Disability and health problems were earlier thought to make people increasingly passive, which holds as far as voting is concerned. However, according to a research group led by Mikko Mattila, a professor at the University of Helsinki, disability-based discrimination actually leads to higher than average activity in other areas, such as participating in demonstrations or contacting politicians.

Through an extensive European dataset covering 32 countries, Mikko Mattila's research group  investigated how disability, and discrimination experienced by people with disabilities,  affect participation. This is the first time that the impact of health and disability on political engagement has been examined on such a scale.

“Political participation should be made as easy and effortless as possible for people with poor health or disabilities. More consideration should be given to making the voice of those suffering from health problems equally heard in political decision-making,” Mattila points out.

People with disabilities and serious diseases can also be active participants

Voting in elections and participating in other types of political activity are governed by personal resources such as money, time, civic skills, motivation and encouragement received through social networks. Weak health may have a negative impact on all of these.

According to research conducted at the University of Helsinki, chronic diseases have surprisingly complex connections to voting and political participation. Some of them are obvious, such as mental health problems and dementia significantly decreasing voting activity. Other health problems activate people to join in social debate and politics.

“What is encouraging is that even many relatively serious diseases decrease voting probability only slightly or not at all. Certain chronic health problems may even increase certain forms of participation, such as signing citizens’ initiatives,” says Mattila.

Poor health connected with low trust

The relationship between health and political participation is important. If people with poor health participate less in the political process, their voice in societal decision-making is in danger of going unheard. This would weaken their status in society.

Health questions are becoming increasingly significant in politics due to increased health care costs and an aging population. There will be more and more elderly and sick people in the future, but how will their needs and rights be taken into consideration in political decision-making?

“Poor participation opportunities may lead to, for example, these people shutting themselves out of politics. Indeed, our research  proves the existence of a link between low trust in politicians and politics, and poor health,” states Mattila.

Further information:
Professor Mikko Mattila
Tel: +358 50 448 4394
mikko.mattila@helsinki.fi