Doubting democrats? : A comparative analysis of support for democracy in Central and Eastern Europe

University dissertation from Örebro : Örebro universitetsbibliotek

Abstract: This thesis deals with public support for the democratic political system in the new Central and East European member states of the European Union. The main aim of this study is to analyse democratic consolidation on the attitudinal level. The study employs a broad comparative perspective, covering ten countries: The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The empirical analysis draws on the New Europe Barometer, a large-scale cross-national opinion survey, including some 62,000 respondents in eleven countries, covering ten years of post-communist political and economic development.Utilising a five-fold analytical framework of support, this study sets out to analyse three different dimensions of public support for the political system: support for regime institutions, regime performance, and regime principles. Departing from the assumption that public support for the democratic political system is an essential component when it comes to the legitimacy of the system, this study tests the validity of the ‘Churchill hypothesis’, which claims that people will accept democracy with all its flaws, because it is still better than its alternatives.The findings of this study indicate that dissatisfaction with the performance of the democratic political system and its institutions is widespread in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe. Still, the principles of democracy enjoy considerable public support, thus demonstrating the validity of the ‘Churchill hypothesis’. In general, post-communist citizens reject explicit non-democratic alternatives even though they are disappointed with the performance of the democratic regime. The findings indicate that there is a gap between the high levels of diffuse support for democratic principles and the relatively low levels of specific support for the performance of the system. Thus, while democracy is on the road towards consolidation on the attitudinal level, at the same time a fair share of post-communist citizens still seem to doubt the qualities of democracy from a perspective of regime performance, but they nonetheless prefer democracy over its alternatives.

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