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Finkel and Muller: Rational choice and the dynamics of collective political action

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Finkel and Muller. 1998. Rational choice and the dynamics of collective political action: Evaluating alternative models with. American Political Science Review 92 (March): 37-94.

In Brief

  • Who/what are they challenging? Olson, rational choice theory, self-interested voter theories, etc.
  • What are they testing? Rational choice theories of participation in political protest
  • Question: How can we account for the fact that individuals take part in collective protest activities when they could just free-ride? (39)
  • Data used: West Germany 1987-1989

Finkel and Muller argue that we need to test levels of actual participation and attitudes of participants BEFORE participation. Need panel studies w/same subjects. They criticize studies that test motivation of participation after the fact (although they don't mention it specifically, this criticism should include Schlozman et al. 1995).

Finkel and Muller are HUGE proponents of panel data: each subject was interviewed twice (pre-test/post-test).

Hypotheses

H1

  • Hypothesis: Collective incentives can help predict future participation in collective protests.
  • Independent variables:
    • past protest participation
    • collective interest variables
      • dissatisfaction with provision of collective goods
      • belief that group actions can be successful
      • belief in importance of own participation
      • necessity of group unity
    • measurements of cost:
      • trouble with police
      • potential injury
      • take too much time
  • Dependent variables: subsequent participation in collective protest activities
  • Findings:
    • All measures of collective interest were significant except group unity.
    • The best predictor of future protest participation is past protest participation
    • Costs negatively correlated with participation. Assume subjects weighing costs and benefits

H2

  • Hypothesis: Selective incentives can help predict future participation in collective protests.
  • Independent variables:
    • past protest participation
    • collective interest variables
      • dissatisfaction with provision of collective goods
      • belief that group actions can be successful
      • belief in importance of own participation
      • necessity of group unity
    • measurements of cost:
      • trouble with police
      • potential injury
      • take too much time
    • measurement of selective incentives:
      • financial gain
      • expectations of others
      • group encouragement
      • gain knowledge
      • stand up for beliefs
      • entertainment
      • internal behaviour norms(42)
  • Dependent variables: subsequent participation in collective protest activities
  • Findings:
    • selective incentive variables are weak predictors of participation except group encouragement.
    • collective interest variables remain statistically significant

General Findings

  • When grouped together, collective interest variables have large effect; selective interest variables grouped together have small effect. (44)
  • selective incentives may be result of having participated, but don't cause future participation: "rather than participation being the 'by-product' of private payoffs to the individual, it appears that expectations of social and psychological rewards are the by-products of past participation!" (46)

This is a potential causal story:

Collective interest » Political participation at T-1 » change in perceptions about selective interest » political participation at T2.