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Political participation and quality of life

  • Weitz-Shapiro, R.
  • Winters, M. S.

This paper discusses the results of a study in Latin America on the relationship between political participation and well-being. It reviews the theoretical literature on procedural utility and the broad psychological benefits of political participation, which suggests that: <ul class='square_dot_ul'> <li>individuals engaged in political participation likely to expect - or at least hope - that these actions will have some impact on the content of government policies;</li> <li>the effects of political participation might not be limited to outcomes, but political participation might also affect individual life satisfaction and happiness</li> </ul> Although the theoretical literature presents a number of reasons - both direct and indirect - that political participation should increase subjective well-being, the empirical literature on this topic remains nascent and the paper addresses this in the context of Latin America&rsquo;s democracies. The paper finds that: <ul class='square_dot_ul'> <li>based on individual-level data from Latin America, it is difficult to find evidence of a positive association between political participation and subjective well-being;</li> <li>when a positive relationship between political participation (in particular voting) and life satisfaction exists, the causal pathway runs in the opposite direction - rather than political participation leading to happiness, there seems to be more evidence that happiness results in political participation;</li> <li>a consistent - but untheorized - negative relationship between enforced compulsory voting and happiness: in countries where there is enforced compulsory voting, people are less happy</li> </ul> There is therefore mixed evidence of a link between political participation and life satisfaction in the countries of Latin America. Political participation is more likely to be an effect, rather than a cause, of higher levels of life satisfaction, that is, the evidence points toward happier people participating rather than participation making people happier. The results cast some doubt on whether the most typical forms of participation in a modern representative democracy, including voting and contacting public officials, indeed have the positive effects on individual life satisfaction that political theorists suggest.

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    Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo / Inter-American Development Bank (IADB): http://www.iadb.org/res/publications/pubfiles/pubWP-638.pdf<br /> </span>