Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

To Know Democracy Is to Love It: A Cross-National Analysis of Democratic Understanding and Political Support for Democracy

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

To Know Democracy Is to Love It: A Cross-National Analysis of Democratic Understanding and Political Support for Democracy

Article excerpt

Democracy, unlike its alternatives, is government by the people. Its growth and stability depend upon the consent and support of mass citizens. Public support for democ- racy is certainly critical during transitional periods because unconditional democratic support affects the intervention cost of authoritarian forces and deters them from taking political actions to foster a democratic break- down (Bermeo 2003). Once a country becomes democra- tized, democratic governance is enhanced by a broad and deep foundation of public support. For this reason, prom- inent scholars considered political support as the cur- rency of democratic politics (Rosenau 1974).

Due to this critical function in democratic develop- ment, political scientists have developed theories of dem- ocratic support and identified its various sources, such as economic (Lipset 1960), social (Putnam 1993), cultural (Inglehart and Welzel 2005), and political (Rose, Mishler, and Haerpfer 1998). However, another important source, cognitive origin, has received less theoretical and empiri- cal attention in the studies of democratic political culture. It was not until recently that some scholars reported empirical evidence that democratic understanding in citi- zens' cognitions is related to their attitudes toward democracy. Miller, Hesli, and Reisinger (1997) compared public attitudes toward democracy between Russia and Ukraine and showed that consistent attitudes in support of democratic values are found among those who are informed about the concept of democracy.1 Similar find- ings have been reported in Africa and Latin America (Baviskar and Malone 2004; Canache 2012; Mattes and Bratton 2007). Given these findings, Bratton, Mattes, and Gyimah-Boadi (2005, 274) concluded that "understand- ing of democracy is a top-ranked element explaining why some Africans demand [support] democracy and others do not."

Taken together, these recent findings lend support to the political learning of democracy in that more informed understanding about democracy leads to more committed support for it, implying that the origin of democratic sup- port is more than economic, social, cultural, and political. In particular, they all emphasize the cognitive origin of democratic support: understanding about democracy. Their contributions notwithstanding, these scholars did not provide a theoretical account for why informed under- standing about democracy contributes to committed loyalty for it and exactly how these two components of democratic political culture are related. Consequently, little is known about public understanding about democ- racy and democratic support other than that they are posi- tively associated.

In this study, I attempt to make theoretical and empiri- cal contributions in exploring the relationship between understanding about democracy and democratic support. Theoretically, I apply theories of institutional legitimacy and social learning to examine the relationship in depth. In particular, these theories expect that the relationship between understanding about democracy and democratic support is not only positive but also follows a concave, upward curve. Furthermore, from these theories, it is expected that the relationship becomes stronger in a country with a prolonged experience of democracy.

Empirically, I subjected these theoretical expectations to the public opinion data of forty-four societies included in the latest World Values Survey (WVS). Unlike prior studies based on national and regional surveys, the multi- regional WVS allows this study to examine the direct as well as the contextual relationships between understand- ing about democracy and support for it in the comparative perspective. The analytical results provide credible evi- dence for the theoretical expectations of this study. These findings suggest that democratic progress depends on informed democrats (Finkel 2003).

Theories and Hypotheses about Democratic Understanding and Political Support for Democracy

Why do citizens with informed understanding about democracy support it and reject its authoritarian alterna- tives? …

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