Jan W. van Deth, Martin Elff
Politicisation and Political Interest in Europe: A Multi-Level Approach

Mannheimer Zentrum für Europäische Sozialforschung: Arbeitspapiere; 36
ISSN: 1437-8574

Political interest of citizens usually is depicted as an individual attribute that can be explained by referring to the resources and skills of the people concerned. The analyses presented here are based on a critical assessment of the explanatory power of these approaches in cross-national and longitudinal comparisons. Instead, a contextual model is presented emphasising the relevance of distinct degrees of politicisation in different societal settings in addition to the traditional socio-demographic factors (education, age, and gender) at the micro-level. The resulting multi-level model combines both individual and contextual factors to explain the cross-national differences and changes in political involvement and apathy in Europe in the last three decades. The politicisation thesis, which states that the level of political interest among citizens is a positive and monotonous function of the relevance of societal and political arrangements in a society, is not supported by the empirical findings presented here. The most noteworthy conclusion is the remarkable disappearance of the impact of societal politicisation when the level of socio-economic development of each country is included in multi-level models. The level of political interest, then, depends on the level of socio-economic development.