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Political Involvement in Transition.



Who Participated in Central and Eastern, Europe?


Using surveys conducted in 1991, we find that western individual-level models of participation also largely apply to Eastern Europe during the early transition. In the post-communist states, we find that youth, experienced political injustice, post-materialism and anti-socialist beliefs were important determinants of political protest participation and party sympathy, but not of the decision to vote in the first elections. This may have contributed to divisions in these countries such that elites promoted market-oriented reforms, and the public responded with "left-turns" in subsequent elections.


THE STUDY OF political participation is a longstanding interest in western social science. In one tradition, who participates is analyzed in the context of normative theories of democracy, with questions about the extent of political participation and the consequences for democracy of the kinds of selective participation that prevail in different societies (Barnes, Kaase et al., 1979; Verba, Nie and Kim, 1978). In a second tradition the question of who participates is lodged in the context of the broader study of social movements and social change (Opp, 1989). In both traditions, research has focused on participation and political action in western countries, primarily in North America and West Europe.

Historically, there has been little empirical analysis by either tradition of participation in the communist or the post-communist states. From the communist era, this lacuna was a result both of skimpy data on political attitudes and behavior and, to the extent that such data were available, their relative insignificance in societies where political participation was both limited and controlled. Research on political participation in Eastern Europe is now beginning to appear, but it usually focuses on only one or two states, typically Russia (Bahry and Way, 1994; McAllister and White, 1994) or on electoral behavior alone (Rose, 1995; Wade, Groth and Lavelle, 1994). We lack a comparative picture of broader political participation among the publics of the several Eastern European states, and between the "east" and western democracies.

We present research in this paper contributing to an east-west comparative picture of political participation. We use 1991 survey data from the International Social Justice Project (ISIP) to analyze how well individual-level models developed in the western context apply to political participation in Central and Eastern Europe during the early transition.

Participation in the Early Transition Context

In this paper, we focus on the early transition period of 1988-91 in the post-communist states: with 1988 marking the beginning of the end of the communist regimes in the region, and 1991 the year in which our survey was conducted. It was during this period that communist governments collapsed, new governments were formed, and the first set of democratic elections were held.

Numerous scholars have contributed to developing two major perspectives on how individual-level factors shape political participation in research on western countries: the "standard socio-economic model," and the rational choice or rational actor model (Leighley, 1995; Whiteley, 1995). Eastern Europe during the early transition period provides a strong case for testing if these western models hold more generally across industrialized countries. First, western models have been tested in eras of affluence and political stability, limiting the range and intensity of personal dissatisfaction experienced by the general public. Western research may effectively be biased against finding strong effects of personal dissatisfaction. Second, the recent and "spontaneous" nature (Opp and Gern, 1993) of protest activity in Eastern Europe lessens the potential for confounding the effects of socio-economic status and social psychological incentives with political mobilization effects . (cf. Leighley, 1995). For example, the open targeting of more highly educated groups for involvement in protest activities commonly practiced by political organizations in the west, of course, was not possible under authoritarian communist regimes.

On balance, socio-economic and rational actor models suggest low levels of political action in the early transition. The sense of political efficacy given particular emphasis in Value Expectancy Theory was historically low in the post-communist states both before and after 1989 (Hahn, 1995). Anticipated costs of political action also were high. In spite of glasnost and limited democratization, the likelihood of state repression remained high right up to the time that the Communist governments fell. Thus the disincentives to nonconventional participation were high. The rational actor model also points out how difficult, costly, and rare it is for people, even in democratic societies, to challenge the prevailing political and ideological order (Wilson, 1992). This was even more true in the communist party states, where there were no legal alternative political formulations, to those dominated by the communist party. Survey and other evidence suggests that in spite of widespread personal dissatisfaction, key co mponents of "socialist justice" ideology remained popularly held among the publics both in the communist era (Silver, 1987) and afterwards (Kluegel, Mason and Wegener, 1995; McIntosh et al., 1994).

Although it is a matter of some current debate (Finifter, 1996), survey evidence (Bahry, 1987; Mason, 1995) suggests that opposition to the communist political order was concentrated among the young and the highly educated -- the strata of society most clearly likely to benefit from an inegalitarian economic order. In the terms of "Value Expectancy Theory" (Opp, 1989), it is the young and the most highly educated who had the highest levels of public goods motivation and moral incentive to take political action. Accordingly, we expect to find that these same groups have the highest levels of political participation in nonconventional political action.

The publics of post-communist states, of course, had little experience of conventional democratic politics to call on. Nevertheless, there are important questions to be addressed about the influence of sociodemographic and social-psychological factors on voting-related behavior in the transition era. Of particular interest, is the influence of these factors on nascent political party involvement and voting in the first elections. Knowledge about selective participation in electoral activities of the early transition provides a baseline for understanding the political "left-turns" that took place during the early 1990s in Eastern Europe. Socio-economic and rational actor model considerations lead us to expect that party involvement in the transition was shaped in much the same way as nonconventional political action. The party structures of post-communist countries in the early transition were most certainly confusing to the average citizen. In Poland and Hungary, for example, there were dozens of political p arties vying for parliamentary office. Information and other cognitive resources had to be expended to understand how ones own interests coincided with the positions of particular political parties. Moreover, there were disincentives in the early transition for particular parties -- most notably those on the left such as the communist party -- to take an active role in the first elections. This was particularly the case where the new governments pursued or were considering "lustration" policies that threatened to embarrass or punish former members of the communist parties. Accordingly, opportunities to form party attachments were more available for persons with anti-egalitarian or pro-democracy beliefs and values.

The socio-economic and rational actor models suggest that the most common form of political participation, the decision to vote in the early transition years, was not shaped to the same extent by social psychological incentives as party involvement. Voting, Barnes and Kaase (1979: 86) argue is unique among political behaviors, in that it "occurs only rarely, is highly biased by mechanisms of social control and social desirability enhanced by the raindance ritual of campaigning, and does not involve the voter in major informational or other costs." This was particularly the case for voting in the first free elections in the post-communist states, when emotional and patriotic sentiments were so strong. In this light, we expect that voting in the early transition was not subject to the influence of the same incentives and disincentives shaping political party attachment.


We employ data from surveys conducted in eight Central and Eastern European countries: Bulgaria (n = 1,045), Czechoslovakia (n 1,181), Estonia (n = 1,000), (former) East Germany (a = 1,019), Hungary (n = 1,000), Poland (n = 1,542), Russia (n = 1,734), and Slovenia (n = 1,375). To allow cross-system comparison -- between post-communist and western democratic countries -- we also analyze data from two western democracies: (former) West Germany (n = 1,837), and the U.S.A. (n = 1,414). [1] The seine survey was administered in all countries in spring to fall of 1991 (except Estonia where data were collected in the spring of 1992), as part of the International Social Justice Project (ISJP), a broader 13 nation study of public opinion about economic and political justice. [2] Using the same questionnaire and measures in all countries enables us to conduct the first truly comparative analysis of political participation in several Eastern European countries and two major western democracies. Further information about the conduct of these surveys may be obtained from Kluegel, Mason and Wegener (1995).

Country Differences in Political Participation

Non-Electoral Participation

To measure non-electoral or nonconventional political participation we asked respondents to indicate whether or not they had ever done any of a list of ten protest activities, "over an issue of importance." In the post-communist states, any reported protest behavior likely took place during the "revolutionary" period of 1988-1991. The one exception is the mass involvement in the Solidarity protests and demonstrations in Poland in the early 1980s. Thus our measure of political protest involvement almost certainly is measuring participation during a relatively short time before the surveys were conducted in 1991.

The top panel of Table 1 presents the distribution by country of the percent who have ever participated in each of six individual types of non-electoral participation, and of a combination of three of them we label "aggresive" participation. Following Muller's (1979) definition we consider someone to have participated in aggressive participation if she or he has ever joined an unofficial strike or blocked traffic or occupied a building or property in protest. [3] Distinguishing aggressive participation from other kinds of nonconventional political activity is important under the rational action model because of the greater risk involved in the former. Aggressive and "non-aggressive" participation are subject to different risk-reward calculations, and correspondingly may be shaped differently by sociodemographic and social psychological factors.

Two summary measures of non-electoral participation are presented in the far right-hand columns of Table 1. The "Any" column gives the percent who have participated in any one of nine political activities. [4] The "Mean Total Participation" column gives the average number of political activities (out of nine total) in which people ever participated.

As expected, we find a low level of non-electoral political activity in five of the post-communist states. In Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Russia and Slovenia, the large majority of the population had participated in none of the nine forms of non-electoral political activity we consider here ("ANY" in the table). It should be re-emphasized that these questions asked about such activity over the lifetime, so it is apparent that these people were politically inactive both in the communist era, when the regimes encouraged formal political participation, and in the revolutionary one, when thousands of people took to the streets in demonstrations, protests, and rallies. Despite the fact that these countries had just been through revolutionary overthrows of their governments, the overall level of political activity was much less than that in the three western countries in our sample: on average 30% or fewer of the citizens of these five post-communist states had participated iii any of the nine forms of non-electoral political activity, compared to 69% in (former) West Germany and 90% in the U.S. The average person in these post-communist countries had participated in less than one activity, while the average in West Germany is nearly two and in the U.S. nearly three.

The level of non-electoral political action in East Germany and Czechoslovakia (and, to a lesser extent, Bulgaria) is much higher than in the other eastern countries, and approaches the levels of the western countries. [5] The higher levels of participation in these countries, prevail for both overall political activity (Any and Mean Total Participation) and for individual types of participation. Consistent with western models of individual-level participation, however, only small to moderate-sized minorities of the publics in these three countries reported involvement in active forms of participation -- i.e, in activities other than simply signing a petition or attending a public meeting.

Electoral Participation

The bottom panel of Table 1 gives the percents participating in the two kinds of electoral activities measured in the ISJP -- Party Sympathy and Voting in the most recent national election. In most of the post-communist states, less than a third of the respondents sympathized with a particular political party. Only in' Eastern Germany, which had by this time been integrated into the fully formed political structure of the west, did a majority of respondents express such affiliation.

Only with voting do we see widespread democratic participation, with the overwhelming majority of the population in each country voting in the first free or semi-free parliamentary elections in 1989-1991. But self-reported electoral turnout in Poland and Hungary was not much higher than that in the United States and in other post-communist states it was near that of West Germany -- even with the excitement of the first stab at democracy.

Sociodeniographic Characteristics and Participation

Table 2 reports regression results for two types each of non-electoral and electoral participation on sociodemographic characteristics. Because our participation measures are all categorical variables (0,1), logistic regression procedures are employed. The coefficients given in Tables 2 and 4 are "odds multipliers," indicating here the multiplicative change in the odds of having participated in a given kind of political activity for a one unit change in a specific determinant, net of the influence of the other variables (Demaris, 1992). [6]

We focus our analysis of the determinants of non-electoral political activity (panels A and B of Table 2) on protest demonstrations or rallies, and aggressive participation for two reasons. First, these two types of political activity are of most interest to students of social movements. Second, in most post-communist countries, participation in these two types of activities took place within a few year period before the 1991 date of our survey -- primarily in the period from 1988-1991.

The percent taking part in aggressive political activities is small in all countries (Table 1). In four post-communist countries -- East Germany, Estonia, Hungary and Slovenia -- it is too small to reliably support separate regressions of aggressive participation on sociodemographic (and social psychological) variables. We therefore present separate regressions for Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Russia only.

In Table 2, we see very similar patterns across Eastern Europe and two western countries in the sociodemographic patterning of conventional and nonconventional political participation. In spite of enormous "east-west" differences in political stability, institutional longevity, and social conditions, we find that income and status have negligible effects on participation, and education has a high impact. Because our measure of income standing has a subjective base, it likely captures the effect of dissatisfaction with ones economic circumstances as well as the potential effect of economic resources for participation. [7] On average 46 percent of Eastern European respondents (in Russia fully 70 percent of respondents) report that their income is "much less" than needed to get along. In this light, we have strong support for the western model proposition that simple personal dissatisfaction is not sufficient to motivate political participation.

East-west similarities also extend to generational differences. In all the post-communist states, the elderly (those over 60) are markedly less likely to have participated in non-electoral activities than other age groups. In general, the odds of non-electoral participation decline with increasing age in the eastern states. As expected from prior research (Muller, 1979; Opp, 1989), aggressive participation is strongly influenced by age, with those under 30 most likely to engage in such behavior. Consistent with western models of partiticipation, it was young people who were more likely to have engaged in the disruptive strikes and demonstrations of 1989.

In their electoral participation, post-communist youth are following in the footsteps of their western counterparts. While young people were more likely to have participated in non-electoral political action, during the early transition older people were more likely to sympathize with political parties and to vote (Panels C and D of Table 2). This pattern holds for virtually every country in both east and west. As is the case for non-electoral participation, electoral participation increases with education in post-communist and western countries alike.

Social Psychological Factors

We did not attempt to retrospectively measure personal satisfaction with ones standard of living or general life circumstances during the transition years. [8] Rather, to assess how personal dissatisfaction influenced participation, we asked a series of questions about the experience of injustice in different areas. Socio-economic and rational actor models hold that personal dissatisfaction must be seen in an "injustice frame" to affect participation. Barnes and Kaase (1979) and Opp (1989) propose that in addition to being seen in injustice terms, a deprivation must be attributed to the actions of political authorities if political action is to result. Perceived political injustice, also relates to the experience of political repression, which has been shown to motivate increased participation (Opp and Gern, 1993). Correspondingly, we focus on the perceived experience of political injustice.

In addition, we employ measures of four other social psychological factors. The first measure, egalitarian statism, averages scores on four items indicating support for egalitarian principles of distribution and support for government intervention to reduce inequality. We constructed this measure to gauge dissatisfaction with important policies and values associated with state socialist regimes. In the terms of Value Expectancy Theory, anti-egalitarianism (opposition to egalitarian statism) provided a strong public goods motivation to seek change under the (at least officially) egalitarian ideology of Soviet communism.

Opposition to socialism may be based on anti-egalitarianism, but also may stem from other sources. Persons in post-communist states who otherwise held egalitarian values may have come to oppose socialism only as a form of government -- because of its association with corruption and repression, or on other grounds not involving issues of distributive justice. Thus, our second measure is an item indicating support for socialism per se (favor socialism).

The third measure involves Inglehart's (1979) concept of post-materialism. Based on respondents' rankings of four political goals, we constructed a variable indicating support for the values of giving people more say in government and protecting freedom of speech over maintaining order in the country and fighting rising prices. Attaching high value to freedom of speech and democratic participation in government decision-making in the communist era may have provided, in Value Expectancy Theory terms, a strong sense of moral obligation to participate in democratic activities when opportunities to do so became available (Opp, 1990). The fourth measure, justice is possible, is a single item that corresponds most closely to the perceived efficacy of political action emphasized by the Value Expectancy Theory.

Space considerations preclude presenting detailed comparison among countries of the distributions of social psychological factors. Two salient facts about them, however, deserve note. First, post-communist publics with the highest levels of non-electoral political participation also had mean values for these social psychological factors closest to those for West Germany and the USA. This is especially so for Czechoslovakia, where levels of perceived political efficacy, post-materialism, and anti-egalitarianism were quite close to those shown in the west. Second, the three post-communist countries with the highest rates of non-electoral political participation -- Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany (Table 1) -- also are the three countries with the highest levels of perceived injustice due to political beliefs. This correspondence between country means on political injustice and other social psychological factors, on the one hand, and differences in levels of non-electoral political participation on th e other, suggests a causal link between them.

Table 3 presents logistic regression results for the effects of social psychological factors on non-electoral and electoral participation, net of the effects of sociodemographic variables.

Table 3 shows that the social psychological factors we examine do have statistically significant effects on iron-electoral participation and party sympathy in post-communist and western countries alike. Perceived political injustice has a strong and consistent effect on both aggressive participation and participation in a rally or protest demonstration

Overall, aggressive participation is less strongly shaped by other social psychological factors than is rally or protest demonstration participation. Social justice is possible and post-materialism have little to no statistically significant influence. In both West Germany and the U.S. people who endorse egalitarian statism have higher rates of participation in aggressive political activities. In Hungary, Poland and Russia, egalitarian statism also has a statistically significant effect on aggres sive participation, but opposite to the effect in the west Consistent with the economic inegalitarian nature of the Revolutions of 1989, it is the anti-egalitarians in these countries who were involved in aggressive activities. Net of egalitarian statism (and other factors), persons who favor socialism were significantly less involved in aggressive activities in Bulgaria and Poland.

Participation in rallies or protest demonstrations is substantially more a function of social psychological factors than aggressive participation. In the West, all of the social psychological factors have statistically significant and substantial effects on participation in protest demonstrations or rallies. Although the significant effects of justice is possible, post-materialism, and egalitarian statism are less consistent across post-communist countries, the overall pattern is much the same. In most post-communist countries, participants in rallies and protest demonstrations were motivated by the experience of political injustice, the sense that political action is efficacious, a higher value given to political freedom than to order, opposition to socialism, and integalitarianism. [9]

Two contrasts involving electoral participation are notable. First, in West Germany and the U.S.A., party sympathy was little affected by any of the social psychological traits, but each of the traits has statistically significant effects in post-communist countries. Political injustice, and post-materialism have effects across the board. Justice is possible, and egalitarian statism have statistically significant effects in four post-communist countries each. Second, in contrast to party sympathy, social psychological factors essentially have no effect on voting in any of our countries. These findings are consistent with socio-economic and rational actor models. As expected, it appears that political party involvement in the early transition was shaped in much the same way, as non-electoral participation. The decision to vote in the first elections of the transition era, perhaps as an expression of new political freedoms, was not subject to the influence of social psychological incentives and motivations.


The picture of political participation in the early transition years drawn from our research closely matches expectations under the individual-level models developed for western countries. Our results show, that these models apply more broadly to explaining political participation than just under the conditions prevailing in affluent and politically stable western democracies.

Our findings have implications for the political change taking place in the mid-1990's in Eastern Europe. Within post-communist countries, a strong contrast exists in the determinants of political protest, on the one hand, and voting on the other. While youth, political anger, and socio-political ideology seem to have been the primary determinants of the former, they were not factors in the latter. So in all of the post-communist states, there seem to be two different constituencies: those who sparked the protests that led to the collapse of the communist regimes; and those who elected their successors.

As we have seen from Table 3, the decision to vote was made largely irrespective of grievances and social and political beliefs. Sympathy with a political party, however, was in important part ideological -- motivated in most post-communist countries by social and political beliefs as well as by personal grievance and the perceived efficacy of political change. In the early transition period, there was both high selectivity on ideological grounds and an overall low level of party sympathy per se due to the rather chaotic structure of political party organization in all of these countries in 1991.

Also as we have seen from our data, personal economic circumstances did not significantly affect political participation in this transitional period; though attitudes towards the economy did. Those who were most likely to participate -- the highly educated, politically aggrieved, and pro-market -- would, of course, be most likely to take advantage of and benefit from the new system of political and economic liberalization. In most countries in the region, it is this group that seems to have dominated and directed the transition process, at least in its first years (Szelenyi and Szelenyi, 1992).

In the early years of the transition, the selectivity of political participation may have worked to the substantial advantage of the transitional governments in Eastern Europe. These governments were committed to a rapid transition to capitalism, although some favored a somewhat slower pace than others. But the people that were most likely to oppose the extent or pace of such reforms were not yet politically organized. In the absence of strong political parties on the left at that time, and the discredited nature of the former communist parties, there was no real political counterweight to the neo-conservative parties and leaders that were in charge. Thus, it was perhaps inevitable that once these constituencies were organized, and political parties formed to voice their concerns, that the political environment would be transformed. The steady rise of leftist political parties, and their strong electoral showings in the second round of elections in many of these countries, seems to bear this out.

James R. Kluegel is Processor of Sociology at the University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign, USA. He is Co-author with Elliot Smith, of Belie Inequality: American 's View of What Is And What Ought to Be. With David S. Mason, and Bernd Wegener he is co-editor of the International Social Justice Project volume, Social Justice and Political Change: Public Opinion in Capitalist and Post-Communist States.

David S. Mason is Professor of Political Science at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. He is author of Public Opinion and Political Change in Poland, and Revolution and Transmission in East Central Europe.

(*.) University of Illinois -- UC.

(**.) Butler University.


(1.) Surveys also were conducted in Great Britain, Japan and the Netherlands. We chose West Germany and the U.S.A. because data from these countries are the most frequently analyzed in research on political participation in general, and especially on social movement participation in particular.

(2.) The International Social Justice Project is a collaborative research effort, supported in whole or part by each of the following organizations: The National Council for Soviet and East European

Research (USA); the National Science Foundation (USA); the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX); the Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan; OTKA [National Scientific Research Fund] (Hungary); the Economic and Social Research Council (UK); the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Germany); Institute of Social Science, Chuo University (Japan); The Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs; the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences; the Grant Agency of the Czechoslavak Academy of Sciences; Saar Poll, Limited (Estonia); the Ministry of Science and Technology, Republic of Slovenia; the State Committee for Scientific Research (Komitet Badan Naukowych, Poland).

The principal investigators in the development of these data were as follows: Galin Gornev (Bulgaria), Petr Mateju (the Czech Republic), Andrus Saar (Estonia); Bernd Wegener (Germany), Gordon Marshall, Adam Swift and Carole Burgoyne (UK), Gyorgy Csepeli, Antal Orkeny, Tamas Kolosi and Maria Nemenyi (Hungary), Masaru Miyano and Akihiro Ishikawa (Japan), Wil Arts and Piet Hermkens (the Netherlands), Bogdan Cicomski and Witold Morawski (Poland), Ludmilla Khakulina and Svetlana Sidorenko (Russia), Vojko Antoncic (Slovenia), and [identifying reference].

(3.) As defined by Muller (1979), aggressive political participation is action that by law or regime norms is seen as illegal, and is taken as part of a collectivity to disrupt the normal functioning of government.

(4.) We did not include "refusal to pay rents, rates or taxes" in calculating the ANY variable. Factor analyses of the non-electoral participation items showed that it did not load with any of the other items in eastern countries. It may simply be a type of protest that had little to no meaning in the communist context.

(5.) These figures, especially for East Germany and Czechoslovakia, reflect the intense and widespread protest activity in 1989, when huge public demonstrations of sometimes an estimated million people took place. The relatively large percent of "aggressive" participation in Czechoslovakia (approximately 18 percent) may reflect action related to the large demonstrations in Prague, and the widely supported 2-hour general strike of November 27 (Stokes, 1993: 157).

(6.) An odds multiplier of greater than 1 indicates that the odds of participating increase with increases in the value of a given independent variable. An odds multiplier of less than 1 indicates that the odds of participating decrease with increases in the value of a given independent variable.

(7.) For Eastern European countries, Income Need correlates approximately .4 on average with a measure of satisfaction with current income. The same correlation is approximately .45 in West Germany and the U.S.A.

(8.) However, a question asked in our 1991 study is likely indicative in the aggregate sense of how widespread economic dissatisfaction was in the transition era. On a scale ranging from "1", indicating complete dissatisfaction with one's income, to "7", indicating complete satisfaction, 46 percent of respondents from post-communist countries chose scores of I or 2. The corresponding percent for our western respondents is 14.

(9.) East Germany and Slovenia are notable exceptions for the lack of significant effects of favor socialism and egalitarian statism on participation in rallies or protest demonstrations, and non-electoral participation in general. This may be due to a strong influence of nationalism on the desire for political change in each of these countries.


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Publication:International Journal of Comparative Sociology
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Feb 1, 1999
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