Commuting and Citizen Participation in Swedish City-Regions

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Abstract

Commuting has become an increasingly important feature of modern life. Theories of public participation, such as the civic voluntarism model, claim that commuting is likely to reduce the time available for political activism. Based on data from an American context, Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone has concluded that this is exactly what happens. However, empirical studies based on European data on how commuting may affect political participation are rare. This article aims to address this question with regard to Swedish city-regions. Is there also a negative relationship between commuting and citizen participation in Sweden?

The analysis is based on survey data for 7,200 citizens from seven Swedish city-regions belonging to three different size categories. The relationship between commuting and several different forms of public participation is investigated, controlling for the variables suggested by the civic voluntarism model. The analysis indicates that there are no signs of a negative relationship and some aspects of participation are actually positively linked to commuting. These findings suggest that the civic voluntarism model needs to be revised, at least in a European context. The article ends with a discussion about how differences between Sweden and the US can be accounted for and what the more general consequences for democracy may be.

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