Does political participation make a difference?

Political participation / political participation

1. About the concept

In → Political Science, the research branch of participation research deals with political participation. Political participation includes those behaviors of citizens who, as a group or on their own, voluntarily want to influence political decisions at different levels of the → political system (municipality, state, federal government and Europe). A distinction is made between conventional (written, legally guaranteed and regulated) and unconventional (non-written) forms of political participation. Through participation research that is now decades old, criteria have been developed that identify different forms of participation. Niedermayer divides all participatory activities of the citizens into the following six forms:
  1. Participation in → elections and votes;
  2. Party-related activities;
  3. Community, → election campaign and politician related activities;
  4. legal protest;
  5. civil protest and
  6. Political violence.
To a) Voter turnout and measurement of voting results is not only an easy to measure conventional form of participation, but studies on → voter behavior are the political science origins of participation research. Participation in elections - and thus the selection of political leaders - at the various levels forms the core element of the role of citizenship and is the simplest and most egalitarian form of participation in the representative system Ds.

To b) Above all, this includes membership and participation in → parties. They are activities that go beyond voting and are undertaken by just under 2.5% of adults.

To c) Activities related to community, election campaign and politicians are only covered e.g. Partly understood institutionalized but time-limited forms of political participation such as B. the temporary participation in local problem solving, but also participation in the election campaign.

To d) Legal protest includes legal, non-institutionalized types of participation such as B. approved → demonstrations. The legitimacy of such forms of participation was questioned in the first phase of their emergence with the extra-parliamentary opposition in the second half of the 1960s, but over time they have also retained their legitimacy base.

To e) Civil disobedience does not include violent participatory activities "that violate applicable law and are not understood by a large majority of the population as a legitimate way of participating in the political process" (Niedermayer 2005: 194).

To f) Political violence means the most extreme form of political participation and is reflected in violence against things and people.

In addition to political participation, there is also the term social participation, which primarily includes voluntary and civic engagement. These activities aimed at social integration can certainly have a political character, but are usually to be found in the voluntary sector.

2. Turnout

Measured by international comparison, there was a fairly high participation rate in the Bundestag elections. In the 1950s and 1960s, participation rates between 85 and 90% were achieved, with the 1972 Bundestag election even reaching a maximum of 91.1%. From the mid-1970s, however, voter turnout fell significantly and reached its all-time low in the first all-German election in 1990 at 77.8%. After that, the participation rate rose slightly and reached an average of 80% in the following federal elections. With this participation rate, D is in the middle of Europe. However, the participation rates are significantly lower in the state elections, the local elections and the elections to the European Parliament. Between 1971 and 1975, i.e. the time when the highest turnout was measured in federal elections, there was the highest voter turnout rate of almost 83%, but it has fallen significantly since that time. In the 2001-2005 electoral period in the whole of D it was only 62.6%. In the elections to the state parliament in ST, a turnout of only 44.4% of the voters was achieved. The turnout rates for the European Parliament elections are significantly lower, as these elections are viewed as secondary elections. Also, there is no government to be voted out of in the European elections, so that it is often difficult for voters to understand the significance of these elections for them. In the eastern → federal states, the participation rates in Bundestag, Landtag and European elections are always significantly lower than in the western states. Only in the first free election in the → GDR, the election to the People's Chamber on March 18, 1990, did the participation rate reach an all-time high of 93.4%.

For a good three decades, there has been a clear decline in voter turnout. On the one hand, an adjustment process is being carried out, as is also evident in other western democracies. On the other hand, the decline in voter turnout can also be seen as a crisis phenomenon in the political system. However the phenomenon of non-voting is interpreted, there are different types of non-voters. The fake non-voter - he is the person entitled to vote who cannot vote for organizational reasons - differs from the real non-voter. First of all, there is the politically distant non-voter who generally assigns politics little value. The protesting non-voter wants to exert influence with his behavior; he is interested in what is happening in politics, but he is dissatisfied with the functioning of the political system or disappointed with the political staff and parties. In such cases, abstaining from voting is a conscious political decision. Finally, there is the rationally weighing non-voter who expects a certain benefit for himself with his decision.

3. Party-related activities

As of July 1, 2011, around 1.3 million people were members of political parties. H. approx. 2.2% of citizens over the age of 16 who can join political parties. In 1991 it was 3.3%. About a fifth to a quarter of these members can be regarded as active, whereby under "active" a time-limited commitment of less than five hours per month is taken. The number of members of the Bundestag parties rose until the late 1970s / early 1980s, but then fell significantly. The German reunification led to a brief increase in the number of members at party level, but this soon returned to almost the old numbers. The → SPD achieved its highest number of members in 1976 with 1,022,000 members, while it had its lowest level in 2010 with 502,000 members. The → CDU had the lowest number of party members at the beginning of the 1950s, with membership numbers below 250,000. By 1983 the number of members rose steadily to 735,000. Since then, the CDU has also seen its membership decline and in 2010 it had 505,000 members. In contrast, the → CSU was initially able to almost maintain its membership. The party reached its highest membership in the years of the fall of the Wall, 1989/90, with 186,000 members. Since then, membership has dropped to 154,000 in 2010. Like the CSU, the → FDP was able to benefit from the fall of the wall and in 1990 recorded an increase to 179,000 members. But the FDP also had to accept a decline in membership numbers, so that in 2010 there were still 68,000 FDP members. → Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen, merged in 1993 from West German Greens and East German Bündnis 90 to form a common party, had the highest membership in 1998 with over 50,000 party members. However, this party also suffered losses, but has since been able to gain members and in 2010 had around 52,000 members. The → Left Party / PDS also had its highest membership in 1990 with 281,000; this year, however, there were no West German state associations. The decline in membership numbers was most noticeable in the Left Party / PDS: In 2005 there were 61,000 registered party members. By merging with the WASG in "Die Linke" in 2007, a further 8,000 party members were added. In 2010 the party had 73,000 members.

Source: Andersen, Uwe / Wichard Woyke (ed.): Concise dictionary of the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany. 7th, updated Aufl. Heidelberg: Springer VS 2013. Author of the article: Wichard Woyke