Don’t Care or Drifting to the Right? – Tracking Political Involvement in Austria from 1986 to 2016

Monday, 16 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Dimitri PRANDNER, University of Salzburg / University of Linz, Austria
Alfred GRAUSGRUBER, Linz, Austria
Political involvement is a central pillar for democratic societies. Citizens are expectet to participat in political activities – voting, demonstrating, being active in civil society and unions – and stay informed on recent political developments.

Using the definition of political involvement from political scientist Van Deth and data from the Social Survey Austria (four waves since 1986, each n=2000), it is possible to illustrate that the Austrian society – an example for many western democracies - has become less and less involved in politics since the eighties. 2016 more than 60% of participants had to be classified as distant or not involved in formal politics. Thus, a large amount of the population may not be identified as dutiful citizens at all.

Yet during the same period the populist right-wing party FPÖ – Freedom Party Austria – could expand its political platform. Calling for change and using an anti-immigration-position to push a nationalistic agenda, they accuse the establishment – primary other politicians and the media – to have lost sight of the “common people”.

And indeed, established parties – in the case of Austria the SPÖ and ÖVP - lost their standing or had to reinvent themselves in more populist ways, as electoral losses piled up.

We argue that those two phenomena are interrelated and illustrate that the people who gravitate towards different types of political involvement since the 1980ties may have remained constant, but that the group of individuals, who express a distance to the political system, not only grew, but became the primary recruiting grounds for populist parties in Austria. A paradoxical situation, as one would expect that those not involved would be non-voters or not affiliated with any political power. Using multilevel models and representative data from the social surveys Austria 1986 to 2016 these developments are discussed.