“They don’t know what it’s like to be at the bottom”: Exploring the role of perceived cultural distance in less-educated citizens’ discontent with politicians

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Abstract

Why is discontent with politicians highest among less-educated citizens? Supplementing explanations concerning a lack of resources and knowledge, we examine the cultural distance to many a politician perceived by this group. Inspired by qualitative studies mapping the worldviews of people from the lower social strata, we explore less-educated citizens’ perceptions of politicians using in-depth (group) interviews carried out in various regions of the Netherlands (n = 26). Our analysis indicates that this group regards politicians as culturally distant “others” and that this perception goes hand in hand with specific negative evaluations of politicians. This improves our understanding of the much-reported political discontent of these citizens. In moving beyond the often mentioned unspecific divide between the “people” and the “elite”, our analysis reveals that our interviewees: (i) consider politicians to be insensitive to the lived experiences of the “common” people, and therefore, question their legitimacy and the policies they propose; (ii) resent their communication styles, which they describe as “beating about the bush” and perceive to be emblematic of indecisiveness and a lack of integrity; and (iii) accuse them of superiority signaling, inspiring feelings of misrecognition and opposition. We conclude with detailing the implications of our findings for (future) research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)566-579
Number of pages14
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Volume72
Issue number3
Early online date27 Dec 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

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