Tolerance and common good: e-participation impacts social polarisation

Recent study reveals e-participation directly influences perceptions of tolerance and common good.

In What Do Participants Take Away from Local eParticipation? Analyzing the Success of Local eParticipation Initiatives from a Democratic Citizens’ Perspective, Dennis Frieß and Pablo Porten-Cheé evaluate online participation, its effects on participant perceptions and the quality of democracy. Indeed, participatory and deliberative democracy theory reveals that participation, in itself, can have valuable effects on citizens and their relationship with democracy. Yet, Frieß and Porten-Cheé further suggest that e-participation speaks to community integration and can address social polarisation. 

They unpack survey data from online public budgeting consultations to reveal the potential benefits of e-participation for citizen perceptions of democratic value. 

The authors draw on four participatory effects:

1) Political efficacy, or how citizens perceive the impact of their participation on political processes, their powerfulness or powerlessness, and how institutions or processes respond to their input.

2) Common good orientation, or the transformation of individual interests into collective interests, the development of mutual ground through exchange and dialogue and community building.

3) Tolerance, or the development of understanding, respect, and empathy for diverse views through dialogue.

4) Legitimacy, or the generalised acceptance or support for that which is appropriate to socially defined beliefs or values.

The study examines the relationship between the intensity of participation, or  degree of involvement, and these participatory effects. It also considers factors such as satisfaction with politics, attitudes towards participation and general political efficacy. 

The findings on the participatory effects of tolerance and common good orientation highlight the potential of online participation for the global challenge of social polarisation. However, the intensity of participation did not appear to directly influence perceptions of legitimacy and efficacy, with socio-demographic factors playing a role.

These findings raise questions for further research on how different forms of local online citizen participation have the potential to enhance democracy.  

Dennis Frieß is a research assistant at the Düsseldorf Institute for Internet and Democracy and the Department of Communication and Media Studies III at the Heinrich Heine University, Dusseldorf. Pablo Porten-Cheé is the head of Research Group 13 Digital Citizenship at the Weizenbaum Institute.  

Photo: Rawpixel/Pexels

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