Democracy Belief Systems in Europe: Cognitive Availability and Attitudinal Constraint

This paper received the 2018 European Social Survey Junior Paper Award


Through this paper I contribute to the emerging literature on citizens’ understanding and evaluations of democracy by analyzing the articulation of individuals’ belief systems about democracy. In this paper the focus shifts from what people believe about democracy to an analysis of the extent to which mass publics are capable of developing coherently structured attitudes about a relatively abstract political domain such as democracy. Adapting Converse’s notion of Political Belief Systems (PBS), this paper analyzes the articulation of individuals’ Democracy Belief Systems (DBS). The first goal of this paper is to operationalize and present an overview of the main components of individuals’ DBS: cognitive availability, horizontal constraint and vertical constraint. Drawing on data from the sixth round of the European Social Survey the second goal of this paper is to trace the most relevant individual- and country-level determinants of the articulation of the three components of DBS. In line with recent findings about domain-specific PBS, the empirical results support the hypothesis that most Europeans have coherently structured attitudes about democracy. However, even if the results show that, on average, Europeans have a relatively articulated DBS, the empirical analysis also reveals some relevant individual- and country-level differences in the articulation of specific components of DBS.

Figures illustrating how a country historical experience of democracy reduces inequalities in the articulation of DBS between those with low and high education.



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