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Interesting but irrelevant: Social capital and the saliency of politics in Western Europe

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Many explanations of political involvement are based on the idea that higher levels of resources will be matched by higher levels of political involvement. Yet these kind of interpretations seem to overlook the fact that resources potentially increase individual autonomy and widen the scope of alternative actions, and so facilitate a decrease of political involvement. The analyses presented here are based on the rather paradoxical expectation that we will find a higher level of subjective political interest and, simultaneously, a lower level of political saliency among people commanding relatively high levels of social capital or other resources. The empirical evidence available for Western European countries in 1990 and 1998 essentially confirms the notion of diverging consequences of social capital (and other resources) for political involvement. People combining high political interest with a low saliency of politics are labelled spectators here. For them politics has lost its obligatory character – it is interesting and probably important to follow what goes on in this area, but compared with other matters its relevance is relatively low. Besides, a strong gender bias still can be found for each and every aspect of political involvement.
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Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: University of Mannheim, Chair for Political Science and International Comparative Social Research, and Mannheim Centre for European Social Research, Mannheim, Germany

Publication date: March 1, 2000

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