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POLITICAL SATISFACTION

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POLITICAL SATISFACTION IN OLD AND NEW DEMOCRACIESChristopher J. AndersonDepartment of Political ScienceBinghamton UniversityAbstractThis paper examines the determinants of cross-national differences in political satisfaction acrossestablished and new democracies. On the basis of directly comparable data from over twenty Westand East European countries collected between 1993 and 1995, it investigates political culture andperformance-based explanations of cross-national differences in support for the political system, andit compares the usefulness of these theories across both mature and emerging democratic systems.The analysis suggests that political culture and system performance both are associated with levelsof satisfaction with the political system in older democracies. Moreover, it shows that the influenceof political culture is weaker than indicators of current performance once alternative explanationsare taken into account. In contrast, political satisfaction levels in emerging democracies are unrelatedto political culture or system performance. Overall, the results indicate that the structure ofdemocracy satisfaction is dissimilar in old and new democratic systems.Send all correspondence to:Christopher J. AndersonDepartment of Political ScienceBinghamton University (SUNY)Binghamton, NY 13902E-mail: [email protected]: (607) 777-2675Phone: (607) 777-24621POLITICAL SATISFACTION IN OLD AND NEW DEMOCRACIESIn the aftermath of the Cold War, the established democratic systems of Western Europe have beensubject to increasing pressures created mainly by economic problems and the absence of a common enemy.One side-effect of such pressures has been a trend toward lower levels of citizen satisfaction with the waydemocracy works (Kaase 1995; Kaase and Newton 1995). The end of the Cold War also has producedconsiderable challenges for the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. After an initial enthusiasmfor democratic governance in the early 1990s, problems with the economic transition, the construction of civilsociety, and the implementation of political reforms have led to widespread disillusionment with politicsamong citizens of newly emerging democratic systems (Mishler and Rose 1996).Political scientists have long argued that low levels of citizen support can pose serious problems fordemocratic systems because both the functioning and the maintenance of democratic polities are intimatelylinked with what and how citizens think about democratic governance (Lipset 1959; Powell 1982, 1986). Thisis not only the case for more mature democratic systems; it is equally true for systems undergoing democratictransitions. In fact, questions of popular support for democratic governance are particularly important foremerging democracies because citizen support is of practical and immediate relevance for the continuedstability of emerging democratic institutions (Mishler and Rose 1997). Understanding why democracies differin their levels of public approval for democratic governance is thus important for theoreticians andpolicymakers alike.There is significant cross-national variation in support for democratic governance.1 Among the WestEuropean countries, for example, Italians are notoriously dissatisfied with the way their democracy works,whereas citizens in the Scandinavian countries, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands typically express a great dealof satisfaction (Fuchs, Guidorossi, Svensson 1995). Students of empirical democratic theory have sought to2explain such differences with the help of two related sets of variables: democratic history and political cultureon one hand and system performance on the other. Proponents of the former-also labeled the civic cultureapproach-have argued that countries come with historical memories as well as deeply embedded and distinctcultural backgrounds. These scholars have focused on the ways in which different democratic experiences andconcomitant political values affect support for the political system (Almond and Verba 1965; Inglehart 1988;Lipset 1959) . Others have argued that differences in citizen satisfaction with democratic governance can beexplained by focusing on system outputs. Specifically, researchers have concentrated on the way in whichpolitical and economic performance affect whether citizens are satisfied with the way democracy works(Anderson and Guillory 1997; Finkel, Muller, and Seligson 1989; Harmel and Robertson 1986; Kornberg andClarke 1992; Miller and Listhaug 1990; Weatherford 1984,1987).2While a theoretical case can be made for each perspective’s independent as well as their combinedability to explain cross-national variation in system support, the overall empirical evidence in favor of each(or both) remains inconclusive. There are several reasons for this. First, most studies of support for democraticgovernance have focused only on a small number of countries at any one time. In addition, such studies oftenhave “loaded the dice” in favor of their preferred explanation by focusing exclusively on finding support forone set of factors instead of examining the relative explanatory power of each while controlling for others.Finally, the vast majority of studies has focused on the mature democracies of Western Europe and NorthAmerica.Any one of these research strategies is appropriate under different circumstances-for example, todetermine the face validity of an explanation or usefulness of a variable; when data constraints do not allowfor the testing of hypotheses with a larger number of countries; or when these systems are virtually the onlyones that can be studied. As a consequence, students of comparative system support have yet to address thefollowing questions in a very systematic fashion: (1) What is the relative strength of civic culture- andperformance-based explanations in models of system support? That is, when examined in tandem, which one3provides greater empirical leverage? (2) Are these explanations, which typically are put to use to explaindifferences in system support in older democracies, useful for understanding such differences across theemerging democracies of Central and Eastern Europe? These are the questions that guide the present study.Aside from contributing to the literature on system support in advanced industrial societies, thesequestions (and the answers to them) have theoretical and practical implications for political scientists moregenerally. A perennial issue of concern has been


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