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Does e-Participation Generate More Positive Attitudes towards Democracy?

The second speaker in this ECREA 2016 speakers are Dennis Friess and Pablo Porten Cheé, who shift our attention to e-participation tools and platforms. They begin by noting that there is a democratic crisis which manifests itself in growing scepticism about representative policy-making. One response to this is a call for more opportunities for citizen participation, especially also through online platforms; but does such e-participation lead to more positive attitudes towards democratic processes?

This is raises the question of how this might be measured. Deliberative and participatory theories suggest that participation will affect participants positively, increasing their democratic values; such values emerge as empirically observable effects at the individual level. Other factors that affect the likelihood of political participation include satisfaction with politics, general political efficacy, and overall attitudes towards participation.

These processes were tested in interviews with participants in online consultations in Bonn and Cologne. The 670 participants had a median age of 52; two thirds were male; and 61% had university degrees – this represents the typical demographics of participants in such initiatives.

Intensity of participation strongly promoted participants' perception of common good orientation and tolerance; it did not affect perceptions of political efficacy and legitimacy. Cognitive factors did hardly intervene in the relationship between e-participation and democratic value experiences. A high level of education led to less perception of legitimacy.

So, participants do partly affect the experience of democratic values; this perception is distributed fairly evenly across demographics, but age, gender, and education do play a role. There is a need here to expand such research beyond the usual suspects, though: how are atypical participants in e-participation affected by their activities?