Protests in ‘new’ democracies about ‘stolen elections’, demonstrations in ‘old’ democracies against austerity measures, occupied squares all over the world against inequality and for better governance. Some argue that contentious politics gains importance and party politics declines. Is that so and why would that be? Why is it that some individuals engage in politics while others remain apathetic? Why is it that some citizens take the electoral route, while others engage in contentious politics? The truth is that we do not really know. Citizens who are actively involved in politics are an asset to democracy and studying political participation is therefore important. Understanding how and why people take part in politics would help to build more democratic societies.

In the current scientific literature, some debate exists about the relation between contentious (e.g. protest) and non-contentious (e.g. voting) politics. The proposed project compares both forms of participation in various countries within a single theoretical and methodological framework. A central tenet of this research proposal is that sooner or later every citizen might get involved in politics. Motivations for this can be found in the interplay of dynamics at the individual, the organizational, and the societal level. What are the motives people have? What are the appeals parties and movement organizations disseminate; and what are the opportunities and constraints regimes impose?

The project encompasses four subprojects:

  • a meta-analysis of publications on movement and party politics combined 
  • comparisons of political participation over time and countries in existing global survey data 
  • focus group discussions to understand the formation of political engagement and disengagement in ‘old’ democracies, post-communist ‘new’, and post-authoritarian ‘new’ democracies. 
  • experimental focused surveys among 1000 respondents to quantify patterns of political participation in the same countries.

Our research is not only comparative with regards to different forms of political participation, it also allows for comparison between different countries. Both the focus groups and experimental focused surveys will be conducted in nine countries: the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, England, Hungary, Romania, Greece, Brazil, and Argentina.

The project takes place from 2014 until 2018. The principal investigator is prof. dr. Klandermans from the VU University Amsterdam. Meet our entire research team.