Citizen Politics: Public Opinion and Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies

Citizen Politics: Public Opinion and Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies

Citizen Politics: Public Opinion and Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies

Citizen Politics: Public Opinion and Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies

Synopsis

This book introduces the reader to the knowledge we have of comparative political behavior, the questions that remain, and the implications of these findings. The analyses focus on the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and France in a broad cross-national context. Dalton offers the theory that the "quality" of citizen politics is alive and well whereas the institutions of democracy are in disarray. This revision of Citizen Politics not only expands its original thesis but also highlights the newly found strengths and, moreover, challenges today's democracy must face.

Excerpt

When I began the first edition of this book in the early 1980s, many political scientists expressed open reservations about the viability of modern democracy. President Carter had lamented the malaise of the American spirit, and prognostications about the future crisis of democracy were commonplace.

Against this background, the first edition of Citizen Politics argued that democracy was alive and well--if one looked at its citizens. The citizens of advanced industrial democracies believed in the democratic creed and wanted their governments to meet these expectations. The first edition presented evidence that contemporary publics were becoming more active in the political process, more likely to participate in elite-challenging activities, more likely to vote on issues and other policy criteria, and more demanding of their representatives. If democracy was in crisis, it was a crisis of institutions and not the spirit of democracy or its participants.

This contrarian argument in support of democracy has been overtaken by a new conventional wisdom. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Empire, there arose an unbridled and uncritical enthusiasm for democratic politics. Even those who proclaimed the limits of democracy a short decade ago now see a democratization wave transforming the globe.

This reversal of the conventional wisdom gives one pause. One possible response is to gloat; but I am skeptical of fads, even those that reinforce my own views. My approach to academic trends follows Will Rogers's view of politics. He said that politics was a little like keeping your balance on board a ship. When the ship leans left, you should lean right; when the ship leans right, you should lean left. Thus, in revising Citizen Politics I have highlighted the strengths of the democratic processes but also the problems we must confront if democracy is to meet the challenges identified in the last edition and the new challenges of today. The changing nature of citizen politics creates new opportunities to expand the democratic process, as well as new risks. Democracies must respond to these . . .

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