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The education gap in participation and its political consequences

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Although research on political participation has consistently observed a robust and positive relationship between education and political participation, there is fairly little systematic analysis of its implications for the functioning of modern democracies. This article first explores the degree to which educational differences matter in the extent and form of political participation in the Netherlands. It turns out that the well educated currently comprise less than a third of the population, yet they dominate every political venue in the Netherlands. The less educated, on the other hand, have virtually disappeared from most layers of the participation pyramid. Second, the article explores the political consequences of this education gap in participation. There is no such thing in the Netherlands as a general cleft between citizens and politicians. The major gap is one between less- and well- educated citizens. The less educated tend to be very distrustful and cynical about politics and politicians, whereas the well educated tend to be much more positive about government and political institutions. The education gap has been most manifest with regard to socio-cultural issues, such as crime, the admittance of asylum seekers, cultural integration of immigrants and EU unification. Regarding these issues, differences in the level of formal educational will lead to very divergent political opinions. However, the recent emergence of eurosceptic and nationalist parties, with a populist style, such as the LPF, SP and PVV, have made the less educated more visible in the political landscape.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Governance, Utrecht University, Bijlhouwerstraat 6, Utrecht, 3511 ZC, the Netherlands

Publication date: 01 December 2010

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