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!

Gender and Political Inequality in Eastern Europe: Open Access Resources from the POLINQ Project

What is the relationship between gender and political inequality (POLINQ)?

Despite the promises of political equality of the Communist era, and the promises of the post-Communist era, from 1945 to now women in Eastern Europe have endured political inequality.

Political inequality is defined as structured differences in influence over political decisions, and the outcomes of those decisions.

Women have been unequal to men in representation, whether it is fewer parliamentary seats than men, or whether it is in policy.

While much attention on gender and political inequality is about the USA and Western Europe, scholars have paid far less attention to the problem in Eastern Europe. We need updated, open access resources on the problem of gender and political inequality in Eastern Europe.

Scholarship on Gender and Political Inequality in the POLINQ Project

The POLINQ project partnered with scholars from the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, to produce three free & open access resources for activists, NGOs, politicians, students, and scholars to use.

Gender Quotas in Eastern Europe

Gender quotas are rules that aim at providing opportunities for women to be in parliament or to appear on candidate lists in elections for political office. Quota policy should be designed to provide substantial equitable opportunities and access to those decision-makers and their political decisions by the creation of new, favorable circumstances for women to be parliamentarians.

To understand gender quotas in Eastern Europe, the POLINQ project partnered with Dr. Adrianna Zabrzewska on the free, open access book:

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

This book is available on this website and was funded by the National Science Centre, Poland (2016/23/B/HS6/03916)

Gender, Politics and Protest in Eastern Europe

Whereas just and fair democratic societies require gender equality, in Eastern Europe, as well as countries around the world, past and present, gender inequality is the norm.

To achieve equality, we need knowledge of the world, past and present.

The POLINQ project partnered with Adrianna Zabrzewska and Magda Grabowska to create the website:

Women, Politics, and Protest in Central and Eastern Europe

This website provides basic knowledge for high school students and undergraduates, as well as any reader who is unfamiliar with the history and current issues of gender and politics in Eastern Europe. The project tells the story of gender and political change from the rise of Communism, the revolutions of 1989, and on to the present day.

Funding for this website comes from the Title VI Comprehensive National Resource Center grant from the International and Foreign Language Education division of the U.S. Department of Education, awarded to The Ohio State University’s Center for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (CSEEES).

Gender and Protest in Poland over the Abortion Ban

In autumn 2020, as the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic began, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal issued a ruling that severely restricted access to abortion. Massive street protests, led by Strajk Kobiet (Women’s Strike), quickly followed.

To understand this protest movement in Poland, the POLINQ project partnered with Dr. Adrianna Zabrzewska on the free, open access book:

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

This book is available on this website and was funded by the National Science Centre, Poland (2016/23/B/HS6/03916)

Strajk Kobiet protest in Poland, 2020

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.

POLINQ Scholars Begin their NCN Sonatina Post-Doctoral Grants

We are proud to report that two young scholars who worked in the POLINQ grant from the National Science Centre, Poland (awarded to the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences), have won and begun their SONATINA Post-Doctoral Scholar grants.

Dr. Olga Zelinska, a graduate research associate of the grant, is now at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities (Uniwersytet SWPS) on a 3-year postdoc for the project: “Relations between social movements and political parties for the democratic representation of social groups in Europe” funded by the National Science Centre, Poland (2021/40/C/HS6/00229).

Dr. Olga Lavrinenko, a post-doctoral scholar of the grant, is now at the University of Warsaw on a 3-year postdoc for the project, “Fragmentation of women’s organizations and exercise of political power by women in the world in 1999-2020,” funded by the National Science Centre, Poland (2021/40/C/HS6/00150).

Core to the POLINQ grant is the development of the next generation of social science scholars. We are thankful for their great work on the grant and we wish them well as they go further in their academic career.

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.

Interview with Catherine Bolzendahl on Women’s Political Empowerment Worldwide

Catherine Bolzendahl, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology of the University of California-Irvine, recently delivered the keynote speech, “Women’s Political Empowerment: A Path toward Progress in Uncertain Times,” at the Politics and Inequality conference held December 2018 in Warsaw, Poland.

Catherine Bolzendahl’s interests are in political change cross-nationally and over time, as well as gender and politics. Her research has appeared in Social Forces, European Sociological Review, and British Journal of Sociology, among others. Her recent book is the co-edited volume, Measuring Women’s Political Empowerment Across the Globe: Strategies, Challenges and Future Research (2017, Palgrave).

Interview with Catherine Bolzendahl

At the Politics and Inequality conference, you presented your long-running and varied research on gender and politics in comparative perspective, and what comes next for your research. Looking back, what are some of your most important findings and discoveries?

This is an interesting question because I feel like it is only lately that I’m starting to identify the broader contributions of my current body of work. I’ve always been fundamentally interested in how and why women and men engage with politics and how politics shapes people’s lives as men and women. Of course, this is strongly centered on concerns regarding inequality. My work has led me to a few findings that have been exciting and compelled me to keep digging. First, nations where women have more equality to men politically and economically invest more in social policy generosity. In particular, this contributes to the growing conclusion that women’s political representation changes the policy output in a nation for the better. Second, that we often define politics too narrowly, and in ways that exclude and undervalue women’s contributions as political citizens. This undermines both gender equality and an accurate understanding of women’s political contributions. Third, there is pervasive gender inequality within legislatures, and many are structured to segregate women’s and men’s participation and thus reify patterns of inequality that limit potential for larger change.

What challenges have you faced in conducting or presenting your research on gender?

There are many! As a sociologist, much of my work depends on the larger body of work on gender and politics that exists within the field of political science. Political sociology and political science have long been intertwined and successfully pushed our knowledge forward. However, in sociology, by studying gender, the field does not always know what to do with my work. Political sociology tends to view my work as belonging more to gender and gender scholars see my work as belonging more to political sociology. This makes it difficult to navigate publication outlets, and I often find myself publishing in political science journals. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that issues of gender and politics are of central concern to sociology and work to publish and advocate for such work in the field. Unfortunately, political scientists often do not cite sociology, which may lower my profile in this larger sub-field. By networking across both sociology and political science, I work to counter this, but it is more challenging. Nevertheless, working at the intersections is also, I think, more exciting.

What surprised you most in your research on gender and politics?

The biggest surprise for me was realizing that some feminist scholars view my work as invalid or less important because I use quantitative methods. I was invited to a panel at the Social Science History Association that asked, Can Quantitative Work be Feminist? Before that time I hadn’t realize some thought it could not!

What’s the next step for your research agenda?

I have so many unanswered questions! I’m particularly interested in a better understanding of the roles men and women play within legislatures and how this affects policy outcomes. Another question I’m working on with colleagues is related to international gender gaps in beliefs about family form, particularly same-sex families. Finally, I hope to continue working on issues related to the link between intolerance and ethnonationalist populism over time.

Please list two of your recent favorite articles or books in the field of politics and inequality, and why you chose them.

I recently taught a graduate course on Gender, and finally got the chance to read Viterna’s 2013 book:

Viterna, Jocelyn. 2013. Women in War: The Micro-processes of Mobilization in El Salvador. Oxford University Press.

It is meticulously researched and theoretically powerful. I was particularly struck by the insights Viterna provided into which women guerrilla fighters went on to maintain an activist profile. The women who continued to engage in political activism has been given more authority and high-level networking with the (men’s) leadership during the war. I’m still mulling over the implications of her work for my own perspectives

Another book I’m still working through is by Laurel Weldon and Mala Htun that came out last year:

Htun, Mala, and S. Laurel Weldon. 2018. The Logics of Gender Justice: State Action on Women’s Rights Around the World. Cambridge University Press.

I find their argument that different issues related to gender inequality depend on various “logics” to be really compelling. I think it is one of those book that will launch a great deal of future research that works to utilize and further test their arguments.

What’s an older article or book in the field of politics and inequality that you like, and why?

I will have to name three! First, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Walter Korpi’s book, The Democratic Class Struggle (1983). It was very eye-opening for me to think about how disadvantaged groups could claim their rights and advance their position in society. Second, T.H. Marshall’s classic essay on “Citizenship and Social Class” (1950) profoundly shaped my views on political rights, and my belief in the importance of advancing social rights as fundamental democratic rights. Third, Anne Orloff’s American Sociological Review article “Gender and the Social Rights of Citizenship” (1993) helped me see how the other two pieces could be leveraged with feminist theory toward the agenda I pursue today.

measuring womens political empowerment book

“Without doubt, this is the book that all scholars of gender, politics, and empowerment must have on their shelves.”

— Professor Jocelyn Viterna, Harvard University, USA

The interview was conducted via email by Joshua K. Dubrow, who also edited this piece, including the embedding of web links. This work was funded by the National Science Centre, Poland (2016/23/B/HS6/03916).

Interview with Piotr Zagorski on Education and Support for Right-wing Populist Parties in Central and Eastern Europe

Piotr Zagorski and Andrés Santana, of Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain, recently presented their paper, “Voice or Exit: Education, Support for Right-wing Populist Parties, and Abstention in Central and Eastern Europe,” at the Politics and Inequality conference held December 2018 in Warsaw, Poland.

Piotr Zagórski is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Faculty of Law, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. He holds an MA in Sociology from Universidad de Granada. His research interests include electoral behavior with a special focus on turnout and comparative politics with an emphasis on European populist parties. Zagorski’s co author, Andrés Santana, is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Pompeu Fabra University, an MA in Sociology from the Juan March Institute, and a Graduate Degree in Data Analysis from the University of Essex. Dr. Santana has published in the European Sociological Review and Politics & Gender, among others, as well as several book chapters and books. His fields of interest are electoral behavior, populist parties, political elites, women’s representation, research methodology, and quantitative research techniques.

We asked Piotr Zagorski for an extended abstract of their Politics and Inequality conference paper and, via email, some questions about their research.

Extended Abstract of Zagorski and Santana

The growth in the success of populist parties in many developed democracies has prompted a parallel increase in the studies on the electoral sociology of right-wing populist parties (RPP) in Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). However, the relationship between populism and turnout has been understudied in the literature. Existing scholarship fails to clarify whether voting for RPP and abstention are two largely interchangeable outcomes provoked by a common set of factors or two alternative courses of action undertaken by different types of individuals. If the former were true, RPP might be a corrective for democracy in terms of closing the representational gap for citizens whose preferences are unmet by the political supply of other parties. Thus, RPP might manage to reduce the existent political inequalities in political participation. This paper aims at examining the sociodemographic characteristics of those who vote for RPP and those who abstain, in comparison to those who cast their ballots for other parties. As education reduces the propensity of both voting for RPP and of abstention, we focus on explaining when low levels of education lead to voice (voting for RPP) and when do they increase the chances of exit (abstention). We estimate multinomial logistic regression models using cross-sectional data of the 2014 European Elections Study for 9 CEE countries. This approach enables us to show that education affects RPP voting and abstention differently. We find that, after taking into account anti-immigration attitudes and Euroscepticism, education has no independent effect on RPP support. Moreover, anti-immigrant and anti-EU attitudes do not mobilize highly educated citizens to cast a ballot for RPP. We also show that, although RPP are successful in drawing the low educated and anti-immigrant or Eurosceptic citizens to the polls, many of them choose to stay home on the election day.

Interview with Piotr Zagorski

The research co-authored with Andrés Santana that you presented at the Politics and Inequality conference was on voting for right wing populist parties in Central and Eastern Europe. How did you get interested in this topic? And how is this topic connected to other research that you are doing?

Nowadays it is quite hard to avoid to study populism in Political Science. Due to a remarkable number of papers presented on this topic during the last ECPR (European Consortium for Political Research) General Conference in Hamburg, the joke was that it should be renamed as “European Consortium for Populism Research”. Given the recent surge of populist parties and candidates around the world, it does not come as a surprise that political scientists try to understand and explain this phenomenon. From my own perspective, as I come from Poland, my interest in right-wing populist parties (RPP) in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is obviously related to the success of Law and Justice and its consequences for democracy in my homeland.

As we point out in the paper, research linking RPP voting with electoral turnout is scarce, especially for CEE. Both Andrés and I are passionate about studying electoral turnout. Andrés wrote his dissertation on the rational calculus of voting, and he is also one of the supervisors of my dissertation on electoral turnout in CEE. In this paper, we wanted to assess the connections between turnout and voting for populist parties. The rationale behind it was to see whether RPP can have a corrective effect on democracy, by reducing some of the political inequalities produced by the distinct levels of electoral participation among citizens with different social profiles. To put it differently: can voting for RPP and abstention be considered as two alternative courses of action (voice or exit, respectively) for citizens who do not find non-populist parties as attractive options?

Continue reading “Interview with Piotr Zagorski on Education and Support for Right-wing Populist Parties in Central and Eastern Europe”

Interview with Jan Falkowski on Political Power and Land Inequality in Poland

Jan Falkowski, of the University of Warsaw, Poland, recently presented a paper, “Do Political and Economic Inequalities Go Together? Mayors’ Turnover, Elite Families and the Distribution of Agricultural Land” at the Politics and Inequality conference held in Warsaw, Poland.

Jan Falkowski is an Assistant Professor with the University of Warsaw, Faculty of Economic Sciences, Chair of Political Economy. His primary research interests are in the impact of institutions and politics on economic processes, and the reciprocal influence of economic conditions on institutional environment and political life. His paper, “Promoting Change or Preserving the Status Quo? The Consequences of Dominating Local Politics By Agricultural Interests” was published in Land Use Policy (2017), and his paper with Grażyna Bukowska  and Piotr Wójcik, “The Political Power of Large‐Scale Farmers and Land Inequality: Some Evidence from Poland,” was just published by Sociologia Ruralis (2018).

Interview with Jan Falkowski

The research you presented at the Politics and Inequality conference was on the economic impact of the distribution of political power. How did you get interested in this topic? And how is this topic connected to other research that you are doing?

The interlinkage between  political and economic power has always been of interest to me. Looking at the connection between political and economic inequalities seemed to me as a natural consequence of studying the former relationship since the distribution of power and the distribution of resources (be it political or economic) are closely related.

In this paper, you use an original dataset. Please briefly describe these data and why they are well-suited for your research.

Measuring economic inequality poses some difficulties as people are typically not so willing to share with others detailed information on how much wealth they have. We needed therefore to overcome this problem or, at least, to try to do so. We discovered that it should be possible to achieve this goal by looking at a specific, but coherent, part of the population, namely farmers. What we do in the paper is we take advantage of the fact that in Poland the information on those who received agricultural subsidies is public. So it is possible to gather, at the individual level, the information on how much money a given person received in the form of the so-called direct payments. In the system that Poland uses to subsidize farmers, direct payments are granted to farmers based on a national flat rate per eligible hectare, and – contrary to what we observe in many other EU Member States – they do not depend on the historical reference period. Thus, the distribution of direct payments at the municipality level can serve as a good approximation of land use distribution. This, in turn, can be used to measure the distribution of wealth.  Obviously, the shortcoming is that it can serve as a good approximation of wealth distribution only in rural areas, in which the dependence on agriculture as a source of living is high. In the paper we collate these data with the data on mayors’ turnover which we use as an approximation of political inequality.

 What surprised you most about your research on political power distribution?

The first surprise was to observe that, even though we have good theories describing potential determinants of the distribution of political power or the theories predicting various consequences that the distribution of political power may bring about, actual evidence (especially the quantitative one) on these issues is sparse. The second surprise was that the distribution of political power can have many different impacts also in areas which we typically do not associate so much with the way in which political resources are distributed.

Imagine that you only have a minute or two to tell someone about your paper. What is the main message of your paper that you want people to remember?

With the caveat that this is still ‘work in progress’, the main message would be as follows: in municipalities characterized by a higher levels of political inequality we observe that the most influential families are able to amass disproportionately large amount of land.

What’s the next step for your research on this topic?

The next step is to better understand the origins of political inequality and in particular to link it to the functioning of informal institutions as measured by (the changes in) religious behavior.

Please list two of your recent favorite articles or books in the field of politics and inequality, and why you chose them.

One could be Pablo Querubin’s work on political dynasties in Philippines and the other one the work by Michael Albertus on land reforms and land inequality. Both of them use fantastic datasets and very sound empirical methods to uncover new things about the way in which politics and economics interact with each other.

What’s an older article or book in the field of politics and inequality that you like, and why?

I think one can find a lot of inspirations from reading Albert O Hirschman. The relatively recently edited book by Princeton University Press entitled “The Essential Hirschman” could be a good reading I believe.

The interview was conducted via email by Joshua K. Dubrow, who also edited this piece, including the embedding of web links. This work was funded in part by the National Science Centre, Poland (2016/23/B/HS6/03916).

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