Privilege, Perceptions and Political Participation

Guest : Joe Greenwood, political analyst at YouGov and PhD student at the University of Essex


This thesis adopts the causal propositions of the Civic Voluntarism Model as its starting point and adds Bourdieu’s concepts of economic, social, and cultural capital, which are argued to encompass structural privilege. Perception of privilege is posited to be constituted by self-perceived status, explanations for that status, and explanations for status differences in society. Thus, the thesis proposes a model running from background characteristics through capital profiles to perception of privilege and thence political engagement and participation. An original survey covering these areas was designed and fielded online to a representative sample of 1,480 British adults. The resultant data is analysed using structural equation modelling and the results generally support the causal hypotheses of the research, as well as providing evidence of the impact of the three forms of capital and perception of privilege. In particular, a strong positive effect of legitimate cultural capital is observed and found to be more important in influencing political participation than the previously observed effects of social and economic capital. In addition, perception of privilege is found to promote participation and to channel people towards individualised political activities, especially where they subscribe to the fundamental attribution error. These effects confirm the role of both structural and perceived privilege in influencing political participation in the United Kingdom.

Simon Persico