturday, Final Edition). Blacks Form Power Base; County’s Blacks Form Coalition. The Washington Post.
(I believe this is chronicled in Black Power in the Suburbs: The Myth or Reality of African American Suburban Political Incorporation by Valerie C. Johnson, SUNY Press, 2002)

… explicitly in terms of vote franchise or elections

“Although Kurds compose roughly 20 percent of the population, they have lacked a political voice: The HDP has never won enough votes a 10 percent threshold to secure seats in parliament.”

Joseph Loconte. (June 22, 2015 Monday). Turkey, Islamism, and the West; A setback for Erdogan.. The Weekly Standard.

“Public attention to the welfare of poor children, the historian Linda Gordon has argued, coincides with eras in which women have had a strong political voice. It was therefore high when women were most actively fighting for the right to vote (from 1870 to 1920) and during the women’s-liberation movement (from 1961 to 1975).”

JILL LEPORE. (February 1, 2016). BABY DOE. The New Yorker.

… connected to existing social movements, organizations, or political leaders (a kind of representation)

“The opposing camp includes skeptics of comprehensive executive power such as myself. It finds its political voice in Tea Party advocates of the old-time Constitution and in members of Congress opposed to the president today including Republican leaders Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and backbench institutionalists Mike Lee and Ben Sasse.”

Christopher DeMuth Sr.. (June 27, 2016 Monday). Our Voracious Executive Branch. The Weekly Standard.

“By the time of the Depression, as hardpressed consumers became even more price-conscious, small retailers found their political voice in an anti-chain-store movement first in certain states, and then nationally, spearheaded by the populist Texas congressman Wright Patman.”

Jay Weiser. (April 29, 2013 Monday). The Big Store; The mythology of small business meets a retailing giant.. The Weekly Standard.

“Even though unions remain the loudest political voice for workers’ interests, resentment has replaced solidarity, which helps explain why the bailout of General Motors was almost as unpopular as the bailouts of Wall Street banks.”

James Surowiecki. (January 17, 2011). State Of The Unions. The New Yorker.

… something expressed by politicians and other political figures

“Rory Stewart, the former Conservative cabinet minister – who was almost a lone political voice calling for a lockdown in early March – blamed the prime minister for failing to ask the right questions.”

Rob Merrick. (June 11, 2020 Thursday). Coronavirus: Minister says UK has world’s second-highest death toll because ‘we are a global travel hub’; Many argue the UK had advantages as an island, able to easily close its borders -yet it allowed in travellers from hotspots. The Independent (United Kingdom).

… something expressed by political organizations

“Mr CORWIN….What did that mean ? You shall never have another slave State in the Union. You shall never establish slavery in another Territory of thie United States. The political voice of the Democratic party of Ohio had spoken in that language in 1848. In 1852, the embodiment of it in the gubernatorial office of that State proclaimed the sentiments that I have read.”

Appendix to The Congressional Globe (US), pp. 147 – 148, House of Representatives January 24, 1860

… a literal, physical voice

“The scar down his face from an operation for melanoma in 2000 is less pronounced than it once was. And he continues to have the best political voice–husky and commanding, without being condescending–since Ronald Reagan.”

john b. judis. (October 16, 2006). Neo-McCain. The New Republic.

“Kris Aquino, youngest daughter of the Philippine President, singing yesterday in Lubao at a political rally for the Senatorial elections that are to be held May 11.”

(March 16, 1987, Monday, Late City Final Edition). A Political Voice. The New York Times.

See also the Political Voice Institute.

Conclusion: The Meaning of Political Voice

Everyday people use the term “political voice” in modern democracies in many different ways. It ranges from social movements to a literal speaking voice in which politics is the subject, and from voting to proximity to decision-makers in the halls of power.

Citizens hold dear the idea of political voice. We can hope that people will use it for the betterment of democracy.

Register to vote to express your political voice!

Table of Contents

  1. What does political voice mean?
    1. Here is the complete meaning of political voice
    2. Here is how I got to this definition. Let’s look at it, part by part.
      1. Political voice as…
      2. … a part of democracy
      3. …. a say in the political sphere.
      4. … a seat in or near the decision-makers (not necessarily party or elections-related)
      5. … demonstrations and other activism
      6. … political discussion
      7. … explicitly in terms of vote franchise or elections
      8. … connected to existing social movements, organizations, or political leaders (a kind of representation)
      9. … something expressed by politicians and other political figures
      10. … something expressed by political organizations
      11. … a literal, physical voice
    3. Conclusion: The Meaning of Political Voice
    4. Register to vote to express your political voice!