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Government Responses and Populist Attitudes: Evidence from e-Petitions

Fri, August 30, 10:30 to 11:00am, Marriott, Exhibit Hall B South


Can online political participation be the solution to alleviating populist attitudes? Increased participation may boost government responsiveness; at the same time, those responses may not be enough to satisfy popular demands. We argue that passive government responses to e-petitions strengthen populist attitudes of participants. This stems from two mechanisms: (1) A decrease in external efficacy (2) Blame attribution to representative institutions.

We conducted an online experiment that simulates the People’s E-petition, an online participation platform in South Korea where the government directly responds to qualified petitions. We selected three populist-leaning issues (MP salary cuts, reconsideration of court verdicts, and refugee opposition), and exposed groups to varying degrees of government responses (none, passive, active) on each issue. We find that the group exposed to a passive response exhibited the highest levels of populist attitudes. The effects were stronger compared even to non-responses.

Through our research, we empirically evaluate the feasibility of digital participatory channels as a solution to populism by examining how they potentially intensify populist attitudes. Furthermore, by setting the spatial context to Korea, we confirm the existence of populist attitudes in a context where there are no prominent populist parties ‘fueling discontent’ among the citizens.


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