Democracy do individuals understand democracy? This review

Democracydepends upon the consent and support of the citizens.

There are differenttheories explaining why and how democracies survive and collapse which mainlyfocus on institutional, structural and socioeconomic factors. However, there isa growing interest to look beyond this actors and explore the cognitive aspect– how do individuals understand democracy?Thisreview of related literature would be organized as follows: (1) discussion onexisting definitions of democracy in theory ; (2) analysis of empirical studieson meaning of democracy including methodologies and approaches used; (3)discussion on state of democracy in the Philippines and the role oflegislators; (4) what others have studies regarding this topic; and lastly, (5)summary of the state of the literature including the gaps and the contributionof this research proposal in the matter at hand. Defining democracy            Democracy is a contested concept.Following democratic theory, it has taken on different meanings both in theacademe and in practice. One broad method of categorization is the minimal andmaximal definition of democracy. The most employed definitions of democracyfocus on procedures and institutions or ‘means’ (Collier and Levitsky 1997)fall under the minimalist democracy. Democratic institutions and processes arethe first elements to be established in a democratizing society as these arebelieved to be the defining feature of democracy. From this, it is expectedthat citizen’s experience of these democratic elements could lead them toidentify these with democracy.

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A prominent example is Robert Dahl’s eightcriteria of democracy (1971): elected officials, recurring free, fair andcompetitive elections, universal suffrage, right to run in office, alternativeinformation, right to form groups, freedom of expression, and institutions thatdepend on votes and other expressions of preferences. Schumpeter also defineddemocracy as the “institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisionsin which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of competitivestruggle for people’s vote.” For Schumpeter (1943) to Przeworski et al (2000),procedures such as elections and institutions such as political parties areimportant in a democracy.

These kinds of definitions are also mostly employedby institutions that do evaluations of the state of democracy in countries suchas the Freedom House and Polity IV.            Others have challenged this andargued for a maximalist definition of democracy. Under this maximalistapproach, democracy could be seen not only in terms of its means but as well asits outcomes. Increasingly, freedom and liberty are seen as essential goals ofdemocracy with democratic institutions as means to achieve it. Hence the means vs ends democracy.

Larry Diamond(1999) identified four liberal values as part of the core democratic values:political liberties, participation rights of citizens, equal justice before thelaw and equal rights for women. This definition could be the case for nationswhere democratic institutions are not extensively supported but still arguesfor democracy because of its positive consequences such as the freedom and libertythat may be generated from it. Another concept of democracy, still under themaximalist approach, focuses on its socio-economic aspect. Marshall (1992)discussed that along with civil and political rights, social rights areincluded in democracy. For example, some individuals equate democracy with moreeconomic equality, access to social services such as health and education, lesspoverty and crime and government ensuring general welfare. These ‘maximal’individuals may agree that there are elections and democratic institutions intheir country but would not consider it as a democratic state unless thesesocial services are present. Other scholars would separate political elementsfrom these social elements, arguing that these are consequences or products ofdemocracy rather than a feature of democracy itself. This definition could alsoexplain why there is popular support for democracy in developing nations sincethey see these affluent, industrial societies having democracy as its form ofgovernance (Dalton, Shin and Jou 2007)Inthe study of public understanding of democracy, scholars have devised differentways to group meanings of democracy.

Some of the taxonomies used are: procedural vs liberal vs social, procedural vs substantive, means vs ends, intrinsic vs instrumental, and politicalvs economic (Dalton, Shin and Jou 2007). All these methods are derivationsof the minimalist and maximalist definitions of democracy. Others have employedmuch more maximal approach by differentiating, for example, voting and the ruleof law as definitions of democracy, instead of putting them under a singlecategory such as procedural definition.

Scholars have also looked on negativeor pejorative conceptualizations of democracy.onthe contrary, others have moved beyond the Western liberal definition ofdemocracy and argued for alternative democracy. A prominent example is the ideathat because of difference in values, culture, belief, and history, liberaldemocracy is not compatible with Asian state. Hence, the Asian style democracy.   Citizens’ perception of democracyThedevelopment of national and cross-national surveys that initially are measuringlevels of support for democracy has been helpful in the rise of studiesregarding conceptions of democracy among citizens. Notable examples of surveysfocusing on countries within the same region include Latino barometer,Afrobarometer, East Asian Barometer (EAB), Asian Barometer Survey (ABS),AmericasBarometer and The Post Communist Citizen Project.

Questions onidentifying the meanings of democracy vary among these surveys. It could eitherbe open-ended or close-ended questions. An open-ended question allows therespondents to define democracy in their own words.1 Using thismethod, one could determine if a citizen has the capacity to understand theconcept and how he/she understands it. In contrast, some surveys enumeratecertain principles or indicators that are associated with democracy and ask therespondents to choose or rank which is the most and least essential componentfor him/her.2Questions structured like this, however, are already assuming meanings ofdemocracy and does not fully capture if that is the meaning the respondent hasin mind. Close-ended surveys could also be problematic if done in areas wherelanguage could be a barrier.

Concepts such as universal suffrage or liberty oreven democracy itself (Bratton and Mattes 2001) could probably not exist intheir native language or have a different term for it. Use of open-endedquestions or interviews could address this by allowing space for respondents toexplain whenever they will mention a native word that they associate withdemocracy. The use of close-ended questions or indicators is not only common instudies of meaning of democracy but as well as in the measurement of democracyitself. One reason why this method is employed could be the need forcomparability. Also, existing surveys that used indicators are easily andreadily available for empirically-oriented scholars.InLatin America, equating democracy with “liberty, freedom, and civil rights” ispredominant (Camp 2001, Carrion 2008, Lagos 2008, Canache 2012). This is alsotrue in other parts of the world.

In the examination of at least 50 democraticnations, liberty and rights still remain as the primary meaning of democracy(Dalton et al 2007). The same goes for the results of Afrobarometer,Post-Communist Citizen Project and surveys of Eastern and Central Europeanstates.  Notably, procedural definitiontrails behind. Such is contrary to the idea of democratic theory that citizenswould be more familiar with democratic institutions and processes since it isthe first thing that is promoted or created during democratization. In the caseof Asian states surveyed by ABS, people place more emphasis on substantialoutcomes such as good governance and social equity as essential to democracy.This supports the argument that democracy could be equated with social andeconomic terms.

Yet, defining democracy in social terms is still less answeredin the case of open-ended questions. The prevalence of liberal definition, aswell as emphasis on socio-economic elements as demonstrated by Asian citizens,implies that individuals focus more on intended outcomes of democracy. Thepresence of elections, parties, and other democratic institutions are inadequate.

For most, democracy could be best defined by its outcomes. To considerthemselves living in a democratic state or to support democracy as the bestform of government, these elements, social rights, freedom, liberty, must bepresent. Also, Latin America, Africa, and Asia host most of the developingnations or third world countries. This could partly explain the prevalence ofoutcome-oriented definition of democracy. Milleret al (1997) furthered the study by looking at both elites and masses of Russiaand Ukraine.

They seek to address the skepticism that citizens living incountries that have been dominated by authoritarian rule for a long time do nothave the capacity to form coherent opinions on political matters as well aslack understanding of political concepts such as democracy.  They used data obtained from surveys andinterviews of ordinary citizens and elites, both the legislators from nationalparliaments and administrators from major governmental ministries, conducted in1992 and 1995. Based on personal interviews, elites emphasize rule of law andorder while the masses focus on the freedom aspect of democracy. The focus onlaw and order for elites could be explained by them having more access topositions in the government that creates laws and institutions that serve thesociety for good. Interestingly, definitions could vary among them as well.Elites from urban areas and the legislators emphasize more on rule of law whilethose from the rural and the administrators define democracy in terms offreedom. According to the study, ordinary citizens, on the other hand, definedemocracy as freedom that they can attain and did not attain during the SovietUnion regime. Variations among masses also exist.

Still and all, the notablefinding is that the differing conceptions of democracy would not be the onethat could pose problems in democratization but the lack of common and sharedunderstanding among mass and elites. This study also implies that inexperiencein democratic governance does not hinder the public in acquiring knowledgeabout democracy (Miller, Hesli and Reisinger 1997, Carnaghan 2001). At the timeof the survey, it was only a number of months since the collapse of the SovietUnion. Miller et al also pointed out that democracy exists as a concept in theformer Soviet Union as it is part of the communist philosophy. From theperspective of the Soviet communist, class conflicts hinder democracy and theachievement of communism (Miller et al 1997).

However, the study’s measurementof whether democracy as a concept is salient and participants have complexunderstanding of democracy is done by counting the number of responses they canoffer. This is problematic since other factors may affect the capability ofparticipants to offer definitions such as openness to converse, language andpersonality traits.1 Example of open-ended questions: What does democracy mean for you? What do you think are the essentialcomponents of democracy? Most allowed for participants to give as manyanswers as possible while some limit it to two-three responses.2 Example of close-ended question: Listed below are some statements/principles/value that is associatedwith democracy. For you which is the most essential to democracy? Do you agreeor disagree with the statement that democracy is …

? Example of includedin the list are political participation, universal suffrage, rule of law. SeeSchedler and Sarsfield 2007


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