The study of how we function as political beings lies at the core of political science. How does it come about, for example, that some people are more politically committed and interested than others? What is it that explains why some people are willing to be candidates for political bodies whereas others would never dream of getting involved with politics? The overriding purpose of our project — known as “Contexts, Networks and Participation: The Social Logic of Political Engagement” (CONPOL) — is to increase knowledge of what explains differences in political participation between individuals. More specifically, we focus on how the decisions of individuals to become involved in politics are shaped in social contexts. In concrete terms this means that the project explores questions like how we are affected by having grown up in a certain family, by having certain friends, by living in a specific area or by being employed at a certain workplace. The project started in 2017 and is funded by a consolidator grant from the European Research Council.
A fundamental idea running through the CONPOL project is that a focus on social explanations of political participation requires new thinking about data and design. The empirical core of the project consists of register data from various Swedish government authorities, above all Statistics Sweden. Through these registers we can gain access for the whole Swedish population to measures of politicl participation and to numerous relevant variables that have been linked in previous research to the inclination to become politically involved: gender, age, education, career status, income, psychological abilities etc. Moreover, we can with the aid of this register information specify a number of relevant social contexts and relations between individuals within these contexts, such as different family relations and relations within residential areas, schools and workplaces.
An important part of the project is to complement this data with population-wide data on voter turnout by scanning and digitizing the information in the public election rolls. Using OCR (Optical Character Recognition and ICR (Intelligent Character Recognition) we have managed to extract very high quality turnout information from five election held between 1970 and 2010: the general elections in 1970, 1994 and 2010; the EU referendum in 1994; and the European parliament election in 2009. We will make this data publicly available at the end of the project. Our efforts in the realm has inspired Statistics Sweden to make population-wide individual-level voter turnout data from future election an integrated part of the official registers starting from the general elections held in 2018.
This unique material gives us an excellent opportunity to study how the tendency to take an active interest in politics is shaped by social contacts and networks. You can read more about the specific subprojects conducted within the CONPOL framework here.