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Motivations for Political Boycotting and Buycotting

The next ICA 2010 speaker is Mihye Seo, whose interest is in political consumerism. She notes the threatened collapse of participatory democracy through declining political engagement - but perhaps our definition of political engagement is too narrow. Political consumerism, for example, may be a new trend especially amongst younger people, who don't believe that institutional power will address the issues they care about; rather, they become more involved in other types of political engagement.

Political consumerism is defined as selecting products (buying, boycotting) for political reasons - such as the current boycotts of BP because of the oil spill or the state of Arizona for its institutionalised racism, for example, or phenomena like fair trade coffee. This brings together marketing and politics, and it is a fast-growing trend.

But who are these political consumers, and what motivates them? What is the role of traditional and online media in influencing such activities? Mihye used a 2006 (US) Civic and Political Health Survey of some 2,200 respondents to explore this. Consumerism splits into boycotting and buycotting, and was compared with more conventional forms of political participation; their connection with ideology, attitudes about the political system, and news usage were also explored.

And here comes the inevitable stats table: political consumerism is strongly related to higher education levels, and related to income; there is no relation to political ideology, but to a perception that the government is inefficient and the political system is unresponsive; there is a strong relation to Internet news use, too. Conventional political participation is related to higher age, and a belief that politics is not only for the powerful; print and Internet news use also relates strongly to conventional participation. Political consumerism is also related positively to conventional participation, interestingly, so these forms of participation are not mutually exclusive.

Some companies are now actively tapping into these phenomena, of course, in the realisation that political consumerism can be an easier act than conventional political participation - but there is no indication yet of the full underlying motivations for citizen participation.

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