Mobilization or Abstention? : Economic Inequality and Labor Market Experiences as Foundations of Political Behavior

Sammanfattning: The distribution of economic resources has long been a central tenet of politics. In recent decades, Western democracies have experienced rising economic inequality and a structural transformation of the labor market. This dissertation studies how these broad societal changes have affected political mobilization and abstention in Sweden. The empirical analyses use unique Swedish register data and focus on two political aspects that are central to the democratic process: voting and political selection.Essay I analyzes the relationship between turnout and relative income, defined as the ratio of personal income and average peer income. The study shows that the relationship between relative income and turnout is complicated: both higher individual income and higher peer income boosts turnout. Becoming relatively poorer may therefore increase or decrease turnout depending on why the change in relative economic standing occurs. Additional analyses suggest that the positive peer effect is due to social spillover rather than a mobilization against income inequality. Essay II (co-authored with Anton Brännlund) discusses the association between a growing wealth gap and left-wing voting. The empirical analyses show that electoral precincts that fall behind in the regional wealth development vote more for Left parties, which indicates a political mobilization against wealth inequality. Essay III studies the association between income inequality and the income levels of elected politicians. The analysis shows that higher income inequality is linked to relatively richer politicians, meaning that political representation worsens in places with higher income inequality. This is driven by Right parties, while Left parties show signs of low-income mobilization. Essay IV (co-authored with Olle Folke and Johanna Rickne) focuses on the emergence of new political party families in Western democratic systems. These Green and Radical Right parties arguably mobilize on an authoritarian-libertarian ideological axis of political conflict, in contrast to the traditional left-right axis. The study links these new political forces to structural changes on the labor market concerning education, female labor supply and occupational task structure. The analyses show that new and traditional parties all differ systematically in terms of their politicians’ labor market experiences, in ways that are expected to socialize different ideological preferences.The thesis contributes to the literature on the political consequences of economic inequality and the literature on political selection. Through detailed analyses of how various aspects of relative economic factors and labor market experiences influence political behavior, it provides novel insights into the socioeconomic dynamics of modern-day politics.