Online political participation: the evolution of a concept


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ISSN: 1468-4462

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Type of work: Article (academic)


e-Democracy | Participation


The advent of online technologies has been triggering a wave of empirical examinations of online political participation (OPP) over the past twenty years. It also stimulated scholarly debate on how to conceptualize political participation in a digital age. Scholars differ on whether to consider passive and expressive online behaviors part of or a mere precursor to political participation. This study argues that due to its rapid evolution as well as its dependence on platform affordances, quantitative empirical studies on OPP may be prone to deviations between established, much-cited definitions and measurements applied in the field. Based on a systematic literature review of 289 international peer-reviewed survey-based and experimental studies, we analyze both definitions and measurements of OPP. We find a series of disconnections: Measures preponderantly address online activities, yet merely a small share of definitions focuses on the online sphere. While only few definitions account for passive activities (e.g., reading news about politics), many operationalizations include measures capturing such passive behaviors. Expressive activities are most popular in measures of OPP, but definitions rarely reflect this focus. Finally, while measures of OPP are prone to be platform-specific, definitions tend to neglect this characteristic. We conclude by reflecting the conceptual implications of common measurement practices for the study of OPP.