Knowledge about mass political attitudes and behavior derives mainly from studies of established Western democracies. But do populations under autocracy engage in the political process and, if so, do they support or challenge the status quo? Much depends on the nature of political regimes. To the extent that spaces for political expression are closed under autocracy, citizens face an unpalatable choice between political acquiescence and violent protest, with all the risks that such options impose.
A key question for researchers is whether participants in authoritarian politics are active citizens or mobilized subjects. Survey evidence suggests that some people may be willing to grant legitimacy to strong leaders and to trust the institutions of a dominant state. Others nevertheless find ways to engage in conventional political behaviors such as discussing public affairs, taking collective action, and turning out to vote in elections, especially under hybrid competitive authoritarian regimes.
Under what conditions do citizens sometimes rebel against entrenched authority? Regime type again seems to matter, with popular protest more common under open than closed systems. With reference to prodemocracy social movements, like the Arab Spring of 2011, analysts debate whether people take to the streets principally for reasons of rational self-interest or propelled by emotions like anger. And scholars explore the effects of new information and communications technologies, finding mixed results for political mobilization. As emphasized in the literature on contentious politics, the displacement of autocratic regimes from below is likely only if social movements build strong and sustained political organizations.
The concept of political culture plays a critical role in the comparative study of democracy. Its major contribution is understanding the societal roots of democracy and how these roots transform through cultural change. Various cultural changes in post-industrial societies converge in a fundamental transformation of democratic ideals: the notion of the model citizen shifts from an “allegiant” to an “assertive” participant in politics. This cultural shift has far-reaching consequences, making democratic politics more mass-driven. Recent evidence suggests that non-democratic regimes also depend on their political culture: these regimes are stable as long as emancipatory desires for freedoms remain limited to small segments of the population. If, however, such desires spread throughout large parts of the population, non-democracies run into trouble and become more likely to undergo a transition to democracy.
Thomas Poguntke, Susan E. Scarrow, and Paul D. Webb
How political parties organize directly affects who is represented and which policies are prioritized. Political parties structure political choice, which is one of the main functions generally ascribed to them. Their roles as gatekeepers for policies and political careers are closely linked to their nature as membership-based organizations, and to the extent to which they empower members to directly or indirectly influence these crucial choices. Parties also play a crucial role as campaign organizations, whose organizational strength influences their electoral success. The literature often summarizes differences in how parties organize and campaign by identifying major party types, which can be regarded as “classic models” of party organization. Yet, actual parties must adapt to changing environments or risk being supplanted by newer parties or by other political actors. For instance, in recent years one popular adaptation has involved parties opening their decision-making processes by introducing party-wide ballots to settle important questions. Changes like these alter how parties act as intermediaries in representation and political participation. Thanks to the increasing availability of comparable data on party organizations in established and new democracies, and in parliamentary and presidential systems, today’s scholars are better equipped to study the origins and impacts of parties’ organizational differences.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Political representation is at the heart of liberal democracies. Whether democracy is understood as popular rule or as effective fate control by the people, representation is the means to realize the democratic idea of giving people a voice in large states. Thus, from a normative point of view, there should be a causal relationship between citizens’ interests and policy decisions of representatives. Elections are the major link establishing causality between the wishes of the people and acts of governance. However, how and whom citizens elect varies considerably across democracies. The two ideal types, or “two visions of democracy” as Bingham Powell has called them, are majoritarian and proportional elections. In a majoritarian electoral system, citizens elect persons in single-member districts. In a proportional electoral system, citizens elect parties voting for lists and parties determine by candidate selection how those lists are composed. The causal link between citizens and representatives differs clearly between the two kinds of elections. The mandate in the majoritarian model is given to a person, and this person is held accountable in the next elections for her performance. In the proportional model, the mandate is given to a party, and the party is held accountable in the next elections. Thus, different actors have the duty to deliver representation in different electoral systems: individual deputies in the majoritarian, political parties in the proportional model. This implies that representatives should have different roles and foci of representation depending on the mode of their election. The two visions of democracy embedded in the two electoral systems carry distinct normative ideals about good representation. Looking at political representation in democracies from a comparative perspective, electoral systems seem to induce the respective orientation toward the mandate and whom to represent by different incentives for candidates running in single-member districts or on party lists. The role of a party delegate is more frequent in proportional, the delegate and trustee roles more frequent in majoritarian systems. In majoritarian systems, representatives are very much inclined to represent the median voter of the district; in proportional systems, representatives rather tend to represent their party voters.
The literature on political representation is split between research traditions that have remained largely separate: a philosophical normative strand, a behavioralist one focusing mainly on the roles held by representatives, and a third, more distinctly sociological one concerned primarily with issues of representativeness. These classical perspectives have been extended through the introduction of new dimensions into the analysis. The normative tradition has thus been able to formulate novel questions by considering, for instance, issues relating to the representation of nonhuman species or of future generations. Present-day writings on political representation also depart from accepted premises by integrating additional infra-institutional forms of representation. Similarly, a postmodern vein of thought has drawn increased attention to the fluidity of the processes involved and a rather hybrid literature has emerged that combines empirical and normative ambitions. Despite claims by some analysts to have renewed approaches on the topic, there are not so much major theoretical innovations as developments relating to the dynamics of political representation itself in the contemporary era. It is important to realize that much of the analysis of political representation has been couched in very general terms and that the field itself suffers from a lack of serious comparative work. In this respect, more inductive explorations are needed into the perceptions of representation (too often reduced to mere constructivist mechanisms), the concrete logics of accountability, and the “theatrical” dimension of the relationship—in all of which there has been underinvestment by political scientists.
Tom W. G. van der Meer
For decades, scholarly inquiry into political trust has been motivated by concerns about declining levels of public trust in politics. Because political trust is considered a necessary precondition for democratic rule, a decline in trust is thought to fundamentally challenge the quality of representative democracy.
Fundamentally, political trust can be understood as citizens’ support for political institutions such as government and parliament in the face of uncertainty about or vulnerability to the actions of these institutions. While political trust is conventionally treated as a pro-democratic value, its absence is not evidently detrimental to democracy. Rather, skepticism stimulates political engagement and signals a willingness to judge political institutions by their own merits.
In cross-national comparisons political trust is consistently highest in countries that are not considered liberal democracies. Within the set of liberal democracies, the Nordic countries tend to have the highest trust rates, while the former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe have the lowest. Despite evidence that political trust declines in many longstanding democracies in the 1960s and 1970s, the last few decades are characterized by trendless fluctuations in most countries.
While scholars have made great headway in understanding the sources of political trust—most notably corruption, procedural fairness, (economic) performance, inclusive institutions, and socialization—this article argues that knowledge about its consequences has remained remarkably scarce.
Doh Chull Shin
How well do people around the world understand democracy? Do they support democracy with an informed understanding of what it is? To address these questions, which have largely been overlooked in the literature on democratization, the World Values Survey and three regional barometer surveys are analyzed according to a two-dimensional notion of democratic knowledge. Their analyses reveal that a vast majority of global citizenries especially in post-authoritarian and authoritarian countries are either uninformed or misinformed about the fundamental characteristics of democracy and its alternatives. These findings contradict the popular theses that democracy is emerging as a universal value and it is also becoming the universally preferred system of government. For much of the world today, democracy represents little more than an appealing political symbol that still retains authoritarian practices.
Sabine C. Carey and Neil J. Mitchell
Pro-government militias are a prominent feature of civil wars. Governments in Colombia, Syria, and Sudan recruit irregular forces in their armed struggle against insurgents. The United States collaborated with Awakening groups to counter the insurgency in Iraq, just as colonizers used local armed groups to fight rebellions in their colonies. An emerging cross-disciplinary literature on pro-government non-state armed groups generates a variety of research questions for scholars interested in conflict, political violence, and political stability: Does the presence of such groups indicate a new type of conflict? What are the dynamics that drive governments to align with informal armed groups and that make armed groups choose to side with the government? Given the risks entailed in surrendering a monopoly of violence, is there a turning point in a conflict when governments enlist these groups? How successful are these groups? Why do governments use these non-state armed actors to shape foreign conflicts whether as insurgents or counterinsurgents abroad? Are these non-state armed actors always useful to governments or perhaps even an indicator for state failure?
We examine the demand for and supply of pro-government armed groups and the legacies that shape their role in civil wars. The enduring pattern of collaboration between governments and these armed non-state actors challenges conventional theory and the idea of an evolutionary process of the modern state consolidating the means of violence. Research on these groups and their consequences began with case studies, and these continue to yield valuable insights. More recently, survey work and cross-national quantitative research contribute to our knowledge. This mix of methods is opening new lines of inquiry for research on insurgencies and the delivery of the core public good of effective security.
The field of protest and contentious action is massive. Numerous studies have focused on the determinants of such behavior, among which are grievances and deprivations, resources, political opportunities, and general contextual conditions. Others have examined the changes in political protest over time and across countries, or the consequences of contentious action. Moreover, research on protest politics is characterized by a multitude of methodological approaches, which are not easy to group according to the “qualitative–quantitative” divide. To navigate this literature, three units of analysis are examined: individuals; groups, organizations or social movements; and protest events. This perspective can guide researchers through the field, in particular through the main factors for protest studies cross-temporally and cross-nationally, about their effects, and through the various methodological approaches. This perspective also might suggest possible directions for future research to overcome some limitations of the current literature.
Toril Aalberg and Stephen Cushion
Public service broadcasters are a central part of national news media environments in most advanced democracies. Although their market positions can vary considerably between countries, they are generally seen to enhance democratic culture, pursuing a more serious and harder news agenda compared to commercial media . . . But to what extent is this perspective supported by empirical evidence? How far can we generalize that all public service news media equally pursue a harder news agenda than commercial broadcasters? And what impact does public service broadcasting have on public knowledge? Does exposure to public service broadcasting increase citizens’ knowledge of current affairs, or are they only regularly viewed by citizens with an above average interest in politics and hard news?
The overview of the evidence provided by empirical research suggests that citizens are more likely to be exposed to hard news, and be more knowledgeable about current affairs, when they watch public service news—or rather news in media systems where public service is well funded and widely watched. The research evidence also suggests there are considerable variations between public broadcasters, just as there are between more market-driven and commercial media. An important limitation of previous research is related to the question of causality. Therefore, a main challenge for future research is to determine not only if public service broadcasting is the preferred news provider of most knowledgeable citizens, but also whether it more widely improves and increases citizens’ knowledge about public affairs.