English title: Economic grievances and political protest
Author(s): Thomas Kurer - Silja Häusermann - Bruno Wüest - Matthias Enggist -
Type: Journal article
How do economic grievances affect citizens’ inclination to protest? Given rising levels of inequality and widespread economic hardship the Great Recession has brought over many citizens in advanced capitalist democracies, 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. In this article, it is argued 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 until 2012, as well as newly collected data on political protest in 28 European countries, the article first shows that a novel, more fine-grained conceptualisation of objective economic grievances considerably improves understanding of the direct link between economic grievances on protest behaviour. While structural economic disadvantage (i.e., the level of grievances) unambiguously demobilises 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. The article concludes that 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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Journal: European Journal of Political Research