#5PAPERS – Week 1 Day 5

by Nivek K Thompson

1.Reference to the Article 

Johnson C. ‘Local Civic Participation and Democratic Legitimacy: Evidence from England and Wales’. Political Studies. 2014: 1-28.

  1. What attracted me to this Article?

Again Carolina’s research is in a similar area to mine ie looking at the impact of democratic innovations (participatory budgeting (PB) for her, deliberative mini-publics for me). Her research looks at macro impact of PB initiatives from the perspective of achieving democratic legitimacy.

  1. What is it about? (Problem / Purpose / Research Questions)

The purpose of this research is to test whether expanding civic participation enhances democratic legitimacy.

  1. Where does this come from? (Literature / Theoretical Framework)

Notes that concerns about ‘democratic deficit’ focus on increasing opportunities for citizen engagement as a solution with ‘diverse benefits’ p.1 Looking in particular at the UK she identifies political view that ‘engagement is felt to produce not only better policies, but better citizens who believe their government to be more legitimate.’ p.2

Legitimacy is understood as ‘a product of citizens’ attitudes and beliefs about government’ in particular trustworthiness of government and procedural fairness p.4

  1. What did they do? (Methodology & Method)

Carolina develops hypotheses for testing based on conceptual and theoretical relationship between civic participation and democratic legitimacy. She distinguishes between procedural and trust-based dimensions of legitimacy. Her hypotheses are that participation will support legitimacy, even if decision outcomes are unsatisfactory and that participation will support legitimacy based on procedural fairness rather than trust.

Her data comes from the 2007-8 UK Citizenship Survey and applying hierarchical linear and ordered probit models to test the core hypotheses. Her aim is to demonstrate a basic connection between participation and legitimacy but does not claim to demonstrate causality. Carolina develops indexes from the available data for civic participation and for legitimating attitudes, with controls for other potential impacts such as demographic or socio-economic factors, running a number of statistical tests on the data. The participation index is the key independent variable and legitimating attitudes is the main dependent variable.

  1. What did they learn? (Results / Discussion)

The ‘results confirm hypothesis that increasing participation supports attitudes more strongly expressive of democratic legitimacy.’ p.13 In addition when people are dissatisfied with outcomes ‘total participation continues to have a substantive and significant effect on attitudes.’ p.14 And that participation has not impact on traditional ‘trust in government’ measures, whereas participation did have an impact on measures related to procedural fairness. Whilst participation impacts positively on legitimacy there are demographic and regional differences. She suggests more in-depth study into regional differences in particular. Identified limitations include: the short-term nature of the data, which only relates to the recent period; and lack of before and after measures, which might address the causal direction question.

  1. What did I learn?

Found lots of useful references to literature on public participation (see p. 3).

This study is primarily looking at the attitudes of individuals who have been involved in civic participation, so not really about the macro impact i.e. beyond individuals, although I acknowledge that if more and more individuals were involved then changes in their attitudes could have broader impacts. Carolina’s conclusion suggests this, in particular that ‘creative recruitment and active organizing of less engaged community members’ is needed (p.19)

I wonder whether attitudes of democratic legitimacy might impact on levels of civic participation, rather than vice-a-versa? Carolina does acknowledge ‘the issue of causal direction between attitudes and participation,’ p. 18