Trends in Political Action: The Developmental Trend and the Post-Honeymoon Decline

By Inglehart, Ronald; Catterberg, Gabriela | International Journal of Comparative Sociology, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Trends in Political Action: The Developmental Trend and the Post-Honeymoon Decline


Inglehart, Ronald, Catterberg, Gabriela, International Journal of Comparative Sociology


This type of elite-challenging actions also played an important part in the Third Wave of democratization--but after the transition to democracy, most of the new democracies subsequently experienced a post-honeymoon phase of disillusionment with democracy, in which direct political action declined. This paper analyzes data from more than 70 countries containing more than 80 percent of the world's population, interpreting the long-term dynamics of elite-challenging political participation in both established democracies and new democracies. Our interpretation implies that the current decline in direct political action in the new democracies is a "post-honeymoon "period effect; in the long fin, we expect that elite-challenging activity will move on an upward trajectory in most of the new democracies, as has been the case in virtually all established democracies.

The Rise of "Unconventional Political Participation"

More than 25 years ago, Inglehart (1977:5, 317-321) predicted declining rates of elite-directed political mobilization and rising rates of elite-challenging political behavior among Western publics. One source of change was the intergenerational shift from Materialist to Postmaterialist values: Materialists tend to be preoccupied with satisfying immediate physiological needs, while Postmaterialists feel relatively secure about these needs and have a greater amount of psychic energy to invest in more remote concerns. Noting that, throughout advanced industrial societies, the younger birth cohorts also have higher levels of political skills than older cohorts, he concluded that the processes of value change and cognitive mobilization tend to go together: the publics of these societies are coming to place increasing value on self-expression, and their rising levels of skills enable them to participate in politics at a higher level, increasingly shaping specific decisions rather than simply entrusting them to mor e skilled minorities. Subsequently, analyzing data on elite-challenging political action, Inglehart (1990) found:

Postmaterialists are more likely to engage in unconventional political protest than are Materialists. Moreover, one's values interact with cognitive mobilization in such a way that at high levels of cognitive mobilization, the differences between value types are magnified considerably... Among those with Materialist values and low levels of cognitive mobilization, only 12 per cent have taken part, or are willing to take part in a boycott or more difficult activity. Among Postmaterialists with high levels of cognitive mobilization, 74 per cent have done so or are ready to do. The process of cognitive mobilization seems to be increasing the potential for elite-directing political action among Western publics. Pp. 361-362

This prediction may seem surprising because, as everyone knows, voter turnout has been declining throughout advanced industrial societies. But partisan loyalties and party organizations were the main reason for the high electoral turnout of earlier years. Hence, we find two divergent trends: on one hand, the bureaucratized and elite-directed forms of participation such as voting and party membership have declined; while the individually-motivated and elite-challenging forms of participation have risen.

Similarly, Barnes, Kaase et al. (1979) predicted the spread of what was then called "Unconventional Political Participation." They developed a set of scales to measure both "conventional" political action, such as voting and writing one's representative in parliament; and "unconventional" forms of political action, such as demonstrations, boycotts and occupation of buildings. Finding that the latter forms of behavior were strongly correlated with Postmaterialist values, and were much more prevalent among younger birth cohorts than among the old, they predicted that "unconventional" political action would become more widespread. …

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