This article examines how citizens categorize political activities and investigates to what extent, and how, the modes of activities that citizens engage in relate to the activities they consider to be political. Our analyses, relying on an online survey organized by YouGov in 2014 among a representative sample of British citizens (N = 1859), indicate that citizens categorize political activities along party and non-party lines. While a broad consensus exists about the extent to which party activities can be categorized as being political, this is less the case for non-party modes of participation. Furthermore, regression analyses reveal that citizens who participate in non-party activities are significantly more likely to consider both party activities and non-party activities to be political than those who do not engage in such activities. Those engaging in party-related activities are also slightly more likely to consider non-party activities to be political than those not participating in party activities.
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There was a considerable upswing in Labour party membership in 2015 in response to changes to the party’s membership rules. Our data are, however, unaffected by this change as it was collected in 2014.
While other structures are possible [for example, the extent to which the activities are collective versus individual or according to levels of policy-making (supranational vs national vs. local politics)], here we focus on these three structures as they relate to the distinctions most commonly made in the literature investigating the expansion and broadening of political activities (e.g. Best and Krueger 2005; Dalton 2008; Gibson and Cantijoch 2013; Hooghe and Oser 2015; Marsh and Kaase 1979; Oser et al. 2013).
YouGov maintains a panel of over 360,000 British adults who have signed up voluntarily to become a panel member. It invites panel members who fulfil the demographic requirements of the survey to participate in a survey, thereby using targeted quota sampling. More information about YouGov and its approach can be found on the organization’s website: http://research.yougov.co.uk.
The number of respondents does differ for the two dependent variables (the two sum scales measuring the likelihood of considering activities as being political) in our analyses presented below.
While this list includes a wide variety of activities, including both online and offline, and party and non-party activities, ideally we would have included a more diverse list of ‘new’ forms of political engagement. However, due to funding and survey length restrictions, we were limited to including the twelve items presented.
A promax rotated factor analysis revealed similar results.
The correlation between both the two sum scales is .23.
Standing in local and national elections are not included given that the number of respondents participating in such activities is very low.
We did not conduct an exploratory factor analysis on these political participation measures because of their underlying dichotomous nature.
A principal component analysis was not appropriate for this scale as this method of analysis is designed for interval data. Therefore, a Mokken analysis was conducted on the non-party activities. The results showed that non-party activity can be conceived of as a uni-dimensional measure (all of the H coefficients were above .3), with individual items ranging from ‘easy’ or low-cost activities to ‘harder’ or higher-cost activities.
GCSEs are the standard qualifications taken by 16 year olds in the UK.
A-levels are usually taken by 18 year olds and are the standard entry qualifications for university degrees.
These are compressed social grades based on the National Readership Survey scale, which includes an assessment of occupation. The grades range from A, which includes higher managerial positions, to E, which includes casual workers and the unemployed. Thus, our dichotomous variable is coded as 0 for ABC1, representing the more professional and highly paid occupations, and 1 for C2DE, representing the more manual and casual occupations. More information can be found at: http://www.nrs.co.uk/nrs-print/lifestyle-and-classification-data/social-grade/.
The effect of participation in political party activities is not significant, even when identification with a political party is not included as a control variable.
Given the significant effect of age and the known difference in which young and older people engage in politics (with younger people being more likely to participate in non-traditional, non-party ways than older people) we explored possible interactions between age and participation. The analyses (not presented but available upon request) revealed that voting affects the likelihood of considering non-party activities as being political more positively among younger compared with older respondents. No significant interaction between age and the different ways of participation was found for the extent to which party-related activities were considered as being political.
It is important to note here that the respondents older than 65 in our sample may be atypical of their age and generation as they are accessing the survey online.
For the continuous explanatory variable participation in non-party activities, probabilities were calculated for the scores 0, .5 and 1, which refer to no, medium and high levels of participation in non-party activities.
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The first author gratefully acknowledges the financial support of Victoria University of Wellington, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2017 General Conference of the European Consortium of Political Research. We would like to thank all participants at the conference panel for their feedback. Finally, we are also grateful to Sam Crawley for his excellent editing work.
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Coffé, H., Campbell, R. Understanding the link between citizens’ political engagement and their categorization of ‘political’ activities. Br Polit 15, 291–310 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41293-019-00116-5
- Political engagement
- Categorisation of political activities
- Public opinion
- Party activities
- Non-party activities