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Economic grievances and political protest


Kurer, Thomas; Häusermann, Silja; Wüest, Bruno; Enggist, Matthias (2019). Economic grievances and political protest. European Journal of Political Research, 58(3):866-892.

Abstract

How do economic grievances affect citizens’ inclination to protest? Given rising levels of inequality and widespread economic hardship in the aftermath of the Great Recession, this question is crucial for political science: if adverse economic conditions depress citizens’ engagement, as many contributions have argued, then the economic crisis may well feed into a crisis of democracy. However, the existing research on the link between economic grievances and political participation remains empirically inconclusive. It is argued in this article that this is due to two distinct shortcomings, which are effectively addressed by combining the strengths of political economy and social movement theories. Based on ESS and EU‐SILC data from 2006–2012, as well as newly collected data on political protest in 28 European countries, a novel, more fine‐grained conceptualisation of objective economic grievances considerably improves our understanding of the direct link between economic grievances and protest behaviour. While structural economic disadvantage (i.e., the level of grievances) unambiguously de‐mobilises individuals, the deterioration of economic prospects (i.e., a change in grievances) instead increases political activity. Revealing these two countervailing effects provides an important clarification that helps reconcile many seemingly conflicting findings in the existing literature. Second, the article shows that the level of political mobilisation substantially moderates this direct link between individual hardship and political activity. In a strongly mobilised environment, even structural economic disadvantage is no longer an impediment to political participation. There is a strong political message in this interacting factor: if the presence of organised and visible political action is a decisive signal for citizens that conditions the micro‐level link between economic grievances and protest, then democracy itself – that is, organised collective action – can help sustain political equality and prevent the vicious circle of democratic erosion.

Abstract

How do economic grievances affect citizens’ inclination to protest? Given rising levels of inequality and widespread economic hardship in the aftermath of the Great Recession, this question is crucial for political science: if adverse economic conditions depress citizens’ engagement, as many contributions have argued, then the economic crisis may well feed into a crisis of democracy. However, the existing research on the link between economic grievances and political participation remains empirically inconclusive. It is argued in this article that this is due to two distinct shortcomings, which are effectively addressed by combining the strengths of political economy and social movement theories. Based on ESS and EU‐SILC data from 2006–2012, as well as newly collected data on political protest in 28 European countries, a novel, more fine‐grained conceptualisation of objective economic grievances considerably improves our understanding of the direct link between economic grievances and protest behaviour. While structural economic disadvantage (i.e., the level of grievances) unambiguously de‐mobilises individuals, the deterioration of economic prospects (i.e., a change in grievances) instead increases political activity. Revealing these two countervailing effects provides an important clarification that helps reconcile many seemingly conflicting findings in the existing literature. Second, the article shows that the level of political mobilisation substantially moderates this direct link between individual hardship and political activity. In a strongly mobilised environment, even structural economic disadvantage is no longer an impediment to political participation. There is a strong political message in this interacting factor: if the presence of organised and visible political action is a decisive signal for citizens that conditions the micro‐level link between economic grievances and protest, then democracy itself – that is, organised collective action – can help sustain political equality and prevent the vicious circle of democratic erosion.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Political Science
Dewey Decimal Classification:320 Political science
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Sociology and Political Science
Uncontrolled Keywords:sociology and political science, protest, participation, economic grievances, deprivation, political mobilisation
Language:English
Date:August 2019
Deposited On:07 Aug 2019 13:07
Last Modified:29 Jul 2020 11:08
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:0304-4130
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-6765.12318
Project Information:
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant ID100017_146104
  • : Project TitleYears of Turmoil: The Political Consequences of the Financial and Economic Crisis in Europe

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