Democracies and Satisfaction With Democracy

Democracy is a form of government in which citizens have some say in how their country is run. This is often expressed as a set of freedoms, such as the ability to express one’s views freely, and to participate in elections where candidates represent people rather than just interests. It is also about giving elected officials the mandate to govern and the responsibility to serve their constituents. It is important that democracies guard against all-powerful central governments and allow for free and fair competition among different political parties.

It has been argued that a legitimate democracy requires supportive citizens who evaluate the way their regime works positively (Dalton, Reference Dalton2004). Many surveys have therefore tried to measure this dimension using an indicator that asks survey respondents whether they are satisfied with the democratic system in their country. However, a large amount of research has pointed out that this is not the full story: assessing satisfaction with democracy requires an evaluation of multiple dimensions.

For the ESS, this has been done by combining several indicators that gauge various aspects of democracy. A major finding is that some of these factors, such as whether a government is able to explain its decisions to voters or takes steps to reduce differences in income levels, are quite strongly associated with overall evaluations of the quality of democracy. On the other hand, some attributes receive a less positive evaluation. The fact that governing parties are punished when they are not performing well, for instance, has a negative impact on the quality of democracy.

Furthermore, there is significant variation in the quality of democracy across countries, as illustrated by the standard deviation of the country random effects (s ph). Accounting for this variation leads to a more robust estimate of the latent trait of satisfaction with democracy: it increases by about 18%, and this change is driven mostly by country-specific random effects.

In recent years, studies have also started to look at which attributes of democracy are most important for evaluations. These include both those that are required to be considered a democracy, such as free and fair elections, and those that are more specific to democracy itself, such as the ability to discuss politics and the capacity of politicians to take into account the opinions of all citizens. The following tables report how a number of approaches score these characteristics. Some of them treat democracy as a spectrum or classification and aggregate and weight these measures differently, while others use separate indicators that are independent of each other.

All these approaches have their strengths and drawbacks, but they all share the common objective of identifying which characteristics are most relevant for a good evaluation of democracy. By doing this, they can avoid the conceptual uncertainty that is sometimes present when a single variable is used to assess different dimensions of democracy. They can also help clarify which characteristics are a requirement for democracy, and which are more of an advantage than a disadvantage.