Significance of studying different
conceptualizations of democracy
number of researchers decided to not just examine the variations in the
meanings attributed to democracy but address as well why it should be studied.
Does it matter if different conceptualization of democracy exists? What could
be the implications of looking at democracy emphasizing this view and not the
(2002) argues that in studying about political support, it is not problematic
if people view democracy differently as people already associate different
things on other items of political support. He maintains that at least some
aspect of political support is still measured.
Conversely, others insist that different
conceptualizations of democracy have implications and this is supported by
empirical data. In looking at the case of Africans, those who conceive of
democracy in procedural terms leads to increased support for democracy.
Moreover, having procedural definition of democracy affects more the demand for
democracy than having formal education and positive evaluation of government
performance (Bratton and Mattes 2001, Bratton, Mattes and Gyimah-Boadi 2005). In Latin America, equating democracy
with elections and rule of law is related to increase satisfaction with
performance of government as well as opposition to military coups (Baviskar
& Malone 2004, Carrion 2008). Additionally, a negative meaning of democracy
would lower support for democratic governance. In contrast, deviation from
liberal understanding leads to weaker commitment to democracy in Canache’s
study of the Latin American public (2012). Using the case of East and West
Germany, Fuchs (1999) demonstrated the effect of different conceptions of
democracy on regime stability. Citizens of East Germany, which is under the
influence of Soviet Union, gives more emphasis on social rights and direct
participation. He categorized this in his work as supplemental definition of
democracy. Conversely, those from West Germany, which is supported by liberal
democracies of Western Europe and the United States, see democracy in minimal
terms by prioritizing liberal rights, rule of law and elections. For East
Germany, when their ideals of democracy are not met, they would penalize the
democratic regime itself. On the other hand, West Germany would penalize the
government in power for the failure to provide things such as social rights. As
mentioned by Miller and his associates (1997), “individual’s understanding of
democracy is relevant to assessments of how well the government is perceived as
fulfilling the expected norms of a democracy.” Moreover, the real state of
democracy can also be measured by looking at how governance works if it is
according to the vision of democracy of the governed (Koelble and Lipuma 2008).
Powerful groups or individuals could also use democracy discourses as political
tool to legitimize their political actions and undermine actual democratic
processes and democratic transitions (Farrelly 2015, Lu and Shi 2015).
from the content of the meanings, being able to give a definition in open-ended
survey of democratic conceptualization alone has significance. The capability
of defining democracy is positively related to support for democracy.
Furthermore, a more multifaceted definition increases support for democracy,
tendency to vote and opposition towards illegal protests (Canache 2012).
exploring different conceptions of democracy has significance. It could help in
democratic stabilization especially in developed and developing democracies,
democratic transitions in non-democratic states, or even disguise authoritarian
nature of a regime.
number of public opinion surveys have been conducted to study the level of
support for democracy. However, this literature review has shown that the word
‘democracy’ in these surveys could mean differences among respondents all over
the world. Democracy could be seen not only in its Western definition as
different factors such as culture and historical experience can affect how
democracy is created and viewed.
Although empirical studies have indicated that a liberal understanding
of democracy is still predominant, it is still interesting to discover that
regardless of whether they are politically active or not, citizens can offer a
definition of democracy and could also be multifaceted.
reviewing the literature presented some debates and gaps. Methods-wise, there
are still considerable arguments about whether to use open-ended or close-ended
questions. Studies also differ in how to come up with the groupings of
responses. Some would argue that categorization of responses in open-ended
questions and interviews, even if using maximalist approach is still open to
selectivity bias. Likewise, is it important to study democratic conceptualization?
The review suggests that it is still so because variations in understanding of
democracy could affect attitudes towards incumbent governments, democratic
institutions, and democracy itself.
Views of significant political actors regarding
democracy need focus as evidenced by limited studies on this. Why is it
important to study them? These actors, having relatively more access and
capacities, can cultivate their own discourses on democracy and use it as a
powerful discursive leverage for their own interests. For example, militaries
after launching coups use the language of democracy by reinstituting themselves
through electoral and constitutional mechanism (Paley 2002). Other key
political actors warrant examinations such as the legislators. The legislature
is considered as one of the foundations of a democratic government. Legislators
act as the representatives, reflecting the sentiments and opinions of the
citizens (Olson, 1994). Aside from this, they function as lawmakers, creating
laws that could determine the path of the democratic government. By the virtue
of theory of representation, it would be noteworthy to compare citizen’s view
of democracy with that of the legislators to see if they match or diverge. With
this, how do Filipino legislators define democracy? Is there a difference
between them or a pattern is observable? A study on this matter could help
further expand the study on democratic conceptualization by looking on other
actors and doing an in-depth case study aside from the usual cross-national
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