The Consequences for Citizenship, Governance, and Democratization

The Consequences for Citizenship, Governance, and Democratization

Democratic deficits: Chapter 115/18/2019 10:52 AM

Chapter 11

The consequences for citizenship, governance, and democratization

Contemporary events highlight multiple reasons for concern about the underlying stability of many regimes which experienced transitions from autocracy during the third wave era. The heady hopes for the progressive spread of democracy worldwide, captured by Fukuyama’s idea of the ‘end of history’, coined immediately after the fall of the Berlin wall, have flagged over the last two decades.[1] Freedom House report that the number of electoral democracies grew globally during the third wave era but that further advances stalled around the turn of the 21st century, followed by four successive years of retreat. [2] Diamond suggests that the last decade saw the onset of a democratic recession.[3] Huntingdon emphasizes that ideas about steady progress are naïve; previous historical waves of democratization were followed by periods of sustained reversal.[4] In recent years, elected governments have often struggled to maintain stability following inconclusive or disputed contests (for instance, in Kenya and Mexico), partisan strife and recurrent political scandals (Bangladesh and Guatemala), and persistent outbreaks of violent ethnic conflict (Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan). Contemporary setbacks for democracy have also occurred following dramatic coups against elected leaders (experienced in Honduras and Thailand), as well as creeping restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms (such as in Russia and Venezuela). [5]

In the light of all these developments, the initial high hopes and expectations for the further expansion and steady consolidation of democratic regimes around the world, commonly expressed in the early 1990s, have not come to fruition. It becomes even more vital to understand the conditions facilitating democratization – and the barriers to this process. The key issue in this chapter is how far political attitudes associated with the democratic deficit contribute towards the process of the transition from autocracy and the consolidation of sustainable democratic regimes. Accordingly this chapter outlines cultural theories, which suggest a series of reasons why democratic deficits are expected to matter, and then analyzes the systematic consequences of this phenomenon for: (i) mass political participation at micro-level, including patterns of conventional and protest politics; (ii) processes of governance legitimacy and allegiant behavior, exemplified by the willingness to comply voluntarily with observing the law; and ultimately, (iii) for processes of democratization, at regime-level.

Active citizenship

Active citizenship is one of the key defining features of democratic governance. Yet, as discussed in the first chapter, the conventional wisdom arising from a substantial scholarly literature suggests that during recent decades, many post-industrial societies have experienced a tidal wave of public withdrawal from the traditional channels of conventional political activism. Symptoms of this malady are widely thought to include sagging electoral turnout, rising anti-party sentiment, and the decay of civic organizations. The standard view emphasizes a familiar litany of civic ills that are believed to have undermined the democratic channels traditionally linking citizens to the state. Elections are the most common way for people to express their political preferences and the half-empty ballot box is taken as the most common symptom of democratic ill health.[6] The idea of representative democracy sans parties is unthinkable, yet studies of party organizations suggest the desertion of grass roots members, at least in Western Europe, during recent decades.[7] An extensive literature on partisan dealignment has established that lifetime loyalties anchoring voters to parties have been eroding in many established democracies, contributing towards sliding turnout, and producing a more unstable electorate open to the sway of short-term forces.[8] Political mobilization via traditional agencies and networks of civic society like unions and churches are believed to be under threat. Structural accounts emphasize that union membership is hemorrhaging due to the decline of jobs in manufacturing industry, changing class structures, flexible labor markets, and the spread of individualist values.[9] Theories of secularization, deriving originally from Max Weber, suggest that the public in most modern post-industrial societies has been abandoning church pews for shopping malls.[10] The bonds of belonging to the plethora of traditional community associations and voluntary organizations may be becoming more frayed and tattered than in the past.[11] Putnam presents an extensive battery of evidence documenting anemic civic engagement in America, displayed in activities as diverse as community meetings, social networks and associational membership.[12] In short, traditional political activities that arose and flourished in industrial societies during the late 19th and early-20th centuries are often thought to have peaked in the postwar era and waned in popularity today.

Anxiety about these issues is not confined to academe, as concern has also been expressed in numerous public speeches, editorial columns, and policy forums. These voices are heard most commonly in the United States, but similar echoes resonate in many other democracies. In particular, regimes are believed to face a hazardous and difficult pathway steering between the twin dangers of political activism where the public is neither too lukewarm nor over heated, the Scylla and Charybdis of contemporary politics. One potential danger is that citizens are becoming increasingly disengaged from conventional channels of public affairs. In West European national parliamentary elections, for example, overall levels of voting turnout have gradually fallen by 10 percentage points from 1960 to 2009 (see Figure 11.1). Signs of a glacial fall in voter turnout can also be found in the June 2009 elections to the European parliament, where more than half of the electorate (57%) stayed home, rising to almost two-thirds (61%) abstaining across the ten newest member states. Turnout in these contests dropped to a new low of 43% in 2009, down by twenty percentage points over four decades. [13] Many factors have contributed towards changing patterns of conventional civic engagement, not all indicators suggest a uniform decline over time, by any means, and comprehensive explanations remain complex. The macro-level institutional context and the structure of opportunities (such as the type of electoral system), the meso-level (including the role of organizational networks), as well as the micro-level role of resources and attitudes (such as political efficacy and social trust), are commonly regarded as the standard building-blocks of any explanation of conventional political participation. [14] Previous studies have found that specific levels of political trust and institutional confidence positively correlate with conventional forms of political participation, such as voting and party activism, in the United States and other affluent societies.[15] It is unclear, however, whether more diffuse indicators of system support play a similar role. If the democratic deficit has grown, so that citizen’s expectations of democracy have risen higher than democracy is capable of delivering, this is one additional attitudinal factor which could plausibly be expected to help account for any decline in conventional forms of participation expressed through the ballot box, political parties, and civic associations.

[Figure 11.1]

Besides apathy, the alternative risk arising from any democratic deficit is that citizens become intensely involved through protest politics in ways which may potentially destabilize the state, cause violent disruptions, and undermine democratically-elected authorities. Seminal work of Ted Robert Gurr in the early-1970s regarded violent acts as a rebellious expression of discontent with the conventional channels of representative democracy and the search for alternative ways to challenge the regime, including the propensity to engage in riots damaging property or people, and in non-violent direct protest actions such as the willingness to block traffic or to occupy buildings.[16] Gurr theorized that protest politics represent an avenue to channel and express deep-seated feelings of frustration, anger, and alienation, not just with particular leaders or public policy issues, but also with the political system as a whole. During the mid-1970s, similar views were echoed by Crozier, Huntington and Watanuki in the widely influential Trilateral report ‘The Crisis of Democracy’ which regarded the May 1968 street uprisings and their subsequent reverberations as a serious threat to the underlying stability of the Trilateral democracies. [17] Protest politics, the authors suggested, challenged established sources of authority. More contemporary accounts on contentious politics are usually more sanguine about peaceful protest acts, which have become remarkably common. Nevertheless, where these events spark violence, there remains cause for concern. Many contemporary events in European democracies illustrate this process, from fuel strikes in London to urban riots among immigrants living in Paris suburbs, protests over the Muhammad cartoons in Copenhagen, farmer’s dumping food on the streets of Brussels, and firebombs outside of parliament and anarchist shop looting in Greece. Diverse cases in European democracies may or may not have similar underlying roots. There are few reasons to believe that even occasional violent outbreaks of this phenomenon pose a major risk today to the ultimate stability, cohesion, and unity of European democracies. Nevertheless if democratic societies lack the capacity to contain sporadic outbreaks of contentious politics, and if they are simultaneously unable to bring citizens to the ballot box, this becomes a societal challenge.

Threats to order and stability arising from violent street protests can be expected to prove a more serious problem for regime stability in states emerging from conflict, as well as those which have more recently experienced democratic transitions from autocracy, as exemplified by violent rioting and communal tensions following the closely-fought January 2008 presidential elections in Kenya. At the same time, in repressive autocracies, protest uprisings can contribute towards the process of regime transition. Multiple cases of non-violent civil uprisings have had a decisive effect on processes of regime change – although sometimes they are brutally repressed. Some of the best known historical cases include protests resulting in the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, hugh demonstrations (especially organized by women and the Catholic Church) directed against General Pinochet’s rule in Chile, outbreaks of ‘people power’ in the Philippines overthrowing President Ferdinand Marcos, the anti-apartheid struggles in South Africa, the long series of mass movements and street demonstrations overthrowing the Soviet powers, the ‘color revolutions’ in Ukraine and Georgia, and demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in Iran.[18] Many factors help to explain contentious politics through protest demonstrations, including the structure of opportunities, organizational networks, and the resources and attitudes which encourage a propensity to engage in these channels.[19] Previous research by Dalton found that specific support (attitudes towards incumbents and political institutions) failed to predict protest activism in post-industrial nations, although support for democratic values (without any prior controls) strongly correlated with protest activity.[20] To test this pattern more rigorously among a broader range of countries and types of regimes, here multilevel models can be used to examine the claim that democratic deficits are likely to contribute towards the underlying cultural conditions mobilizing protest politics.

Although a common assumption in popular commentary, the claim that protest activism is strongly motivated by attitudes such as disaffection with government receives remarkably little systematic support from previous studies of the survey evidence within established democracies. For example, the earliest systematic survey evidence concerning protest activism was collected by the five-nation 1973-6 Political Action Study but this failed to establish a significant link between protest potential and feelings of ‘external efficacy’ or beliefs in the responsiveness of the political system.[21] In the follow-up study, Thomassen compared political attitudes in the Netherlands and West Germany and confirmed that support for the political regime was unrelated to protest potential.[22] A detailed case-study found that protestors engaged in demonstrations were not significantly more critical of the political system, whether in terms of satisfaction with how democracy works, the responsiveness of government and politicians to social needs, or trust in government.[23] In Latin America, as well, the most thorough recent study by Booth and Seligson compared survey evidence in eight nations. The results challenged the claim that lack of system support generated protest politics; instead they found that those with low institutional confidence and political trust were more likely to participate in conventional activism, not less.[24] The empirical literature therefore suggests the alternative null hypothesis, namely that democratic deficits are unlikely to generate conditions favorable to the spread of protest politics.

To examine the survey evidence, Table 11.1 uses two participation scales. One measures citizen interest, including interest in politics, the importance of politics, and whether respondents reported that they had voted in a recent parliamentary election. The other scale measures protest politics, including joining a lawful demonstration, signing a petition, and boycotting consumer products. Factor analysis showed that these items each formed distinct dimensions. The multilevel models entered the standard controls used throughout the book, including age, sex, household income, education, democratic knowledge (all at micro-level) and the society’s historical experience of democracy (at macro level). Each of these factors has commonly been found to be related to patterns of political activism. Lastly, the models entered democratic satisfaction and aspirations, as well as the net democratic deficit.

[Table 11.1 about here]

The results clearly demonstrate a familiar general story which reflects the previous body of research literature; citizen interest is stronger among the older generation, men, the more affluent, educated and knowledgeable. As many previous studies have found, among all these factors, education proved most strongly associated with interest. The cognitive skills, capacities, and information provided by formal schooling makes it easier for citizens to make sense of complex issues and government processes, and thus to follow public affairs and to become engaged. After entering all these controls, citizens with stronger democratic aspirations and greater democratic satisfaction were also more interested in politics and civic affairs. Protest activism was modeled using the same controls. Age had no effect on protest activism, in large part, as others have reported, because the greater propensity of the young to demonstrate has gradually faded over time, as protest politics moved mainstream.[25] As with citizen interest, however, men, the more affluent, educated and knowledgeable were more likely to participate through these channels. Protest politics was also much stronger in countries with long experience of democracy, where there are well-established traditional rights and freedoms to assemble and demonstrate peacefully. After entering all these factors, those with democratic aspirations were significantly more likely to engage in protest politics. This analysis provides further confirmation of the pattern which Dalton found in post-industrial nations; adherence to democratic values strengthens the propensity to demonstrate and to become engaged through unconventional channels.[26] At the same time, and in contrast to citizen interest, those more dissatisfied with the way that democracy worked in their own country were also more willing to protest. This combination of attitudes suggests that there is an important distinction between these types of activism; conventional participation reflects a broader contentment with the way that democracy works. By contrast, protest acts were more strongly predicted by dissatisfaction with democracy. Overall the models showed that the democratic deficit failed to predict citizen interest, which arose mainly from other factors such as educational skills and political knowledge. The deficit does have a significant effect, however, by depressing the propensity to engage in protest politics, not, as many fear, increasing it.

Governance and voluntary compliance with the law

In addition, any substantial democratic deficit may have broader consequences which reach beyond the political participation of citizens. In particular, there may well be implications for regime legitimacy and thus how far citizens are willing to comply voluntarily with laws, regulations and government decisions, without the threat of coercion and punishment. Easton theorized that political trust affected the ability of democratic states to raise revenues, to gain public consent for public policies, to implement decisions, and to ensure voluntary compliance with its laws.[27] In particular, he argued that systems support was associated with the willingness of citizens to obey the law and pay taxes without the penalty of coercion, thereby facilitating effective government. Previous research has found that trust in government institutions was significantly associated with the reported willingness to obey the law voluntarily and to tax payment.[28] Political support is also thought to strengthen civic responsibilities and allegiant behaviors, such as serving on juries.[29] By contrast, people are thought more likely to engage in illegal acts, to sustain a black economy, to cheat on their taxes, or to use bribery and corruption --and thus to undermine rule of law in fragile states --if they have little confidence in the integrity and legitimacy of their government and public officials.[30] Good governance has proved an issue of growing concern for the international development community, particularly for countries such as Russia, Colombia and Mexico which are characterized by widespread tax avoidance, rampant crime and corruption, and ineffective law enforcement.