Economic inequality and political participation
This chapter examines the influence of economic inequality on political participation through voting in six East Asian democracies. Based on the existing debate between power theory and conflict theory, this chapter critically reviews existing theoretical arguments and empirically tests their mechanisms linking economic inequality and political participation. On the one hand, rising economic inequality may depress democratic representation of the poorer citizens by limiting their political participation. On the other hand, rising economic inequality may boost political participation of both the poorer and richer citizens by intensifying class conflicts between the two groups. To examine which theory holds greater explanatory power in East Asia, this chapter empirically analyses the impact of economic inequality on voter turnout at both the macro-level and the micro-level. Using a new election dataset that covers more countries and elections than previous studies, the macro-level analysis shows that rising inequality decreases voter turnout in six Asian democracies. Similarly, in micro-level analysis, some support for a positive (+) relationship between income level and voting participation is found, after grouping countries by low and high level of income inequality. Despite greater empirical support for the power theory, the test results are not consistent across all the individual countries, thus suggesting that there are limits to the predictions of existing theories. By applying existing theories of economic inequality and voting to Asian countries, this research contributes to the understanding of the political behaviour of East Asian citizens.