Punctuated equilibrium and the dynamics of political participation: the case of letter writing

07 February 2023, Version 2
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


While research has shown that policy outputs are punctuated, there is a paucity of research about the punctuation of public opinion and political participation. Policymakers rely on political participation to understand public opinion, so it is important to understand the patterns and flows of political participation, to help understanding democratic responsiveness, and how policy outputs behave. I advance punctuated equilibrium theory by applying it to individuals' decision to participate. I argue that bounded rationality and disproportionate information processing, will result in a punctuated equilibrium pattern. Using innovative new datasets on the volume and topic of letters to the Australian Prime Minister and American President, I find consistent evidence of punctuations, using weekly, fortnightly, and annual data, across both Australia and the USA. These results extend punctuated equilibrium further up the policy process chain than has previously been done, supporting its claim to be a full theory of government information processing.


Punctuated equilibrium theory
Public opinion
Political participation


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