Alexander Wuttke
Political engagement’s non-political roots: examining the role of basic psychological needs in the political domain

Motivation and Emotion, 2020: 44, issue 1, pp. 135-150
ISSN: 0146-7239 (print), 0146-7239 (online)

For the functioning of democratic societies, it is a crucial question why some citizens value or even enjoy political engagement while others hardly bother about politics at all. However, despite scholarly agreement on the relevance of childhood experiences, the early causes of varying inclinations for volitional political engagement remain largely unidentified. Arguing for the relevance of non-political factors, this study theorizes the role of basic psychological needs in shaping proclivities for political engagement. Specifically, this study hypothesizes that children who grow up in need-supportive parental homes will be more inclined to engage with politics decades later. Findings from two independent representative cohort studies (N = 5927, N = 6158) suggest that need-supportive parenting stimulates the development of curiosity and appreciation towards politics. Moreover, need-supportive parenting interacts with social learning processes in stimulating political engagement. Providing insights into the promotion of political engagement, these findings underscore the importance of factors seemingly remote to the political domain but deeply engrained in human processes of psychosocial functioning.