Measuring Political Participation in Southern Europe: The Varieties of Democracy Approach
Most schools of democratic theory consider political participation to have a positive impact in deepening democracy. Political participation makes democracies more accountable and freer, as well as creating more engaged, civic minded and public spirited citizens. It has been observed that in regimes where citizens lack capacity for self-organization and political engagement this contributes to a lower quality of their democratic regimes and institutions. Moreover, this connection is even more vital in democratizing settings and new democracies, like the Southern European countries of Portugal, Spain, and Greece. Research has shown that in democracies that emerged after a long experience of authoritarianism there will be a lower capacity for mobilization of citizens. Democratic regimes may became established, with the minimal requirements (freedom of the press, civil and political liberties, a functioning party system, free and fair elections), but they will have a lower quality because there will be very weak attachments of citizens to its institutions. After the euphoria of participation during the transition, desencanto (disenchantment, disappointment) settles in, estranging citizen’s from the democratic process. Contrary to older democracies, where political participation tended to grow steadily after the transition and for decades, in new democracies the high levels of participation of the transition give place to very weak levels of participation. Even more troubling, new democracies are also characterized by strong inequalities in participation, which affect especially popular groups and the poor, but also the middle classes.