Petitions, Political Participation, and Government Responsiveness

50 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2022

See all articles by Arvind Magesan

Arvind Magesan

University of Calgary

Dimitri Migrow

University of Edinburgh

Date Written: November 9, 2022


Private citizens have used petitions to address and make demands from political leaders for centuries. Similar to other democratic institutions, a petition's effectiveness is determined largely by participation of other citizens. Yet, participation itself is a function of expectations about government responsiveness to the petition, suggesting a ``chicken and egg" problem. This paper studies the effect of government responsiveness on citizen participation in petitions in the United Kingdom, where the government is obligated to officially and publicly respond to petitions that receive a threshold number of signatures. We first develop a theoretical model, which reveals that the structure of the system implies a bunching strategy for identifying the effect of government responsiveness on citizen participation. Applying the strategy, we estimate that the government's commitment to respond to citizens caused an increase of at least 84% and as much as 115% in petitions that crossed the threshold, and provide evidence that petitioners mobilize other citizens to reach this threshold using social media platforms such as Twitter. Using methods from Natural Language Processing (NLP) together with detailed elections data, we show that petitions are primarily an instrument of the political right.

Keywords: Political participation, Government responsiveness, Petitions, Protest, Text analysis, Bunching, Structural estimation.

JEL Classification: D72, D78

Suggested Citation

Magesan, Arvind and Migrow, Dimitri, Petitions, Political Participation, and Government Responsiveness (November 9, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Arvind Magesan (Contact Author)

University of Calgary ( email )

2500 University DR NW
Calgary, AB

Dimitri Migrow

University of Edinburgh ( email )

United Kingdom

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