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Democratic frustration: concept, dimensions and behavioural consequences

Harrison, Sarah (2020) Democratic frustration: concept, dimensions and behavioural consequences. Societies, 10 (1). ISSN 2075-4698

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Using insights from the psychology literature, this article introduces and operationalises the concept of 'democratic frustration' to shed new light on the pathologies of democratic crises. While political scientists have devoted ample attention to democratic crises and dissatisfaction, this article suggests that citizens’ frequent references to their “frustration” should be taken more literally. Specifically, it suggests that citizens become frustrated when a perceived democratic delivery deficit interacts with a strong democratic expectation or desire. The article tests this model using two original surveys run in the UK during the 2017 General Election and 2019 European Parliament elections. By measuring expectations and delivery deficit separately, the article maps democratic frustration vis-à-vis alternative concepts such as apathy, criticality, and cynicism, and shows that it is more widespread as an expectation–deficit combination than any of them. It suggests that democratic frustration comprises of three dimensions: ideological, institutional and political. Adapting insights from the psychology of frustration that show it usually results in expressions of withdrawal, anger, or aggression, the article then explores how the three dimensions of frustration typically result in different pathologies. Ideological frustration leads to abstention (withdrawal), institutional frustration to peaceful demonstrations or radical vote (anger) and to envisage leaving one’s country, whilst political and institutional frustrations combine and lead citizens to consider taking part in violent demonstrations or even joining a revolution (aggression).

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2020 The author
Divisions: Government
Date Deposited: 11 Feb 2020 11:27
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2023 16:22

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