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Critical CitizensGlobal Support for Democratic Government$

Pippa Norris

Print publication date: 1999

Print ISBN-13: 9780198295686

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0198295685.001.0001

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Conclusions: The Growth of Critical Citizens and Its Consequences

Conclusions: The Growth of Critical Citizens and Its Consequences

Chapter:
(p.257) 13 Conclusions: The Growth of Critical Citizens and Its Consequences
Source:
Critical Citizens
Author(s):

Pippa Norris (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/0198295685.003.0013

Abstract and Keywords

This concluding chapter considers four common claims that are made concerning the consequences of any erosion of confidence in the institutions of representative democracy and. the growth of critical citizens.

First, growing cynicism about government may deter conventional political participation, thus discouraging electoral turnout, political activism, and civic engagement; second, alienation with the regime may affect protest politics, fostering unconventional activism, support for anti‐state extremist movements, and even occasional incidents of urban terrorism; third, a deep reservoir of public trust is generally thought to encourage voluntary compliance with the law, thus enhancing the ability of governments to pass and implement effective legislation and raise revenues, without the need for coercion; and lastly, growing tensions between ideal and reality may undermine the stability of regimes, increasing the pressures for political reform in established democracies and hindering the consolidation process in newer democracies. A critical examination is made of support for and against these claims, and the implications for strengthening transitional, consolidating, and established democracies are considered.

Keywords:   consolidating democracies, critical citizens, democracies, democratic institutions, established democracies, institutional confidence, newer democracies, political participation, political reform, protest politics, public trust, regime stability, representative democracy, transitional democracies

The first part of this book has clearly demonstrated the increased tensions between democratic values, which seem to have triumphed across the globe, and yet the erosion of confidence in the institutions of representative democracy. As Lipset and Schneider note (1987), it is often difficult to establish the precise impact of the decline in institutional confidence in any quantifiable way. Some effects are direct and behavioural. Others are more inferential and intangible. In this concluding chapter we can consider certain common claims.

  1. It is widely believed that growing cynicism about government may deter conventional participation: discouraging electoral turnout, political activism, and civic engagement.

  2. Moreover alienation with the regime is commonly expected to effect protest politics: fostering unconventional activism, support for anti‐state extremist movements, and even occasional incidents of urban terrorism.

  3. A deep reservoir of public trust is generally thought to encourage voluntary compliance with the law, enhancing the ability of governments to pass and implement effective legislation and raise revenues, without the need for coercion.

  4. Lastly, theorists suggest that growing tensions between ideal and reality will undermine the stability of regimes, increasing the pressures for political reform in established democracies and hindering the consolidation process in newer democracies.

This chapter will critically examine support for and against these claims, and then consider the implications for strengthening transitional, consolidating, and established democracies.

(p.258) The Consequences for Conventional Political Participation

It is commonly assumed that eroding faith in government has discouraged conventional political participation. During the post‐war era the decline in the number of American voters at the polls is well established: turnout as a proportion of the voting age population during presidential elections peaked in 1960 at 65.4 per cent before falling to 48.8 per cent in 1996, its lowest level in seven decades (Gans 1997; Teixeira 1992). Studies are divided about the comparative pattern. Topf (1995: 41) noted no general decline in turnout in Western Europe during the post‐war era although Dalton (1996: 45) found a modest slide in a broader comparison of 21 advanced industrialized democracies, where turnout fell from an average of 82 per cent in the 1950s and 1960s down to 76 per cent in the mid‐1990s. The most comprehensive world‐wide review confirmed a relatively modest dip in turnout from 1945–97 in established democracies (around 6 per cent on average during the last quarter‐century), although the study monitored a substantial increase in voter participation in all other states world‐wide (IDEA 1997).

Following Verba and Nie (1972), political participation has generally been understood as a multi‐dimensional phenomenon, with different costs and benefits associated with alternative types of activities. The most comprehensive study of political participation in the United States, by Verba, Schlozman, and Brady, (1995: 71) reported that the drop in voting turnout has not been accompanied by a general decrease in political activism, indeed Americans have become more engaged in contributing money towards campaigns and in contacting officials. Putnam (1995a, b, 1996) has presented the most extensive evidence for growing civic disengagement in the United States, in activities as diverse as community meetings, social networks, and associational membership. This interpretation of the American data has aroused considerable debate (Ladd 1996; Norris 1996; Smith 1997). One plausible view is that channels of political participation may be evolving rather than declining, if people are becoming more active in new ways. Compared with earlier decades, by the end of the century American citizens may not be joining the Elks or striking in trade unions or demonstrating about civil rights, any more than they are hula‐hooping or watching sputnik or going to discos. But they may be engaging in civic life by recycling garbage, mobilizing on the internet, and volunteering at women's shelters or AIDS hospices. Putnam and Yonish (1998) indicate that newer forms of civic engagement may be developing in America. Changing patterns of civic engagement can be found in many Western democracies where new social movements are challenging the political order (Dalton and Kuechler 1990; McAdam, McCarthy, and Zaid 1996).

The comparative picture remains complex to interpret. While the thesis about the decline of social capital in America has aroused considerable debate it remains difficult to know how far this pattern is evident in other post‐industrial (p.259) societies. Britain, for example, has experienced a significant resurgence of group membership and civic engagement in recent decades (Hall 1997). Studies in Western Europe report no clear cross‐national decline in party membership (Widfeldt 1995; Katz and Mair 1994), nor in associational membership (Aarts 1995). Comparative data suggests that the overall pattern of political participation is one of trendless fluctuations, or mixed indicators, in many established democracies, rather than a clear secular decline across all forms of activity.

In terms of explanations, ever since The Civic Culture political cynicism has been regarded as one plausible reason depressing activism. Since the rising tide of political cynicism in the United States occurred during roughly the same period as the fall in turnout these factors are commonly linked by popular commentators. Nevertheless systematic analysis has failed to establish a causal connection at individual‐level between feelings of political trust and electoral turnout in the United States (Citrin 1974; Citrin and Green 1986; Abramson 1983; Teixeira 1992) or in Britain, Germany, and France (Dalton 1996). Indeed, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the most thorough study of participation in Britain, (Parry, Moyser, and Day 1992), found that the most cynical were actually more politically engaged than the average citizen across a range of activities including voting. Much commentary assumes that if people don't have confidence in the core institutions of representative democracy, such as parliaments or the legal system, they will be reluctant to participate in the democratic process, producing apathy. But it is equally plausible to assume that alienation with representative democracy could mobilize citizens, if people are stimulated to express their disaffection, throw out office‐holders, and seek institutional redress (Citrin and Green 1986).

Moreover the weight given to cultural factors remains a matter of debate. The extensive literature comparing levels of electoral turnout has usually focused on the micro conditions influencing individual citizens, including their political attitudes (such as efficacy, interest, and trust) and their background characteristics (notably age, gender, education, and social status) (Almond and Verba 1963; Verba and Nie 1972; Verba, Nie, and Kim 1978; Verba et al. 1995; Topf 1995). In contrast another body of work has emphasized the macro conditions of participation set by the political system, such as registration laws, voting facilities, and the salience of elections (Jackson 1987; IDEA 1997a). The last strand of the literature has emphasized the ‘intermediary’ conditions set by mobilizing agencies like parties, interest groups, and the media (Powell 1982; Fox Piven and Cloward 1988; Rosenstone and Hansen 1993).

Evidence for the relationship between conventional political participation and confidence in representative government can be analysed by drawing on data from 44 countries including established democracies, semi‐democracies, and non‐democracies included in the World Values Study 1995–7. Since conventional participation is understood as a multi‐dimensional phenomenon it is gauged here by four indicators: frequent engagement in political discussion; (p.260) active membership in a political party; active membership in traditional economic associations (trade unions and professional organizations); and active membership in voluntary organizations (such as church, environmental, and charitable groups) (for details see Appendix 13A).

To measure institutional confidence this chapter uses a similar index to that already developed in Chapter 11, based on summing confidence in five political institutions: parliament, the civil service, the legal system, parties, and the government. Responses to these items were strongly inter‐correlated and formed a reliable scale (Cronbach's Alpha = 0.75). Controls were introduced into the models based on the literature on patterns of participation. At individual‐level we controlled for background factors commonly associated with activism including the age, gender, education, and socioeconomic status of respondents, and other political attitudes including political interest, social trust, and Left–Right self‐placement (see Appendix 13A). At national‐level we controlled for the level of economic development of a country (based on per capita GNP) and the country's mean rating in 1996 on the Freedom House index of civil liberties and political rights. The models were run with the activism scales as the dependent variables, using ordinary least‐squared regression analysis. The aim was not to develop a comprehensive explanation of political participation, for example by including a range of attitudinal factors like political efficacy in causal models, but rather to isolate the consequences of institutional confidence on activism with a limited range of controls.

Table 13.1. Models of Conventional Participation and Civic Engagement

Political discussion

Party activism

Economic associations

Voluntary organizations

Beta

Sig.

Beta

Sig.

Beta

Sig.

Beta

Sig.

Political attitudes

Institutional Confidence

–.02

**

.07

**

.07

**

.09

**

Social trust

.02

**

.05

**

.09

**

.09

**

Political interest

.49

**

.20

**

.07

**

.06

**

Left–Right self‐placement

–.02

**

.04

**

–.02

**

.03

**

Social background

Gender

.07

**

.04

**

.06

**

.01

Age

.05

**

.03

**

–.02

**

–.06

**

Education

.09

**

.04

**

.09

**

.05

**

Socioeconomic status

–.03

**

–.02

*

–.06

**

–.10

**

National context

Level of democratization

–.03

**

.06

**

.01

.10

**

Level of economic development

.03

**

–.11

**

–.006

–.08

**

Adjusted R2

.29

.07

.05

.06

(**) =sig. p〉.01. N. 64,975 in 44 nations.

Note: The figures represent standardized Beta coefficients in ordinary least squared regression models.

Source: World Values Survey 1995–7.

(p.261) The result of comparing activism across these dimensions (Table 13.1) shows that institutional confidence was significantly related to conventional participation, even after controlling for social background, other political attitudes and national context, although the effect usually proved very weak. Those with confidence in government institutions proved more likely to be active members of political parties, economic associations, and voluntary organizations. More trusting citizens, however, were slightly less likely to engage in political discussions. There were familiar patterns with the control variables. Political interest consistently proved a strong predictor of conventional participation, while greater social trust also proved significant. As expected women proved slightly less active than men across all dimensions of conventional politics except for voluntary associations, where there was no gender gap. In the expected pattern the better educated and those of higher socioeconomic status were far more likely to be politically engaged. Age was not strongly related to participation except that the young proved less active in voluntary associations, confirming the Putnam thesis (1995a, b), yet more engaged in political discussion. Greater participation in parties and voluntary associations was related to higher levels of democratization and yet also to less‐developed societies.

Greater confidence in the core institutions of representative democracy—such as parliament, the civil service, and the legal system—is therefore associated with more active involvement in conventional forms of political participation and civic engagement. Yet the effects should not be exaggerated since the overall impact of institutional confidence on conventional activism remains relatively weak. From a public policy perspective, the findings suggest that it may be more important to generate attitudes like political interest rather than trust. The results suggest that we should be cautious about over‐simple accounts blaming declining institutional trust alone for any major erosion in political participation and civic engagement.

The Impact on Protest Politics

Another common claim concerns the impact of declining confidence in government on protest politics (Gamson 1968; Gurr 1971; Muller 1979; Muller, Jukam, and Seligson 1982; Cheles et al. 1995). It is widely believed that political cynicism fuels protest activity ranging from peaceful demonstrations like the Million Man March, through non‐violent direct action such as British blockades preventing the import of French trucks of calves, to incidents of urban terrorism like the Oklahoma bombing, yet the behavioural consequences remain unclear. Evidence within this book and elsewhere indicates that many American voters are unhappy with Congress, hold politicians in low esteem, and don't vote. But still outside the beltway there is no serious popular debate demanding radical constitutional changes, in marked contrast (p.262) to active reform movements in Canada, Italy, or Britain, let alone any ground‐swell of public mass demonstrations, civic disobedience, or revolutionary action. Even recent mass demonstrations in America, like the Million Man March, seem designed to focus attention on individual responsibility more than demands for government intervention.

At the most extreme, a widespread lack of trust in the political system in the mainstream culture may foster a public climate which facilitates the growth of anti‐state movements and occasional outbreaks of urban terrorism among the minority—whether the bombing of abortion clinics in America, threats of biological terrorism in Japan, radical assassinations of public figures in the Basque region, violent racist incidents in France and Germany, heated ethnic/religious conflict in Kashmir, or splinter terrorist groups sabotaging the peace process in Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine. It is hard to establish the conditions which foster the beliefs and values of extreme anti‐state groups, since insulated minority sub‐cultures like neo‐Fascist and anti‐Semitic groups can flourish even in the most tolerant and deeply‐rooted democratic societies (Cheles et al. 1995; Taras and Ganguly 1998). Nevertheless we suspect a significant connection between mainstream and minority cultures in the long term.

The most extensive evidence concerning protest activism was collected by the five‐nation 1973–6 Political Action Study (Barnes and Kaase 1979; Jennings and van Deth 1989). This examined the factors associated with protest potential, measured by willingness to engage in a series of activities such as refusing to pay taxes and willingness to occupy buildings or block traffic. Farah et al. (1979) found no significant association between protest potential and beliefs in the responsiveness of the political system (system efficacy). In the follow‐up study, Thomassen confirmed that protest potential was unrelated to support for the political regime in the Netherlands and West Germany (Thomassen 1990). More recently, however, Dalton found that dissatisfaction with the democratic process was related to protest potential, albeit weakly, in the USA, Britain, Germany, and France (Dalton 1996: 80). It is difficult to compare the results of previous studies since each employs slightly different measures of system support. There are also problems of interpreting the evidence since the standard battery of questions available to measure protest potential has proved a poor indicator of what activities people actually perform (Jennings et al. 1989). Responses can best be understood as what citizens think they ought to do, rather than what they actually will do (Topf 1995). In addition some of the items termed ‘unconventional’ in the 1960s have now become mainstream, like signing petitions.

Bearing these qualifications in mind we can re‐examine the evidence drawing on the 1995–7 World Values Study to analyse the association between protest potential and the Index of Institutional Confidence used earlier. ‘Protest potential’ is measured using the standard five‐item scale, as follows:

‘Now I'd like you to look at this card. I'm going to read out some different forms of political action that people can take, and I'd like you to tell me, for each one, whether (p.263) you have actually done any of these things (2), whether you might do it (1) or would never, under any circumstances, do it (0) . . .

  1. Signing a petition

  2. Joining in boycotts

  3. Attending lawful demonstrations

  4. Joining unofficial strikes

  5. Occupying buildings or factories.’

These items formed a reliable uni‐dimensional scale (Cronbach's Alpha = 0.78) ranging in protest potential from low (0) to high (10).

Table 13.2. Models of Protest Potential and Law Compliance

Protest potential

Willingness to obey law

Beta

Sig.

Beta

Sig.

Political attitudes

Institutional confidence

–.03

**

.07

**

Social trust

.11

**

.02

**

Political interest

.29

**

.03

**

Left‐Right self‐placement

–.12

**

.004

Social background

Gender

.04

**

–.08

**

Age

–.18

**

.22

**

Education

.10

**

.03

**

Socioeconomic status

–.03

**

–.007

National context

Level of democratization

.15

**

.21

**

Level of economic development

.00

–.16

**

Adjusted R2

.20

.09

(**) =sig. p〉.01 N.64,975 in 44 nations.

Note: The figures represent standardized Beta coefficients in ordinary least squared regression models.

Source: World Values Survey 1995–7.

The result of the OLS regression analysis in Table 13.2 shows a very modest relationship in the expected direction between institutional confidence and protest potential: the most cynical were slightly more prone to sympathize with protest politics. But, although this relationship proved statistically significant, it was also weaker than nearly all the other control variables. The strongest predictors of protest potential were political interest and age, with young people far more likely to approve of these newer forms of direct activism, followed by (respectively) level of democratization, Left–Right self‐placement, social trust, and education. We can conclude that trust in government is significantly related to protest potential but the association remains very weak.

(p.264) The Effects on Voluntary Compliance With the Law

Systems support has also been thought to be associated with the willingness of citizens to obey the law and pay taxes without the penalty of coercion, thereby facilitating effective government (Easton 1965). We expect citizens who support the regime will be more likely to believe that the laws are legitimate and should be followed voluntarily. This, even more than political participation, has proved a critical issue for many new democracies since many incomplete or semi‐democracies, such as Russia, Colombia, and Mexico, are characterized by widespread tax avoidance, rampant crime and corruption, and ineffective law enforcement (Transparency International 1997).

We can examine whether confidence in democratic institutions is related to voluntary compliance with the law by drawing on a battery of questions tapping attitudes in the World Values Survey 1995–7.

‘Please tell me for each of the following statements whether you think it can always be justified (0), never be justified (2), or something in between (1), using this card . . .

  1. Claiming government benefits to which you are not entitled

  2. Avoiding a fare on public transport

  3. Cheating on tax if you have the chance

  4. Buying something you knew was stolen

  5. Someone accepting a bribe in the course of their duties.’

Factor analysis revealed that these loaded onto a single dimension which formed an internally consistent law‐compliance scale (Cronbach's Alpha = .78) ranging from low (0) to high (10).

If we compare the results across all countries, in Table 13.2, the results show that trust in government institutions was positively associated with willingness to obey the law voluntarily. The results proved significant, and in the expected direction, although other control factors proved better predictors of compliance, notably the levels of economic development and democratization of the society. What this suggests from a policy perspective is that the legitimacy of regime institutions is one contributing factor which helps promote voluntary compliance with the law, and therefore an effective public policy‐making process, but strengthening human rights and civil liberties in transitional democracies may be even more important.

The Consequences for Regime Stability

The systemic consequences of growing political cynicism may be expected to prove even more serious for regime stability, particularly in newer democracies. (p.265) Theories have long emphasized that growing tensions between culture and structure may be expected to lead to regime instability (Almond and Verba 1963). Yet systematic evidence for this relationship is complex and difficult to interpret. Here we can consider three claims.

  1. 1. Contrary to popular perceptions, the growth of democratization worldwide stabilized in the 1990s, rather than steadily expanding in linear fashion.

  2. 2. Many countries have benefited from the tide of growing political rights and civil liberties since the early 1980s, but some regimes have experienced reverse waves of democratization.

  3. 3. Growing tensions between ideals and reality, and increased disenchantment with the institutions of representative democracy, may add to the pressures for political reform, which may ultimately strengthen democratic systems, or alternatively may undermine support for the fledgling structures of democracy in newer regimes.

The first claim is easiest to establish. The process of democratization surged during the late 1980s but then subsequently stagnated. The world‐wide growth of democracies over time has been monitored most consistently by the Freedom House index. This uses seven‐point scales of political rights and civil liberties to classify states into democracies (‘free’), semi‐democracies (‘partly‐free’) and non‐democracies (‘not free’) (Karatnycky 1997). According to this index, world‐wide the proportion of democracies rose from 34 per cent in 1983 to 41 per cent in 1997 (see Figure 13.1). By 1997, out of 194 states around the world (excluding independent territories), 81 countries could be classified as democratic. But this leaves 60 countries as incomplete or semi‐democracies, and another 53 undemocratic states including major nations such as China, Indonesia, and Nigeria. Undoubtedly the overall news has been positive: since 1983, twenty more countries have joined the ranks of consolidated democracies. Yet the trend over time is a period‐specific stepped‐shift in democratization, not a steady secular rise. The dramatic gains occurred following the end of the Cold War and the proportion of democratic states world‐wide then stabilized. Moreover some regions, notably the Middle East, seem to have largely resisted the pressures for democratic reform.

We can also demonstrate that despite progress the process of democratization has experienced some significant setbacks in recent years and historically previous waves of democracy have commonly been followed by major reversals (Huntington 1991). In Latin America during the mid‐1980s scholars stressed the precariousness and uncertainty of the transition from authoritarian rule (O'Donnell, Schmitter, and Whitehead 1986). In the early years after the fall of the Berlin Wall some predicted the return of authoritarian rule or anarchy in Central Europe, particularly following appeals to extreme nationalism in Russia and the Ukraine. So far these predictions have proved unduly alarmist in this region, but the process of democratic transition has been (p.266)

                      Conclusions: The Growth of Critical Citizens and Its Consequences

Fig. 13.1. The Growth Of Democracies, Percentage Of Countries, 1982–1996.

Source: Freedom House Index.

highly uncertain and fragile elsewhere, notably throughout Africa. In Algeria, the Gambia, and Nigeria human rights have been undermined by military‐backed executives who have persecuted minorities, banned opposition forces, and crippled elections through intimidation and violence. Between 1983 and 1997, although the overall tide flowed towards greater democracy, a dozen countries experienced significant erosions of political rights and civil liberties (by more than one grade in the Freedom House index), with particularly sharp deteriorations in Nigeria, Sudan, and the Dominican Republic (see Figure 13.2). Despite progress during the 1990s, many incomplete or semi‐democracies continue to face serious problems in the consolidation process.

Yet it is more difficult to establish the consequences of the growth of critical citizens for regime stability, and to relate changes in public opinion with the democratization process. While we strongly suspect that a supportive political culture is necessary for democratic consolidation, the exact weight given to system support remains a matter of debate. On the one hand, ever since Lipset's (1959) classic study, the consolidation literature has stressed that countries may revert to authoritarian rule, or never progress beyond being incomplete or semi‐democratic states, unless they build reservoirs of popular support for democratic institutions to tide the political system over bad times as well as good (Almond and Verba 1963; Linz and Stepan 1978; Lipset 1993; Diamond, Linz and Lipset 1995; Linz and Stepan 1996: 3–15; Diamond et al. 1997). Widespread adherence to democratic values and norms is thought to bolster institutions like free elections and competitive parties so that they become ‘the only game in town’. Democratic institutions are believed vulnerable to breakdown in times of crisis unless rooted in shared norms of political trust, tolerance, respect for human rights, willingness to compromise, moderation, and belief in democratic legitimacy. (p.267)

                      Conclusions: The Growth of Critical Citizens and Its Consequences

Fig. 13.2. Change In Levels Of Democratization, 1983–1997.

(p.268) Yet on the other hand the importance of political culture has been challenged by elitist theories which suggest that democratic processes can become consolidated in Central and Eastern European nations, with the commitment of political leaders, even if the public remains lukewarm or indifferent. Both Robert Dahl (1971) and Dankwart Rustow (1970) argued that stable democracies are likely to be developed where the expansion of political competition among elites preceded mass participation. Arend Lijphart (1977) has suggested that consociational democracies function through elite accommodation and a shared commitment among leaders to the values of bargaining, moderation, and compromise, even if the mass society is deeply polarized and fragmented. In similar vein others have pointed out that democracies continue to survive even in societies like Italy and Japan which are characterized by rampant and persistent cynicism about government, deep mistrust of political leaders, and widespread discontent with political institutions (Budge and Newton 1997). Pursuing a slightly different line of reasoning, Rose and MISHLER have demonstrated that citizens of Central and Eastern European countries remain sceptical of democracy as an ideal, and critical of the workings of democratic institutions in practice, but nevertheless they prefer the new regimes to the old (see Mishler and Rose, Chapter 4 this volume; Rose et al. 1998). Cultural factors may therefore prove less important for consolidation than other conditions such as the role of political institutions, economic development, political leadership, civic society, the social structure, and the international environment.

This is an important debate, requiring complex sources of evidence, and we cannot hope to do more than highlight these arguments here. But, despite the elitist arguments, we have a nagging concern that where regimes are not widely believed to be legitimate then public opinion will not act as an effective deterrent against anti‐democratic forces. If fledgling democratic structures are threatened by leadership coups, extremist nationalist parties, or more commonly by a gradual erosion of civil liberties and human rights, then a disillusioned public will not function as a check on authoritarianism. If the public has little faith in existing channels of representative democracy, they will not mobilize to defend the Russian Duma, the Mexican Camara de Diputados, or the Panamanian Asemblean Legislativa. In such circumstances, it becomes more likely that these institutions may fold against external forces. If these institutions do not deserve public support, because of widespread corruption, venality, or inefficiency, then this may prove a positive boost for reform movements. But at the same time, even if the public does not actively desire a return to the old regimes, the danger remains that citizens may not stand as a bulwark to defend fledgling democratic institutions, for all their flaws, against authoritarian forces.

(p.269) Discussion and Summary

The evidence presented in this volume suggests that we have seen the growth of more critical citizens, who value democracy as an ideal yet who remain dissatisfied with the performance of their political system, and particularly the core institutions of representative government. The cross‐national pattern of critical citizens is illustrated most clearly in Figure 13.3, which compares evaluations of the current regime against support for democratic values (see Appendix 13A for details of the items used). By the mid‐1990s this volume demonstrates that citizens in most countries showed widespread support for democracy as an ideal, ‘better than any other form of government’. This pattern was evident among citizens in established democracies such as Norway and West Germany, as well as for newer democracies like South Africa, and even authoritarian regimes like Nigeria. Yet at the same time citizens in many

                      Conclusions: The Growth of Critical Citizens and Its Consequences

Fig. 13.3. Critical Citizens, 1995–1997.

Source: World Values Surveys 1995–7.

(p.270) countries showed fairly negative evaluations of the performance of their current political system.

The growth of critical citizens is open to different interpretations, as discussed by contributors within this volume, and we cannot hope to settle this debate here. On the one hand, the effect of growing tensions between democratic ideals and the perceived performance of democratic institutions may have destabilizing effects on the body politic, which may slow the consolidation process in newer democracies. On the other hand, these trends in public opinion can be expected to prove healthy if they fuel pressure for major institutional reforms designed to strengthen representative and direct democracy. In America, concern about growing cynicism has spurred the rise of diverse movements like civic journalism seeking to rekindle public engagement in community life, as well as the term‐limits movement and pressures on campaign finance reform (Craig 1993). During the last decade, partly in response to perceived problems of public trust, Italy, New Zealand, and Japan have adopted radical reforms to their electoral systems for parliament while Israel introduced direct elections for the executive (Norris 1995). The UK opted for a sweeping and radical set of constitutional initiatives including devolution for Scotland and Wales, electoral reform, reform of the Lords, an elected mayor for London, a new settlement in Northern Ireland, stronger regulations of political finance, a Freedom of Information Act, and the adoption of a written Bill of Rights. In Canada and Italy constitutional debates about regional devolution or independence have proved deeply divisive and remain unresolved. In many established political systems, therefore, constitutional settlements which seemed frozen appear to suddenly break and reform, in a model of punctuated equilibrium. It is far too early to say whether these types of reforms will prove effective in reestablishing confidence in the core institutions of representative government, or whether secular trends will continue on a downwards path. For those who continue to believe in the conventional channels of representative democracy, the solution lies in designing more effective institutional reforms. For those committed to more direct decision‐making, the solution to more critical citizens lies in expanding the opportunities for participation via these channels.

Although we have demonstrated that there are genuine causes for concern about the issue of public trust in government, nevertheless the evidence in this volume suggests that the sky is not falling down for democracy. In the 1970s crisis theories suggested that even established political systems like Germany and Britain might not be able to survive the new pressures and new demands on the state caused by exuberant democracy (Crozier, Huntington, and Watanuki 1975). By the end of the twentieth century we know that these doubts were exaggerated and the jeremiads put to rest. The state proved capable of evolving and adapting to new demands. We can conclude that the growth of more critical citizens has increased the pressures for constitutional reforms in many older democracies, and in many newer democracies the consolidation process has often proved hazardous and fraught. These are the major challenges facing democratic states as we enter the twenty‐first century. (p.271)

Appendix Table 13A. Measures, Questions, and Coding of Variables

Measure

Question

Coding

Institutional confidence

I am going to name a number of organizations. For each one, could you tell me how much confidence you have in them: is it a great deal of confidence (3), quite a lot of confidence (2), not very much confidence (1), or none at all (0)?

Standardized 0–100‐point scale constructed by summing responses to each institution.

The legal system

The government in (your capital)

Political parties

Parliament

The civil service

Social trust

Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted (1) or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people (0). DK (0).

0/1 scale.

Political interest

How interested would you say you are in politics? very interested (4), somewhat interested (3), not very interested (2) or not at all interested (1). DK(0).

Scale from low interest (1) to high (4).

Protest potential

See pp. 262–3.

Scale from low (0) to high (10).

Voluntary compliance with the law

See p. 264.

Scale from low compliance (0) to high (12).

Party activism

Now I am going to read off a list of voluntary organizations; for each one, could you tell me whether you are an active member (2), an inactive member (1), or not a member of that type of organization (0)?

Scale from low (0) to high (2).

Political party

Economic association activism

See item on party activism.

Summed scale from low (0) to high (4).

Labour union

Professional association

Voluntary organization

See item on party activism.

Summed scale from low (0) to high (12).

activism

Church or religious organization

Sport or recreational organization

Art, music, or educational organization

Environmental organization

Charitable organization

Any other voluntary organization.

Left–Right self‐placement

In political matters, people talk of the left and the right. How would you place your views on this scale, generally speaking?

Scale from Left (1) to Right (10).

Political discussion

When you get together with your friends, would you say that you discuss political matters frequently (3), occasionally (2) or never (1)?

Scale from low (1) to high (3).

Gender

Male (1) Female (0).

Age

Number of years old (18–95).

Education

What is the highest educational level that you have attained?

Scale from no formal education (1) to university‐level education with degree (9).

Socioeconomic status

In which profession/occupation do you, or did you, work?

11‐point standard occupational scale from 1 (professional and managerial) to 11 (unskilled working class).

Level of democratization

Combined rating on political rights and civil liberties of each country by Freedom House, 1997.

Reversed scale from 1 (low) to 7 (high).

Level of economic development

Real GNP per capita (PPP$) from Freedom House/UN Human Development Report (1996).

PPP$

Evaluations of current regime

People have different views about the system for governing this country. Here's a scale for rating how well things are going: 1 means very bad and 10 means very good.

Scale from 1 (low evaluation) to 10 (high evaluation).

Where on this scale would you put the political system today?

Support for democratic values

I'm going to describe various types of political system and ask you what you think about each as a way of governing the country. For each one, would you say that it is a very good (4), fairly good (3), fairly bad (2), or very bad (1) way of governing the country?

Responses scaled from 1 (low support for democratic values) to 10 (high support).

Having a democratic political system.

I'm going to read off some things that people sometimes say about a democratic political system. Could you please tell me if you agree strongly (4), agree (3) disagree (2) or disagree strongly (1).

Democracy may have its problems but it's better than any other form of government.

Source: World Values Survey 1995–7.

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