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Sticky Socialism: A Quantitative Study of Citizens' Adaptation to Economic and Political Regime Change


The collapse of communism two decades ago — and the subsequent political and economic transformation of Central and Eastern Europe — has raised new questions about the ability of citizens to adapt to changing institutional orders. This dissertation project starts with a large and fundamental puzzle: over the past twenty years, post-communist nations have shown improved convergence toward Western standards of economic and political performance, yet public opinion has grown increasingly disapproving of the changes that have taken place. Why?

While rational-choice theories expect individuals to engage in simple cost-benefit analyses of altering realities, psychological accounts suggest impediments to such practicable adjustments; theories of socialization and attitude "persistence," in particular, emphasize the perseverance and continuing influence of values acquired earlier in life. This dissertation seeks to integrate these various insights and provide a more comprehensive understanding of transition at the individual- level. Utilizing a unique mix of (a) cross-sectional, repeated survey data (European Values Study/World Values Study, 1990-2005), (b) longitudinal survey data (German Socioeconomic Panel, 1999-2010), and (c) macro indicators of economic and political outputs, it investigates the relative importance of early ("primacy") experiences, (re-)learning procedures, and contemporary societal factors for the development of post-communist beliefs. Incorporating a range of statistical techniques, it also probes related mechanisms of change, including within-person attitude stability, alterations in cohort composition over time, migration, and the intergenerational transmission of values, so as to better address the prospects for convergence.

The findings reveal numerous challenges to the task of attitudinal adaptation. Although post-communists are found to partially respond to changing circumstances — and to move some way toward the norms espoused by their Western counterparts — these shifts are shown to be neither linear over time, nor symmetrical for all involved. Rather, even decades after regime change, significant (leftist) biases remain, particularly for members of older cohorts. Supplementary analyses unearth additional evidence of resistance, illustrating how these stable, socialist distinctions might linger further into the long-term, defying physical relocation and potentially even population replacement. Such an inquiry is hoped to illuminate transitions beyond Europe (e.g., China, Middle East), where citizen adaptation to post-authoritarian climates will be critical for democratic consolidation.

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