What is the bigger perspective of politics

Equal living conditions

Wolfgang Gaiser

To person

is a social researcher and former policy advisor for youth research at the German Youth Institute in Munich (DJI). [email protected]

Johann de Rijke

To person

is a social researcher with a focus on youth and participation. [email protected]

Inequality is discussed under many different aspects, again in particular by the report of the commission "Equivalent living conditions" from summer 2019. [1] It proposes the requirements that must be met so that "people everywhere in Germany can live well," said Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer. Particular emphasis is placed on the issues of structural weakness, infrastructure, services of general interest, education, culture, inclusion, labor market integration, social cohesion, social and political participation and generational differences. In the following, we will focus our attention on the latter two aspects as well as on political orientations.

In 2017, the most recent report on children and young people increasingly pointed out regional disparities. [2] The authors of the study emphasize that rural and structurally weak, peripheralized, shrinking areas massively limit the living conditions and opportunities for action of young people. In this constellation, young men in particular in the "new" federal states could be approached for right-wing populist "offers".

There are therefore good reasons to concentrate empirical analyzes on the dimensions of age (younger and older generation), space (east and west), political orientations and political participation.

For the new Shell youth study, more than 2500 adolescents and young adults between the ages of 12 and 27 were interviewed at the beginning of 2019. [3] Only a few results are to be named here in brief that fit our thematization and appear to be worthy of note as a background.

Regional differences between "new" and "old" federal states with regard to the orientations and behavior of the young generation are leveling out. With democracy - as the young people experience it - three quarters are more or less satisfied or very satisfied. Half of young people see the European Union positively, just under a tenth see it negatively. For them, the EU stands for freedom of movement, cultural diversity and peace, and increasingly also for economic prosperity and social security. According to the results of the Shell youth studies, trust in the EU has grown - the last two studies are from 2015 and 2010. When it comes to worries and fears, the topic of "environment" comes first.

The aim of the following is to take a look at generational and regional differences or approximations.

Political orientations

In scientific studies, political orientations are often recorded in a differentiated manner, also in order to give the term "political disaffection" an empirical analysis option appropriate to the complexity of political attitudes. [4] A distinction is made between attitudes towards fundamental values ​​of democracy and towards democracy as a basic political model of society, towards the concrete functioning of democracy in practice and towards trust in political institutions and the holders of political positions. Empirically, the result is a picture in which the approval of citizens is decreasing from the abstract to the concrete: Democracy as a model of rule is widely accepted, while satisfaction with the concrete practice of democracy is lower. In the institutions, those who are not directly connected to the political process, i.e. the courts and police, find a high level of trust; this is lower in the institutions of representative democracy, i.e. in parliament, the government and the parties. After all, politicians find the least trust.

The results of the General Population Survey of the Social Sciences (ALLBUS) from 2018 (Table 1) are similar to those of the youth study of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) 2015: [5] Young people consistently appreciate the value of democracy. They are comparatively less satisfied with the democratic practice in the Federal Republic, and the approval of the respective federal government is even lower, which can be understood as a reaction to a wide variety of output aspects. The institutions of the constitutional state (Federal Constitutional Court, judiciary, police) are trusted most, those of the party state less (Bundestag, Federal Government, political parties), and least of these the political parties.

Table 1: Political orientations (in percent) (& copy bpb)

There are only minor differences between East and West. This was still different in earlier studies, especially in the youth studies of the German Youth Institute, based on 16 to 29 year olds. But there is hardly a greater difference to be seen between the age groups considered. A clear difference can only be seen in one additional aspect: trust in the institutions of the EU Commission and the European Parliament. Although the overall approval ratings are lower than those of the rule of law institutions, the younger generation trust the EU institutions clearly more than the older ones, in the West and, above all, in the East.

Approving attitudes to the cited aspects of political orientations are seen as support and stabilization of a democratic order. Critical elements are certainly possible and even make sense, as they appear in the concept of "critical democrats", who combine clear approval of the idea of ​​democracy with a criticism of the concrete functioning of democracy and the relevant institutions. [6] The basis for this is the clear advocacy of democratic values. A distinction must be made between the cause of dissatisfaction with democracy in one's own country. Against the background of political interest and political competencies and openness to activity, this can be seen as a willingness to improve democratic realities or as an impetus to change inadequate democratic structures. In the absence of such individual contexts, on the other hand, a diffuse dissatisfaction with phenomena of political processes can be assumed, whereby tendencies towards populist ideas critical of democracy can be expected. What is really problematic, however, is the combination of dissatisfaction with real democracy and a low or lack of attachment to fundamental values ​​of democracy. Empirically, this combination was only rarely represented in the FES youth study, but it should not go without attention from youth research.

A positive view of the European Union and the institutions, through which democratic legitimacy is strengthened, and a perspective of how equivalence and social developments can be seen as possible tendencies in regional differences are important for European integration. Jürgen Habermas has repeatedly emphasized the relevance of a European political public and pointed to a unifying awareness of European solidarity, which must be distinguished from national awareness. [7] In this respect, survey results that can be related to such aspects are of interest. [8] More than two thirds of EU citizens believe that their country benefits from EU membership. Younger people agree with this statement more often (almost three quarters).

The results of the European Social Survey from 2016 can be used for regional and generational differentiation of European orientations. [9] This shows that the bond with one's own nation is higher in all countries than that with Europe. However, there is also a strong bond with Europe. Differences between the generations can be found in particular with regard to the bond with one's own nation: This is stronger among the elderly. This indicates that the younger generation are more open to common European solutions in the face of the current political, social and economic challenges in Europe.

Another question is: "Has European unification gone too far or should it go further?" Here one finds significantly more Europe-friendly positions among the younger ones, in some cases with recognizable country differences. Overall, one can see a stronger Europe-friendly attitude among adolescents and young adults.

One can now take into account that not all differences necessarily have to cancel each other out over time or are to be viewed as moments to be adjusted. The clearly different voting behavior between East and West Germany can and must be understood as an expression of different attitudes in which regionally different expectations of society and politics are shown. Understood in this way, such differences may be an important input for politics, but not necessarily a problem that calls for differences to be eliminated. In this respect, equivalence rather than equality of characteristics can also mean equal recognition of differences, as the sociologist Eva Barlösius recommends. [10] However, this does not rule out that problematic attitudes towards democracy may require political and social responses in order not to be seen as a threat to social and political integration. From a broader perspective of social differences in a society, it becomes quite clear that other countries in Europe, such as the United Kingdom, Belgium or Switzerland, with their internal political, economic or cultural differences, can very well live democratically. [11]