Introducing PaReSoGo, Dataset on Party Representation of Social Groups

PaReSoGo at a Glance

Why PaReSoGo – Party Representation of Social Groups?

Parties and parliamentarians are charged with the responsibility to express and translate the voice of the masses in the legislature. A classic concern is the extent to which political parties who attained seats in parliament represent the masses; a smaller current in the literature is about the party representation of particular social groups.

Social scientists have devised various ways to measure representation gaps across nations and time (see the MARPOR Party-Voter Dataset), but rarely do they account for particular social groups.

To address research questions about how well social groups are represented in parliament across nations and time, we created and are in the process of archiving the dataset, “Party Representation of Social Groups” (PaReSoGo) – that contains a simple and replicable measure of the party representation of social groups per country and year from high quality publicly available survey and administrative data. 

How did we measure the Party Representation of Social Groups?

Our country-year measure is based on the idea of issue congruence measures that match distributions. For survey data, we use the European Social Survey (ESS), 2002 – 2016, that contains items on sociodemographics, social attitudes, and retrospective vote choice, i.e. the party that the respondents said they voted for in the last general election.

POLINQ and Aggregation of Survey and Administrative Data

Following the research conducted by the grant on aggregation of survey data to the country-year level, discussed in the grant’s international conference, “Politics and Inequality across Nations and Time: Theoretical and Empirical Approaches,” held at IFiS PAN, December 12 – 14, 2018 in Warsaw, Poland, we aggregated the ESS items to the country and year level. We match the distribution of social groups’ party choices to a distribution of the percentage of parliamentarians in each party that were elected to parliament, as provided by ParlGov.

The Dissimilarity Index

In our data, this match of distributions is made via the Dissimilarity Index (DI). To calculate the party representation with a DI we took a sum of absolute values of the share of seats a given party received in the elections and subtracted the share of ESS respondents who claim that they voted for this party, and divided by two. Here, the DI is a measure of distance in party representation between gender, age, education, intersectional, and attitudinal groups’ retrospective party vote choices and the distribution of parliamentarians in parties. In the PaReSoGo DI, the higher the value, the greater the distance between what social groups want and what parties there are in parliament.

Table 1 illustrates the logic of calculations using Poland 2015 example for young adults.

PaReSoGo contains 150 country years, which cover eight ESS rounds (2002-2016) and 95 national elections (1999-2016) across 25 countries.

Table 2 illustrates the data basics. The minimum country-years that cover the same election is one; the maximum is three. For each country-year we calculated the DI for all ESS respondents and twelve social groups of gender, age, and education; intersectional groups based on gender and age; and attitudinal groups for and against immigration. Due to data availability, not all countries are available in all years, and not all groups are available in all country-years.

We presented the data idea in the conference, Building Multi-Source Databases for Comparative Analyses, in December 2019 in Warsaw, Poland and in our 2021 research note in Party Politics.

How Do Digital Technologies Impact Political Inequality?

A robot drawing with a pen on a piece of paper, signifying the connection between robots and human technology, i.e. digital technology

This post discusses the relationship between digital technologies — the internet and its hardware — and political inequality. This is part of the POLINQ project. In this project, we have understood that political inequality has many definitions.

Thesis: Digital technologies have enabled a dystopic political inequality where politics is possible for the few and impossible for the many.

Read also:

Table of Contents

  1. Thesis: Digital technologies have enabled a dystopic political inequality where politics is possible for the few and impossible for the many.
  2. Let’s First define politics as both political voice and political response
  3. Next, let’s understand that we are politically unequal
  4. Our Digital Dawn Is Our Political Dusk
  5. Politics Exists in an Era of Endless Information
  6. Big Data is a Big Part of Political Inequality and Endless Information
  7. Intersectionality and Inequality in Politics is a Reflection of Endless Segmentation
  8. Political Inequality is a Consequence of Digital Technologies
  9. The Way Forward

Let’s First define politics as both political voice and political response

Politics is a tool used to gain power over important decisions that impact our lives. This tool has two parts: Voice and Response.

Political voice is how we express our political complaints, desires, demands, and interests to our fellow human beings across nations, to our fellow citizens within nations, and to government. Voice activates directly through what social scientists call “political participation,” such as public marches, writing letters to our representatives or to the media, boycotting products, and voluntarily organizing the political interests of particular groups, to name a few.

We also activate our political voice through representation, that is, indirectly via people and organizations that claim to carry our voice into government, such as parliamentarians, political parties, non-governmental organizations in civil society, and special independent arms of the government (the ombudsperson or special envoy, for example).

Response via representation is what the decision-makers do with our voice. They can respond with mere symbols, such as declaring Black History Month to address institutional racism. They can respond with formal and informal policy initiatives.

Next, let’s understand that we are politically unequal

Political inequality characterizes modern societies. Political equality is the assumed foundation of modern democracy. Yet, everywhere there is democracy – indeed, everywhere there is politics – there is political inequality. Political inequality is structured differences in influence over government decisions and the outcomes of those decisions. It is inequality of voice and it is inequality of response.

Inequality always emerges, and will use all available tools to do so. In hunter gatherer societies, even with communal ownership of the means of production (weapons and other tools) that lowered economic inequality, the best hunters were awarded greater status (much more than the gatherers, whose contribution to daily caloric intake is greater and more stable than that of the hunters).

When Communism in Eastern Europe tried to reduce economic inequality by the government lowering everyone’s incomes and controlling the labor market, political connections to the regime became the new currency, and a special and pernicious form of political inequality was born.

Inequality is an ever-adapting cockroach.

Our Digital Dawn Is Our Political Dusk

Digital technologies are tools for the storing and sharing of information. Since the dawn of the digital age (ca. 1950s), these technologies are of two main parts: computers (software and hardware) as the storage bin and the internet as the sharer-in-chief. To understand the interaction chains that bind us to computers, there are three possible: human-to-human, human-to-computer, and computer-to-computer.

Only human-to-human is without computer intrusion. Digital technology can allow humans to talk more efficiently to other humans, or computers to talk to one another: “Take the professor in the back and plug him into the hyperdrive,” Han Solo snarled.

Digital technologies enabled globalization by being the most efficient way to store and share information; it moves money and makes people money; it transfers knowledge and culture (Tweets are worthless, in and of themselves; but tweets from the right persona can cause havoc).

The ubiquitous and portable availability of digital hardware make strong the bonds between human-to-computer, and computer-to-computer interaction, at the expense of human-to-human interaction.

Spying with computers – that humans are unaware that a computer intervenes into the relationship – robs humans of genuine human-to-human interaction. Bots are everywhere.

The unnatural environment that gave rise to digital technologies unleashed two infinite forces that brought out humanity’s worst: endless information and endless segmentation.

Politics Exists in an Era of Endless Information

Our desire for information is rooted in our desire to reduce choice complexity. We prefer simple: when faced with a too-large array, we aggregate and categorize; we segment. When faced with new information, we look for how it fits into old segmentation. Then, we look for ways to house this information.

When faced with accumulating important knowledge too big for any one person to remember, we created libraries to house the information and we created schools to pass the information on to the next generation.

Big Data is a Big Part of Political Inequality and Endless Information

Big Data is an unusually large dataset drawn from diverse sources of information. Some Big Data contain customer data, based on where they are, what internet portal they opened, what they clicked in that portal, when they clicked on it, and where they went afterwards. The Big Data sets can be millions of cases long. They can be few cases and millions of variables wide.

Big Data is built on you, and it uses you to get more people inside it, and will follow you wherever you go.

Photo by Voice + Video on Unsplash Digital Technology and Political Inequality
Who is recording you?

Intersectionality and Inequality in Politics is a Reflection of Endless Segmentation

Endless segmentation is the logical conclusion of endless information.

This is how the chain begins and ends: The new internet companies – Google, Facebook, Twitter — depend on advertisers, and advertisers need data on their potential customers, and advertising agencies need data on the potential customers. Digital technology corporations that specialize in such data sell data to media-buying and advertising agencies. Let’s call all of them, “the marketeers.” The marketeers harness the power of endless information they collect on customers to create Big Data on those customers. To make sense of this endless information, they segment.

Within Big Data, endless information became endless segmentation.

Intersections of race, class, and gender are not enough; the marketeers need what they like.

Endless segmentation feeds the algorithms. Algorithms are ways of making sense via clarifying & simplifying of data. It does so by creating a series of rules:

If, Then.

The algorithms deliver what advertisers want and what they think customers want: they think customers want more of the same things they clicked, tapped, pressed, and swiped on. Liked Fox News on Facebook? You’ll like Gun Shows in Your Area. Liked Cannabis? You’ll like a t-shirt with a pot-leaf on it. Like both? You’ll get ads for Napoleon Dynamite.

Political Inequality is a Consequence of Digital Technologies

Digital technologies have led us to the uncanny valley of politics: there is the recognizable outline of the political process, but the details are disturbingly off.

The new digital political divide is not a gap in access or skills; there is inequality whether you opt in or opt out of our digital dystopia.

The divide is because there is universal access and skills to a digital world that is run by Silicon Valley corporations whose promote efficiency of computer-to-computer interaction and information sharing and demote human-to-human interaction and emotion sharing.

Autocrats take advantage of digital technologies to spread misinformation, hack opponents and share secrets online, find and eliminate protest and protesters, sow discord. It’s what Morozov called, The Net Delusion.

The Way Forward

The way out is a variant on Timothy Leary’s life advice with a Luddite twist: Turn off the machines, tune out the information noise, and drop in to the homes of family and friends. The way forward is to pop the information bubble, re-connect with human beings, boycott the segmenters, and dare to be brave.

This work was funded in part by the National Science Centre, Poland (2016/23/B/HS6/03916).

Copyright Joshua Dubrow 2017

The dawn of digital inequality

Five Problems with Measuring Political Inequality

Political equality is a foundation of democracy, but in every democracy citizens are politically unequal. Some voices are louder than others, whether it has to do with their political participation or the level of economic inequality. As a consequence, there is democratic backsliding, and other political problems.

If we want to know, Is political inequality rising, falling, or staying the same? We would have to measure the concept of “political inequality.”

Measuring political inequality has multiple challenges.

In this post, I pose five main problems in measuring political inequality:  

1. Political power and influence is difficult to observe.  

Political power and influence is notoriously difficult to measure because it is an interaction between power wielders that is more inferred than directly observed.  We tend to “see” power after the decision is made, not during the decision process.

Read: What is Power? What is a Power Structure?

2. The range of potential political resources is extremely diverse and heavily context dependent.  

We discussed how political resources are anything one can use to influence a political decision: social or psychological factors – material, ideational, a personal attribute, a group level attribute, an authority position, a network connection – or an action, such as political participation. In international perspective, this is further complicated by seeking a measure that is functionally equivalent across nations.  

Read: Defining and Measuring Political Resources

3. Political outcomes is difficult to measure.

To answer the question, “does political inequality matter?”, we would have to empirically demonstrate that governmental decisions systematically favor some groups over others. Some recent work in the U.S. is exemplary. Similar work outside the American context is rare.

Read: Gilens and Page

4. Political equality never existed.

Political equality has never existed in any democracy or any other political system ever. Is political equality a real, empirically visible end of the continuum? If political equality is an ideal then does a theoretical endpoint belong in an empirical measure?

Read: The Many Definitions of Political Inequality

5. We need to specify the particular type of political inequality.

Political inequality can be found anywhere within the political process. Let’s simplify the political process to two parts – voice and response.   Voice refers to how constituencies express their interests to decision-makers directly or through representatives.  Response refers to how decision-makers act and react to their constituencies and is expressed via policy and symbols.

If we are to measure political inequality, we need to know how to define it. There are many definitions of political inequality. Start with a definition, and then build the measure.

Read: The Many Definitions of Political Inequality

What Is Political Inequality and How Unequal Are We?

We Know a lot about Economic Inequality

When the Occupy Wall Street movement reached its heyday in the Autumn of 2011, spreading to cities all over the world, the protesters’ rallying cry was, “We are the 99 percent.” They hoped for political change, among other things, but “99” was mainly understood as a statement about economic inequality.

If you want to know how much economic inequality there is in your country, and whether this inequality been rising, falling, or staying the same, you can turn to the terabytes worth of publicly available economic data and grind them through the many inequality equations to derive a multitude of statistics. With decades of innovations in the study of economics and inequality, led by the disciplines of sociology and economics, we can, at least, have a debate over economic inequality and its dynamics over time.

We know less about Political Inequality

Political inequality is a distinct form of inequality but has yet to attract sustained, systematic scholarly attention in the same way as its sibling inequalities. Although political equality is a foundation of modern democracy, we do not know how far from equality we are. Even the news media rarely addresses political inequality. We need more eyes on the problem.

Popular Definitions of Political Inequality

The work of social scientists, philosophers and other scholars offer many definitions of political inequality. Political inequality’s conceptual roots are temporally deep and spread-out in many disciplines. Read together, they point to the idea that political inequality is at once a dimension of democracy and a dimension of stratification.

Built on the classics, modern definitions of political inequality depend on whether one is concerned about equality of opportunities or equality of outcomes. In short, equality of opportunities is about access to the political decision. Equality of outcomes refers to the law, symbols, policy or other output that is the result of the political process. Most definitions are based on the idea of equality of opportunities, but they could be modified to include outcomes, too.

Let’s look at some popular definitions from my book on political inequality:

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Political inequality is structured differences in the distribution of political resources

According to this definition, one group has greater or lesser access to, or acquisition of, political resources than another group.

Political equality is when everybody’s preferences are equally weighted in political decisions.

The definition of “everybody” matters, of course: Everybody could mean all citizens, or it could mean all who are potentially impacted by the decision.

Political inequality is the existence of authority divisions

Here, we speak of political inequality when groups have unequal political input into the decisions that affect them. The more layers of authority between the citizen and the decision, the greater the political inequality.

We can usefully combine these approaches with a definition that both simple and flexible:

Political inequality refers to structured differences in influence over decisions made by political bodies and the unequal outcomes of those decisions.

How Much Political Inequality Is There?

Short answer: nobody knows.

Why? Because there are no cross-national comprehensive measures of it. Nobody’s ever done it. And that’s because we need to ask, “for whom” and “of what.” Who is unequal? And are they unequal in terms of voice or government response? Those questions are hard to quantify.

This video explains why we don’t know:

Political Inequality Is the Shadow of Democracy

Democratic institutions set the rules of the political process and guarantee formal rights of political participation to a wide variety of citizens, but not to all of them. Many discussions of political inequality are debates about whether and how equality in democratic governance can be achieved. The coexistence of democracy with political inequality leads to the question of how realistic the idea is that all interested participants can enjoy equal influence on the governance decision or in its outcomes. A common thought is that we should seriously consider acceptable limits in who should be unequal and how to manage this inequality while still raising high the banner of democracy. This leads to a conclusion that political inequality is the shadow of democracy.

A recent article on inequality and policy outcomes by Gilens and Page (2014) highlights the promise and the difficulties in measuring political inequality. Their unique data consists of 1779 policies taken up by the U.S. Congress from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Each policy is matched to a public opinion survey research question asked during the time the policy was introduced (“this policy says X, to what extent do you agree with it?”) and to a set of interest groups who have taken a position on the policy. With these data, they gauged the extent to which the policy outcome reflects (a) the will of the median voter – identified within the surveys and (b) types of interest groups, such as economic elites, business interests, and mass public interest groups. They found that policy outcomes tend to favor the will of economic elites, not the median voter.

Their study provides solid, further evidence of the paucity of pluralism in American democracy, but their measure of political inequality has shortcomings. First, they chose policies based on whether they were asked in public opinion surveys, and that means the many, not-so-famous policy debates that also shape key economic distribution policies were excluded. Nor can it account for the policies that are off the Congressional agenda, the type of power that Bacharach and Baratz (1967) warned that is most pernicious: the power to compel voters to not even ask for the policy in the first place. It is also specific to the American experience; though it can be replicated elsewhere, so far there is no cross-national equivalent to these data. Gilens and Page (2014) conducted what is likely one of the most unique studies on American political inequality, and it’s just a start.

Future Research in Political Inequality

Political inequality is an important topic for our times. We must be aware that the objective and subjective realities of political inequality rouses people to action.  That political inequality lives in democracies across the world is a troubling fact of life, and if we want to move closer to political equality, we can do better to understand it.

First, let’s study it more. While doing that, let’s see if we can measure it comprehensively across nations. And then, let’s see what can be done about it.

And, so we did. Please read our report on POLINQ: Political Inequality and Political Voice across Nations and Time.

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Copyright Joshua K. Dubrow 2022

Do Newspapers Write about Democracy and Equality?

What is political inequality?

Political inequality is both unequal influence over decisions made by political bodies and the unequal outcomes of those decisions. Political equality is “a fundamental premise of democracy” (quoting celebrated political theorist Robert Dahl).

The news media has long reflected and shaped modern societies. In their pages we should expect that they present the news about democracy and equality and, in doing so, help shape national conversations about these issues.

Do they, much?

How do newspapers report on democracy and equality?

As part of the book on political inequality, I observed how often news items about democracy and equality appear in six English language newspapers in the UK, USA and Canada from 1988 to 2013 (methodology) The newspapers are: The Times, The Guardian, The New York Times, USA Today, the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail.

Here’s what I found:

Its Small

Overall, the level of coverage is small, especially the combination of democracy and equality, of which one can say that it hardly ever appears in major Western newspapers.

Its inconsistent

Democracy and equality each have their different trends. Democracy coverage rises and falls by major world event: after the Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe (1989 – 1991) and in the beginning of the Iraq War (2003 – 2005).

Equality upswing after 2008

After the global economic crisis of 2008, there has been an upswing in equality coverage.

Weak connection between democracy and equality

Since 2008, in three major newspapers (one each for the UK, US and Canada) there has been a marginal yet visible upswing in news media interest in how democracy connects with equality.

What is more fundamental to democracy than political equality?

To help educate citizens, the news media should promote national conversations about democracy and equality.

Imagine if every major newspaper in the world devoted a couple of columns every week to discussions about the connection between democracy and equality.  Imagine the good this would do.

Political Inequality Sessions at International Sociological Association 2010

I organized a general theme on political inequality for RC 18: Political Sociology at the World Congress of the International Sociological Association 2010 in Gothenburg, Sweden.  Here is a link to the RC18 website’s call for papers

General Theme: Political Inequality in Cross-National Perspective


(Convener: Joshua Kjerulf Dubrow, Polish Academy of Sciences)

Political inequality refers to structured differences in influence over government decisions and the outcomes of those decisions. Decades of research have clearly shown how position within the social structure impacts individual- and group-level political influence, such that political inequality interacts with a host of other inequalities, including those of gender, ethnicity, and class. Because political processes govern resource distribution, political inequality has profound consequences for the welfare of all people within society.

This general theme focuses on political inequality as a distinctive form of inequality and aims to examine methodological and substantive issues pertaining to it. While there are many clear definitions and well-established measures of other major types of inequality — e.g. economic and educational inequalities — that enable researchers to address basic empirical questions of, “how unequal is society?” and “what are the causes and consequences of this inequality?” there are few attempts to directly measure political inequality. As a result, crucial questions remain unaddressed.

Continuing the discussions initiated in the International Journal of Sociology special issue on “Causes and Consequences of Political Inequality in Cross-National Perspective” (2008), and inspired by the American Political Science Association’s “Task Force on Inequality and American Democracy,” this general theme seeks methodological, quantitative, and qualitative empirical papers that bridge sociology and political science to address crucial questions regarding political inequality in cross-national perspective.

Session 1: Consequences of Political Inequality


Papers in this session should address the question: What are the consequences of political inequality on peoples, societies and social structures? If political inequality is a distinctive form of inequality in its own right, consequences of its existence and durability must be demonstrated. Papers in this session should empirically examine how political inequality matters in the lives of disadvantaged groups, for the long-term health of democratic governance, for particular political policies and legislation, or for the establishment and durability of civil society and social movements.

Session 4: Measurement and Causality


Papers in this session should address one or more of the following questions: (a) How do we define and measure political inequality? (b) How politically unequal are modern democracies? and (c) What causes political inequality? From Pitirim Sorokin to Robert Dahl to Amartya Sen, among others, there is a strong theoretical base on which to support the contention that political inequality is a distinctive form of inequality as important as that of economic inequality. Yet, there is very little empirical work on how to operationalize its concepts, measure its extent, and identify its roots. Papers with a cross-national perspective should empirically examine forms of political inequality – such as underrepresentation of disadvantaged groups in government and unequal political participation, to name a couple – including how these forms endure over time and across societies, how they combine, or how they interact with other major forms of social inequality.