Jan W. van Deth, Martin Elff
Politicisation, economic development, and political interest in Europe

European Journal of Political Research, 2004: 43, issue 3, p. 477-508
ISSN: 0304-4130

Political interest is usually depicted as an individual attribute that can be explained by referring to the resources and skills of citizens. The analyses presented here are based on a critical assessment of the explanatory power of these approaches in cross-national and longitudinal comparisons. A contextual model is presented emphasising the relevance of distinct degrees of politicisation and economic development in different societies in addition to traditional sociodemographic factors (education, date of birth and gender) at the microlevel. The resulting multilevel 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 an increasing 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 economic development of each country is included in multilevel models. The level of political interest, then, clearly depends on the level of economic development.