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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Which Kind of Democracy for Whom? Explaining Citizens’ Expectations from Democracy 


What does democracy mean? This question is difficult to answer - theoretically, we find different ideas of a “good” democracy, and also empirically, democracy is a multidimensional concept: Across countries, democracy varies both in its quality and in the way it is realized. Yet, when researchers for example analyze if citizens are satisfied with “the way democracy works” in their country, they suppose that democracy means the same for individuals all over the world. I argue that in order to be able to analyze support for democracy in a more nuanced way, we need to take a step back and ask what democracy actually means to citizens and how such expectations are formed. Based on the theoretical and empirical literature on varieties of democracy, I suppose that individual expectations from democracy differ across countries, and that they are influenced by two factors: The democratic culture, consisting of age and quality of institutions as well as authoritarian legacies, and the prevalent democratic model. Hence, the specific democratic context in which a citizen lives matters - due to socialization and democratic learning, individuals acquire democratic preferences and value those dimensions more which they experience in their own democracy. Using individual-level data from the European Social Survey (ESS) Round 6 as well as country-level data from the Democracy Barometer, I test how the national democratic context in 27 European democracies influences these individual democratic ideals. Indeed, I find evidence for both socialization and participation effects of the democratic context on citizens’ democratic ideals.

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