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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Inequality in Political Participation: Contemporary Patterns in European Countries


The fact that social stratification factors are closely related to different levels of political participation is a classical issue that has relevant normative as well as explanatory implications for the study of participation. However, in the shift from the industrial to the information or knowledge society some patterns in that respect may be changing. This paper explores the effect of various possible sources of inequality on political participation (gender, age, social class, education, income, ethnicity, and working status) on four political activities, using data from the European Social Survey for 22 European countries. The frequency, consistency, and the mode specific patterns of the observed differences are taken into account to discuss which of these factors can be considered genuine sources of inequality. Overall, age and education emerge as the most widespread causes of distortion, while gender, membership in minorities, and occupational variables are less clearly related to participation. In conventional activity the differences are more predictable in the direction of the disadvantage, while demonstrators can be in some respects both under- and overrepresented among disadvantaged citizens. Finally, the fact that socio-economic inequalities in turnout are unambiguously visible in most European countries stands in sharp contrast with past research and deserves further attention.

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