The day after an electoral defeat: Counterfactuals and collective action

Authors


Patrizia Milesi, Department of Psychology, Catholic University of Milan, Largo Gemelli 1, 20123 Milan, Italy (e-mail: patrizia.milesi@unicatt.it).

Abstract

An intriguing question for scholars of collective action is how participants of unsuccessful actions become re-engaged in future collective activities. At an individual level, previous research has shown that after negative outcomes counterfactual thoughts (‘if only … ’) may serve to prepare for future action. In the current research, we investigated whether counterfactuals may also prepare for future action at a collective level. After a defeat of their party at the regional elections, 163 political activists rated their agreement with abstract (as opposed to concrete) and party-focused (as opposed to other-focused) counterfactuals about how the elections outcome might have been better. Results showed that abstract counterfactuals, dealing with the core elements of the elections, supported collective action intention better than concrete ones. Consistent with the recent developments of dual-pathway models of collective action, counterfactuals predicted collective action intention through the mediation of group efficacy and group identification. In particular, while both party- and other-focused abstract counterfactuals increased group efficacy, only other-focused abstract counterfactuals increased group identification. Discussion focuses on how the investigation of counterfactuals can enlarge our knowledge of the socio-cognitive antecedents of collective action.

Ancillary