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Congruence and Political Participation – Does the Discrepancy Between the Elite's and the Public's Ideology Come at the Cost of Reduced Participation?

Balazs Feher-Gavra, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Why do some people choose to engage in politics while others opt out? My core thesis is that two features of contemporary politics have a detrimental impact on participation in the electorate. The first of these two features is the discrepancy between the political agenda of the individual (what issues they consider important) and that of the political ruling class. The second stems from work suggesting that the conservative-liberal dimension represents the structure behind the issue stances of the political elite well; but that the same is not quite true for the general population (e.g. Carmines, Ensley, and Wagner 2011). Misrepresented citizens – whose views don’t align with the conservative-liberal dimension – are more likely to turn away from politics to the detriment of the process of democratic representation. I tested my hypotheses in models of increasing complexity using four preexisting datasets (generally including more representative data and boasting a larger N, providing 20 multivariate models in total) as well as three compiled exclusively for purposes of this dissertation – adding 9 models and a set of highly relevant variables at the cost of representativeness. The positive role of agenda congruence in predicting participation is not supported by empirical findings, although further analysis of sample characteristics calls into question the validity of this result and points to an interesting direction for future research. The relationship between ideological congruence and ‘traditional’ means of political engagement (encompassing a range of activities from campaign contributions through contacting officials to participation in boycotts and active support of NGOs) is robust, although ideological congruence appears unrelated to voting and online participation. These results call for the introduction of ideological incongruence into public as well as scholarly discourse, especially with respect to its negative ramifications regarding political participation and representation.

Subject Area

Political science

Recommended Citation

Feher-Gavra, Balazs, "Congruence and Political Participation – Does the Discrepancy Between the Elite's and the Public's Ideology Come at the Cost of Reduced Participation?" (2017). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10272005.