Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

The Geography of Support for Democracy in Europe*

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

The Geography of Support for Democracy in Europe*

Article excerpt


The stability of a political system depends to a large extent on the degree of popular acceptance of the principles that create the framework of the political system. This is particularly true in the case of democratic political systems, because the set of actions that can be taken to ensure the survival of the system is limited to only those actions that are acceptable under the rules of the democratic game. If this is true, then it follows that the way people react to the principles of the political systems governing their lives is of particular interest for democratic systems.

This is the main topic I address here. This paper focuses, primarily, on understanding the mechanisms of support for democracy, distinguishing between democracy and authoritarian alternatives. While the existing literature tends to analyze support for democracy as a unidimensional phenomenon, my approach is to think of democracy and authoritarian alternatives not as two ends of the support for democracy dimension, but, rather, as distinct sub-dimensions. While in some contexts the two sub-dimensions of support for democracy may be strongly related, justifying a single dimension approach, in other contexts I expect these sub-dimensions to be independent of each other, support for each of the sub-dimensions being generated through distinct mechanisms, justifying, thus, a bi-dimensional approach. The results presented here will show that this bi-dimensional operationalization of support for democracy fits better the reality.

A second central point of this paper is the assumption that the mechanisms of support for democracy/authoritarian alternatives are not homogenous across all Europe. One cannot expect the citizens of the older democracies in Western Europe to have the same views on democracy as a citizen from a former communist country. Moreover, based on advances towards democratic consolidation, the postcommunist transitions in Central and Eastern Europe have shown two distinct groups of countries. The first group includes those countries that have managed the transition rather successfully (Western ex-communist countries/Central Europe), while the second group includes the laggards and those that have failed to complete the transition (Eastern ex-communist countries/Eastern Europe). The analyses I present here will show that the mechanisms of support vary significantly across these three groups of countries.

The paper is structured as follows. The first section of the paper presents a brief overview of the literature on support for democracy and the theoretical framework used in this article. The next section describes the data and the methodology used in the paper. The main part of the paper is devoted to presenting and interpreting the results of the data analysis, followed by a section that summarizes the main findings of this study.

Support for Democracy

Although a certain history ended in 1989, with the fall of the communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, other histories began at the same moment. In the case of the ex-communist countries, this new history was built around the complex transition from communism to democracy and from planned economy to market economy. The simultaneity of the political, economic, and social transitions represented the main characteristic of the post-communist transitions1. Such a complex project convinced some authors that the post-communist transitions had rather low odds of success2. In most cases, however, time disproved most of these predictions and showed that "amazingly little resistance from below has come to those reforms that have been instituted"3. The main negative effect of the simultaneous transitions was that the transition to democracy was complicated and prolonged by the transition to a market economy.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the literature discussing different phenomena grouped under the general headings of democratization and marketization flourished, as political scientists and sociologists used this newly available group of countries to study different aspects of the relationship between the democratic transition and the economic transition. …

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