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Patrick Bernhagen and Angelika Vetter

This chapter provides an overview of political participation, ranging from conventional forms such as voting at elections to less conventional forms such as attending a demonstration or boycotting a brand for political reasons. The authors look at how voter turnout and protest participation have developed in recent decades and review the main theoretical explanations for differences and trends in participation between social groups and across European democracies. The chapter also considers new opportunities for participation at the local level and asks whether these have the potential to ameliorate or exacerbate existing problems of unequal participation.


This chapter analyses how citizens in Europe vote across elections. Elections are an integral part of democracy as they allow citizens to shape collective decision-making. The chapter addresses the issue of trying to explain why people vote in the first place. It also looks at the inequality of turnout between citizens: why do some people just not bother to vote at all? The chapter also looks at different explanations of vote choice. This is achieved by introducing the proximity model of voting which assumes that voters and parties can be aligned on one ideological dimension. It presupposes that voters will vote for the party that most closely resembles their own ideological position. Complications can be added to this model, however, that consider the role of retrospective performance evaluations and affective attachments to social groups and political parties. The institutional context also needs to be considered, though, as this can influence voters’s decision-making.