Unveiling Correlates of “Don't Know” Responses in the Left-Right Scale

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 11:06 AM
Room: 416
Oral Presentation
Europe’s current economic crisis has spread to the political sphere and escalated populist tendencies and nationalistic politics. Specifically in indebted member-states the political crisis is echoed in citizens’ skepticism about an uncorrupted political system and widespread perceptions that political parties are not strongly ideological oriented, but rather populist, personalistic and clientelistic. In a period of socio-political bewilderment, the division of traditional patterns of individual’s ideological orientation towards political parties has become more ambiguous. In empirical research a classical measure to operationalize political orientation and identity is the left-right scale. The “Don’t Know” (DK) responses in the specific scale are usually treated similarly with “Refusal” or “No Answer” and interpreted as individuals’ cognitive inability in the left-right self-placement; hence excluded from analysis. However, in the present study the DK responses in the left-right scale become the core of investigation. During an era of economic and political crisis, DK responses may reflect individuals’ perceptions of weakening of democratic institutions, their distrust in political parties to revive the economic growth, their condemnation of the political system and their focus on alternative forms of governing to confront the socio-economic vows. Using data from the European Social Survey (ESS) in 18 European countries, the study charts changes in DK responses in the left-right scale before and during the economic crisis. The analyses unearth specific patters of DK responses whereas the greatest changes are detected in two countries severely affected by the recession, i.e. Greece and Spain. Multiple logistic regression analyses unveil the differentiated impacts of political and civic participation, trust in democratic institutions and political parties in elucidating DK responses in respondents’ left-right orientation during a period of economic downturn and political turmoil.