FALSE ALARM! THE MEASUREMENT AND ASSESSMENT OF POLITICAL CYNICISM AND THE CONSEQUENCES FOR POLITICAL PARTICIPATION
Rijkhoff, Susanna Afra Maria
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The impact of political cynicism on political participation is an ongoing concern of scholars who study political behavior. While political cynicism is often assumed to reduce people’s involvement in politics, others suggest that cynicism may actually increase electoral support for ideologically extreme political parties. I argue that this disagreement is caused by the lack of a proper definition and measurement of political cynicism. This dissertation introduces a new approach to studying the relationship between cynicism and participation, starting with a comprehensive definition, which distinguishes cynicism from other attitudes such as distrust, social or horizontal cynicism and political efficacy. I define political cynicism as an enduring attitude towards politics based on the belief that the political object of cynicism (politicians, political institutions, and the political system as a whole) is untrustworthy, immoral, dishonest, incompetent, self-interested and out of touch with citizens. Additionally, using original data collected through online surveys, I construct a better instrument to identify political cynicism among citizens, focusing on the six dimensions I identified. Structural equation modeling confirms the reliability of the scale and shows that political cynicism is related to, but distinct from political distrust, political efficacy and social trust. Citizens who are cynical towards politics distinguish between human nature and political nature. Furthermore, I argue that the supposed negative link between cynicism and participation is overstated as I find that the story is much more complicated than it is usually made out to be. Additionally, I find that political cynicism and political distrust have different consequences for political participation. By and large, cynicism and participation are unrelated. When there is a relationship between political cynicism and political participation, it is a positive one. These findings are consistent in several samples and for a variety of types of participation. Consequently, this dissertation shows a citizenry that, although politically cynical to a certain degree, is at the same time not deterred from being politically active. The fretting and hand wringing therefore has to stop. It was false alarm, as political cynicism is not the problem it is made out to be for political participation.
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