Letters to leaders: Political participation and punctuated equilibrium theory


Is there a steady, consistent flow of public opinion to political leaders? Or are the public usually fairly quiet, with occasional periods of shouting from rooftops? Research has shown that policy agendas are punctuated, with long periods of stasis and short periods of major change, there is a paucity of research on punctuation of public opinion and political participation. This paper advances punctuated equilibrium theory by applying this approach to political participation. I use new datasets of the volume and topic of letters to the Australian Prime Minister and American President. I find clear evidence that that individuals’ decision to participate is punctuated. I also find that topics with a high volume of letters have a higher level of punctuation, supporting the theory that punctuations can occur when the conflict is expanded, and public is drawn into the conflict. These results extend punctuated equilibrium further up the policy process chain.



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