Left Behind by Austerity? Economic Disadvantage, Fiscal Constraints, and External Political Efficacy


The belief that governments are no longer responsive to the needs of “ordinary citizens” has become a common charge levied against Western democracies. Compounded by the pressures of austerity politics, financial crises, and growing financialization`, voters appear increasingly unconvinced that their vote matters, particularly when these same pressures have also created feelings of relative depravation and socioeconomic exclusion. Faced with such a decrease in external political efficacy, these “left behind” voters have not only withdrawn from political participation, they have also become increasingly receptive to the anti-elite rhetoric of populist parties.

But while calls for more responsive governments have arisen across the political spectrum, we actually know surprisingly little about the intersection between economic disadvantage, fiscal contraction, and perceptions of government responsiveness. Do poverty and austerity reduce external efficacy? And more importantly, how do individual disadvantage and austerity at the macro level interact in shaping perceptions of efficacy?

Using multi-level modeling, this paper shows that there are important interactions between individual-level economic disadvantage and austerity. Combining data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES), the paper shows that: extbf{(1)} poor voters have significantly lower external efficacy, extbf{(2)} that periods of austerity leads to reduced efficacy for all voters and most importantly extbf{(3)} that the poor suffer disproportionably from periods of austerity, since they see an even greater reduction in external efficacy.