Capital and Perceived Representation by Candidates in India, Poland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom

Joe Greenwood-Hau

Paper prepared for EPOP Conference, 26.08.2022

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Note: The paper covers the literature theory, hypotheses, and methods, with results to follow after completion of fieldwork.


Whether people feel like those they elect represent them can be an important factor in how they engage with legislatures. Indeed, one of the main ways that people engage with parliaments is by contacting their elected representatives, so whether or not they feel like they have common ground with parliamentarians is an important question. This is especially so in contexts where there is a prevailing view of a gap between the public and politicians, in which the latter are ‘out of touch’ with the former. Building on previous research about the characteristics that the public favour when electing representatives (Campbell and Cowley 2014; Campbell and Cowley 2018; Carnes and Lupu 2016; Vivyan et al. 2020) , this paper investigates whether candidates’ stocks of economic, social, and cultural capital (Bourdieu 2000) affect how descriptively representative and competent they are perceived to be by the electorate. Using a conjoint experiment fielded in India, Poland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, the paper seeks to investigate whether the signals about their capital that politicians send, which act as indicators of their privilege, are a factor in how the public view them in a range of contexts. The paper is at the development stage so focuses on the theory and proposed methodology, including the survey instrument.

The System Works Fine: The Positive Relationship Between Emphasis on Individual Explanations for Inequality and External Political Efficacy

Joe Greenwood-Hau

Frontiers in Political Science, 20.07.2021

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This article addresses the largely overlooked question of whether explanations for inequality are related to appraisals of the political system. It posits a positive relationship between individual explanations for inequality and three indicators of appraisals of the political system: satisfaction with democracy, political trust, and external political efficacy. Individual explanations for inequality are a form of system justifying belief and constitute part of a wider ideological view of the status quo social order as just and defensible. This positive view of the functioning of society may flow over into appraisals of the political system, imply a positive disposition towards high-status groups including politicians, and remove the motivation to blame the political system for ongoing inequality (which is instead seen in a positive, meritocratic light). The relationships between explanations for inequality and appraisals of the political system are tested for the first time in the United States, using 2002 ANES data, and in Great Britain, using data from a survey fielded in 2014. The results in the United States show few consistent or significant relationships between explanations for inequality and any of the appraisals of the political system. However, the results in Great Britain show consistent, robust, and statistically significant positive relationships between individual explanations for inequality and external political efficacy. The inconsistency in these results may stem from the differing temporal and national contexts of the surveys. It is also likely that the ranking measures of explanations for inequality in the GB data distinguished respondents for whom individual explanations are particularly important, who have a less negative appraisal of external political efficacy. However, more work is required to investigate the effects of question format, the impact of national and temporal context, and the causal direction of the relationship between explanations for inequality and appraisals of the political system.

Cultural Capital and Political Participation in Britain

Joe Greenwood-Hau

Draft paper, 23.05.2021

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This article addresses a major conundrum in political behaviour research: why do people participate in politics to different extents and in different ways? It introduces a more complex view of structural inequality to help understand the participatory context in Britain. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s work, the article argues that economic, social, and cultural capital represent components of structural privilege as well as resources that enable non-electoral political activity. These factors are argued to help us understand the frequency and types of political participation undertaken by British people. The article analyses an original survey dataset from 2014 that includes detailed measures of the three forms of capital and an array of non-electoral political acts. Focusing on cultural capital, which has previously been largely overlooked in accounts of political participation, the article demonstrates its persistent relationship with individualised, contacting, and collective political activities, and its possible role in mediating the impact of background characteristics on political participation. The cultural distinction related to participation in the daily acts of politics that sustain a functioning democracy indicate that they are disproportionately the preserve of the privileged in Britain.

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