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Thursday 16th July, 16:00 - 17:30 Room: N-132

How to measure political participation?

Convenor Dr Christina Eder (GESIS )
Coordinator 1Professor Isabelle Stadelmann-steffen (Universität Bern)

Session Details

Political participation is the heart of modern democracy. From voting to writing to one’s representative, wearing a badge, becoming a party member, attending a demonstration to boycotting a product or occupying a building, each citizen has various opportunities to voice her opinion. Hence, there is a correspondingly rich literature on all kinds of political participation. Yet, (comparative) researchers in this area are often faced by at least one of the following challenges: a) relevant questions are not included in the survey program(s) one employs or the question wording varies across surveys, countries and/or time. This is particularly true for the more unconventional, elite-challenging and bottom-up forms of citizen involvement. b) Cross-national surveys encounter the difficulty of some kinds of participation, like ‘signing a petition’ for instance, meaning different things in different countries. c) Survey responses might be biased by social desirability, with the participants tending to claim that they have used more means than they actually did.

The proposed session is a forum to discuss and evaluate ways to deal with these challenges from different perspectives. It strives to bring together primary investigators, data collectors and users of secondary data. We therefore welcome papers investigating the above mentioned aspects from a theoretical or methodological angle as well as manuscripts using a more applied or experimental approach.

Paper Details

1. Behind the Scenes of Usual Answers: Refining the Measurement of Intensity and Range of Political Participation
Dr Eva-maria Trüdinger (University of Stuttgart)
Mr Uwe Remer-bollow (University of Stuttgart)

Considering the frequency of participation and taking into account single-issue vs. plurality participation might challenge previous reports and explanatory models of political participation (with yes/no answers for different forms of participation). This paper will be based on data from an online survey conducted in spring 2015. It will use a well-established measure of participation and complement the items by a follow-up question on frequency and topic variety. Since item wording and response categories potentially give rise to biased reporting of participation, we will check for social desirability effects, making use of four experimental variations.

2. Measuring Political Participation in Europe: a cross-national and longitudinal equivalence assessment
Mr André Pirralha (RECSM - Universitat Pompeu Fabra)

Most comparative studies about political participation leave unattended the crucial question of whether their measures can actually be compared. However, we know that meaningful comparisons across countries can only be achieved when measurement equivalence or “invariance” is established. Using data from the ESS, we test the cross-national equivalence of political participation measures in the European context. We go a step further by not only assessing measurement invariance between countries, but also within countries, across the six available time points. We rely on Mokken Scale Analysis to build cross-national and longitudinal measurement equivalent models of political participation.

3. A Validation Study on Voter Turnout Bias in Switzerland
Professor Ben Jann (University of Bern)
Mr Simon Hugi (University of Bern)

Surveys on voting behavior typically overestimate turnout rates substantially. To disentangle different sources of bias - coverage error, nonresponse bias, and overreporting - we conducted a validation study in which respondents' self-reported voting behavior was compared to administrative voting records (N = 2000). Our results show that all three sources of error inflate the survey estimate of the turnout rate and also bias estimates from political participation models, although coverage error is only moderate compared to the more pronounced biases due to nonresponse and overreporting. Furthermore, results from a wording experiment do not provide evidence that revised wording reduces measurement bias.

4. Different questions, different answers, same results? The measurement of political participation in German surveys
Dr Christina Eder (GESIS Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences)

A politically active citizenry is the core requirement of a modern democracy, and consequently, we find a number of items measuring how people get involved in almost every political survey. Given that the possibilities of participation are numerous and that questionnaires are designed by different researchers with different backgrounds and agendas at different points in time, we do not expect to find a standard in measuring political participation, not even in one single country, in this case Germany. Our aim is to detect best practice-questions in measuring political participation in Germany to help us improve research in this field.

5. Taking turns at the ballot box. Selective participation as a new perspective on low turnout
Mr Clau Dermont (University of Bern)

Participation research on voting usually considers only one vote or election and therefore separates the citizens in participants and absentees. Consequently, low turnout is often discussed to mean that citizens are either not interested in or fed up with the political system. This paper argues that this cross-sectional perspective severely underestimates political participation particularly in political entities where citizens are regularly asked to vote in direct democratic ballot measures. Taking into account not just one but 15 ballot decisions simultaneously the paper demonstrates that a majority of citizens participates only selectively and therefore voluntarily chooses to abstain.