Feeling ambitious but economically left behind fuels feelings of discontent with government, study finds

October 17, 2017 by Jim Patterson, Vanderbilt University

Economic progress can cause people to feel dispossessed and angry if they don't feel like they are also advancing, according to a study.

"The results indicate that a booming economy may not be the incumbent government's sole insurance against loss of ," said Cecilia Hyunjung Mo of Vanderbilt University, one of three authors of the study, "Economic Development, Mobility, and Political Discontent: An Experimental Test of Tocqueville's Thesis in Pakistan," which was published in June by the American Political Science Review.

"People must feel they are doing well and sharing society's success."

The study was conducted using face-to-face interviews in 2013-2014 in Pakistan, covering 2,090 households in 76 villages in the Punjab, Sidh and Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) provinces. Subjects were divided into four groups.

  • Those primed into viewing themselves as poorer than average
  • Those influenced to feel that the Pakistani economy offers incredible opportunities for socio-economic mobility
  • Those who were primed into both the first two propositions
  • Those who weren't influenced at all

"Among people with high aspirations, the combination of being made to feel that one's society provides great opportunities for socio-economic mobility and being made to feel that one is relatively deprived and thus has been left behind fuels of discontent with government," said Mo, assistant professor of political science at Vanderbilt. "Importantly, being primed to feel relatively poor alone did not spur dissatisfaction in nearly the same way that did the combination of feeling poor despite feeling that one lives in a mobile society.

"In the group receiving these combined messages, unmet aspirations eroded their confidence in government more than that of any other group."

Today's "hyper-connected" world, courtesy of social media, makes it easier than ever to feel left behind, Mo said.

"A barrage of visuals and messages on the 'good life' from broadcast and news media, as well as their Facebook feeds, can lead to a constant recalibration of an individual's perception of their relative prosperity, potentially leading to feelings of dissatisfaction," she said.

Governments need to ensure their high-aspiring citizens have access to growth opportunities around them, Mo said.

"This is as true in high-income countries with disillusioned populations like the United States and the United Kingdom, as it is in low- and middle-income countries struggling with political instability despite making significant governance reforms," Mo said.

Explore further: Facebook likes don't make you feel better

More information: Economic Development, Mobility and Political Discontent: An Experimental Test of Tocqueville's Thesis in Pakistan. www.vanderbilt.edu/csdi/includes/Mo_June.pdf

Related Stories

US income distribution winners and losers

February 28, 2012

People all over the world have spent almost six months in front of universities, public parks, banks, and even Wall Street to publicly protest their dissatisfaction with economic inequality. But how much disparity really ...

A new way out of the cycle of rejection

June 30, 2017

Have you ever hosted a party, but as the day approaches, your closest friends say they won't be able to attend? Or maybe you sent a friend request to someone on Facebook who never responded, or weren't invited to an event ...

Recommended for you

Study forces a rethink on population history of Ibiza

December 7, 2018

Otago researchers have discovered a rare case of genetic population discontinuity on the Mediterranean Island of Ibiza. Essentially, the original genetic signature of the founding female population, handed down through centuries ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.