Securing the welfare of the people to foster democracy? A longitudinal analysis on the impact of economic inequality and social welfare policies on political trust and participation in Europe

  • Publication
  • 29.03.2024
  • Deliverable

Confronted with high and growing inequality, causing increasing dissonance between European citizens and their political institutions, how can democracies ensure that their citizens believe that their political institutions are reliable and responsive? These questions lie at the heart of this report, which is written within the framework of a larger European research consortium, INVOLVE (funded by Horizon Europe, 2023-2026). In the face of growing economic and political inequalities, INVOLVE argues that more inclusive and qualitative public services can foster the involvement of citizens, and especially vulnerable citizens, in their democracies. In that light, INVOLVE seeks to understand how the welfare state, public and social services, and policies aimed at tackling inequalities are associated with trust and participation of individuals in their democracies.

In the current report, the key objective is to examine if economic inequality and social policies are indeed connected to democratic engagement in Europe. It investigates if changes in inequality and social welfare policy regimes both within and between European countries can be linked to democratic engagement. Further, the report will assess if these changes are associated with two key democratic inputs: citizens’ likelihood to participate in politics and their trust in political institutions (Easton, 1975; Norris, 2022). The report will take stock of the long-term trends of trust in public institutions and political participation in Europe at the national level, and their association with economic inequality and the generosity of social policies.

This report concludes that there is a significant decline in engagement with democratic institutions, notably in voting behavior. Contrary to this trend, non-electoral participation and political trust do not exhibit a comparable downward trajectory. Furthermore, the results link lower levels of political trust and participation to social policy interventions, but only to a limited extend. Finally, increasing disparities in disposable income and wealth undermine political trust and participation across Europe.



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