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Disenchanted but happy? Changes in the relationship between political participation and competence, satisfaction with politics, and life satisfaction in post-communist Romania

postat 3 feb. 2011, 12:41 de Sergiu Baltatescu   [ actualizat la 3 feb. 2011, 13:41 ]

Sergiu Bălţătescu




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Paper presented at the conference: "From the Totalitarianism towards Democracy in Central-Eastern Europe. Contributions of Political Psychology to Understanding of Transformation Process in the Region", Warsaw, 18-20 November 2010. 

Abstract: In the 20 years after the fall of the Ceauşescu, Romania has come a long way from a closed society, run by a totalitarian regime, to a multiparty pluralist political system. Has this transformation brought more satisfaction to the people? The initial explosion of optimism was followed by an immediate steep decrease in life satisfaction but also by a partial disenchantment with political process. The decline in happiness stopped in the early 2000, and with the increase in national wealth GDP, Romania started a positive trend in subjective global indicators of well-being. However, people grew increasingly sceptical about political processes: decreasing political satisfaction and political competence, loss of trust in political institution and low levels of political participation are processes that worry us with reference to the future of democracy in this country. The idea that the political process generates happiness started with Enlightenment (Ionescu, 1984) and has also been supported by classical economy. But the mainstream in contemporary political theories is the conception that a healthy political environment (liberty, trust, effectiveness of institutions, freedom, and participation) supports objective and subjective well-being of individuals in society. Recent research has highlighted the psychological processes underlying this relationship: political participation increases satisfaction with democracy (Almond & Verba, 1963), and in turn raises life satisfaction (Wagner & Schneider, 2006). Braud (1991) argues that the democratic process has positive emotional effects on optimism and other variables related to psychological well-being. For example Sanders (2001) demonstrate that political participation reduce levels of psychological distress for those predisposed to it. However not many empirical proofs have been brought for the positive correlation between politics and life satisfaction (Dorn, Fischer, Kirchgässner and Sousa- Poza, 2005; Meier & Stutzer, 2004), and some of them (such as Frey & Stutzer’s (2000) are disputable. Moreover, most of the analyses were focused on the West, and such mechanisms may be very different in the context of the Eastern European rebuilt democracies. Using longitudinal and transversal analyses on two Romanian survey data series (Diagnosis of Quality of Life 1990-2010, and OSF’s Public Opinion Barometer 1995-2005), we tried to answer to questions such as: How the political indicators (political participation, satisfaction and competence) varied in the 20 years after the communism? How powerful was the influence of these variables on happiness and satisfaction of Romanians? And how these relationships changed throughout this time? Results showed that politics and happiness are empirically related. We found that, although political competence and satisfaction decreased throughout the transition, they remained significantly correlated (r=0.11, and r=0.30) with satisfaction with life as a whole. ARIMA(0,0,0) analysis showed that, among these factors, satisfaction with political life has the highest and life time series correlation with life satisfaction (t=0.02, r square for stationary series 0.88). Possible reversed relationship (from personal unhappiness to civic disengagement) and spurious effects induced by self-esteem and locus of control were also discussed.

Keywords: quality of life, political sociology, subjective well-being, political satisfaction, political participation
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Sergiu Baltatescu,
3 feb. 2011, 13:41