The influence of various measures of health on different types of political participation

The question of why, when, and how individuals participate in the political process is probably one of the most important questions in Political Science. Alongside more traditional reasons, such as money, time and civic skills, an individual’s health has become a prominent explanation for voting. There is near consensus in the literature that poor health hampers an individual’s likelihood to vote.  Yet, the influence of poor health on other forms of political action seems to be more complex.

In a recent article in Politics, we try to disentangle if it matters how we measure poor health. In detail, we ask the following research question: does the relationship between individual health and political involvement depend on how we assess poor health?

To answer this question, we distinguish two health indicators – self reported health and being hampered by illness in daily activity – and test both indicators’ relationship with different forms of political engagement. Using data from the European Social Survey (ESS) (2014; N=35000), we receive a nuanced picture about the relationship between different health indicators and different forms of political participation.

When it comes to voting, things are quite straightforward – regardless how we measure health, individuals in poor health are less likely to vote. In contrast, the effect of either of the two health measures on the six other types of political participation – contacting a politician, signing a petition, participating in a boycott, wearing a campaign badge, being a member of a political party and contacting a politician – is more nuanced. For one, self-reported health does not have any relevant relationship with any of these types of political activities. However, the second health indicator, being hampered by illness in daily activity shows a positive, albeit small, relationship with most of these forms of political participation: individuals, who feel hampered by illness in daily activity have a slightly higher likelihood to contact a politician, sign a petition, wearing a campaign badge and boycotting.

Conceptually, this implies that we have to be explicit in what health indicator we use and justify it. It might be possible that individuals with an objective physical or mental ailment vote less, because they think that they cannot achieve anything through voting. However, they might think that they could achieve some of their goals such as an appropriate health care and social protection system through other means of political participation such as boycotting. Future studies should confirm this conjecture.

Daniel Stockemer

Daniel Stockemer

Daniel Stockemer is an Associate Professor in the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa. His main research interests are political participation, political representation, right-wing extremism in Europe, as well as quantitative and qualitative research methods. Since becoming a professor in 2010, Dr. Stockemer has published 2 single authored book, 1 edited volume and more than 75 articles in peer reviewed journals. He is co-editor of European Political Science (EPS), the professional journal of European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR). In 2015, he was also the local organizer of the annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association.

Carolin Rapp

Carolin Rapp

Carolin Rapp is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Department of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen. Her research interest lies at the intersection between Political Sociology, Political Psychology, and Social Policy Research. Among others, Carolin’s research has appeared in the European Political Science Review, Social Science Research, Political Studies, and the Journal of European Social Policy.

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