The Risk-Participation Paradox: Micro Mechanisms Linking Perceived Risks to Protest Participation

The Risk-Participation Paradox: Micro Mechanisms Linking Perceived Risks to Protest Participation

(NKFIH project number: NKFI-135274)


The aim of the project is to analyze risk perception and the mechanisms that link perceived risks to protest participation.

In the field of political sociology protest participation is interpreted as an instrument in the hands of ordinary people to shape their political and social environment. Understanding why people raise their voice or remain passive is a crucial part of research on protest participation.

Collective action theory implies that fear of the possible negative consequences of participation in political protests might impede protest action. For instance, a high chance of police attack on protesters in a public demonstration is likely to decrease potential protesters' willingness to participate.

Research results, however, show a complex picture since sociologists and psychologists found a positive correlation between perceived risks and participation in demonstrations. That is, the riskier demonstrating is considered to be, the higher the willingness to participate. Although these results contradict the basic assumptions of sociologists’ action theory, the risk-protest relation remains under-researched by political sociologists. Moreover, empirical studies applied a cross-sectional survey design, which reveals correlations but not the causal paths. To avoid shortcomings of former research we will use the survey experiment method, which is appropriate for analyzing both direct and indirect effects.

The main objective of this research project is to elucidate how risky political situations shape willingness to protest. How could be explained the puzzle of the positive correlation between perceived risks and willingness to protest? What can be the mediation mechanism between risks and willingness to protest participation? Based on two preliminary studies we can draw the conclusion that motivation to protest participation, and citizen’s reactions to protest events moderated by their political identity. With our research project we seek answers to the following research questions:

RQ1. What are the basic mechanisms connecting perceived risks to protest participation?

RQ2. What role political identity plays in risk perception and willingness to protest?

RQ3. How political identities moderate the perceived risks-protest participation nexus?                                            

Research period: 01/12/2020 - 31/11/2023

Principal investigator: Pál Susánszky

Researchers: Béla Janky