This study examines the association between self-reported health and the propensity for supporting citizens’ initiatives in Finland. Democratic innovations such as the citizens’ initiative provide novel ways for citizens to express their preferences, but whether people in poor health make use of such possibilities remains unclear. The data come from the Finnish National Election Study (FNES2015), a cross-sectional representative sample of the Finnish population. The results suggest that self-reported health affects the propensity to sign citizens’ initiatives, but the effect depends on age since it mobilizes young citizens in poor health, whereas the impact on older generations is negligible.
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The requirements and procedures for citizens’ initiatives vary between countries. The most important requirement concerns the number of signatures required for submitting a citizens’ initiative, which depends on the size of the population, but also the type of initiative since the thresholds are usually greater for full-scale initiatives. The percentages required vary from 50,000 (0.1% of the electorate) for an agenda initiative in Italy to 300,000 (11.4% of the electorate) for a full-scale initiative in Lithuania (Schiller and Setälä 2012b: 248–249).
The 50,000 signatures equal 0.9% of the total population or 1.1% of those eligible to vote/support, which is in line with what we see on other countries (Schiller and Setälä 2012b, 248–249). The requirements depend on both the size of the population and type of initiative and vary from 50,000 (0.1% of the electorate) for an agenda initiative in Italy to 300,000 (11.4% of the electorate) for a full-scale initiative in Lithuania.
The signatures for the first initiative where Parliament made a decision, an initiative to ban fur farming in Finland, were mainly collected on paper since www.kansalaisaloite.fi was still not launched.
For more information on FNES2015, see: https://services.fsd.uta.fi/catalogue/FSD3067?study_language=en.
We replicated the results with a three-fold categorical variable measuring health with similar substantive results. The main difference was that the interaction effect between age and health was not significant at a 0.05 threshold, but plotting the results showed that the substantive implications were similar.
We also tested a dummy coding of this variable where respondents were grouped into good health and bad health. Since the substantive implications were similar we do not report these results.
We tried to include age-squared to test whether the association between age and supporting citizens’ initiatives is curvilinear (Mattila et al. 2013). The coefficient for the term was not significant (B = −3.53, p = 0.172), and the substantive interpretations were unaffected, and therefore, we do not report these results.
To see how the mobilizing effect of the citizens’ initiative compares to other political activities, we ran models explaining other types of participation. The results how that the effect of health on signing citizens’ initiative (B = 1.45, SE = .36, p < 0.000) is greater than for voting (B = −.55, SE = .46, p = 0.234), party activity (B = −.06, SE = .51, p = 0.905), contacting (B = −.11, SE = .41, p = 0.781), demonstrating (B = −.65, SE = .62, p = 0.294) and signing petitions (B = .81, SE = .34, p = 0.016). The only other activity to reach significance and with a similar magnitude to the one found for the citizens’ initiative is signing petitions, which shares obvious similarities with the act of signing a citizens’ initiative. This suggests that the citizens’ initiative does success in mobilizing people not attracted to other forms of participation.
No significant interaction effects existed between self-reported health and the other individual-level characteristics.
The marginal effects of health as a function of age show a positive effect for younger citizens, which deteriorates as people grow older. The effect becomes insignificant after the age of 57 and negative (not significant) after 72 years.
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A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2017 ECPR Joint Sessions in Nottingham, workshop “Health and Political Behavior”. The authors would like to thank all the participants. The research was funded by Academy of Finland, grant number 274305 (Democratic Reasoning) and 285167 (Democratic innovations in Finland and political legitimacy).
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Christensen, H.S., Setälä, M. & Jäske, M. Self-reported health and democratic innovations: the case of the citizens’ initiative in Finland. Eur Polit Sci 18, 291–308 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41304-018-0167-6
- Democratic innovations
- Citizens’ initiative
- Political participation