Social psychological explanations of political inaction: Citizens’ perspectives in Brazil, Hungary, and the Netherlands

Maarten van Bezouw, Gergo Zavecz, Camila Penna, Arieke J. Rijken, Bert Klandermans, Ozden Melis Ulug

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Engaging in political action can ensure adequate political representation for citizens. Except for voting, however, only a nonrepresentative, small group of people regularly engages in political action. Social psychological theories provide individual, group, and system-level explanations for why people could remain inactive. However, they often focus only on personally held attitudes and do not fully consider the dynamics of attitude formation in interactions. Based on 26 focus group discussions conducted in Brazil, Hungary, and the Netherlands, we explored how citizens explain political inaction. We used latent thematic analysis, informed by social psychological theories, to understand how people form opinions about their own and others’ political inaction. In all three countries, the prevalent norm in the focus group discussions was that political inaction should be reduced but a lack of political efficacy constituted a core theme in explaining why people remain politically inactive. Depending on the sociopolitical context and how people self-categorized within the discussions, people blamed unresponsive governments, or cited personal fears of repercussions and cultural differences within and between countries as reasons for inaction. The findings and interpretations are discussed within a framework that extends and integrates previous perspectives on why people remain politically inactive.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-406
Number of pages26
JournalAnalyses of Social Issues and Public Policy
Issue number1
Early online date16 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


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