European Social Survey Round 6


Module: Europeans’ Understandings and Evaluations of Democracy


Democracy is a highly contested notion, difficult to conceptualize and to operationalize. Most indicators of democratic support and satisfaction with democracy circumvent these conceptual difficulties by using the term democracy without any further specification as to what it may mean. Accordingly, previous attempts to study public attitudes to democracy incorporate at least two strong assumptions: first, that all respondents have in mind the same concept when responding to the unspecific stimuli; second, that because respondents have in mind the same concept their responses are comparable. Both of these assumptions may be invalid and may lead to erroneous inferences and conclusions.

In order to correctly assess citizens’ support for democracy and satisfaction with democracy, we need data on citizens’ understanding of democracy. With this in mind, our module has four main objectives:

  1. The study of the quality of democracy: what do citizens understand by democracy? The relevance of investigating how people define democracy is that people’s understandings of what democracy ought to be will strongly affect their expectations about the functioning of concrete democracies.
  2. The study of the quality of democracy: how do citizens evaluate their democracies? Few studies have considered citizens’ evaluations of democracy as a measure of the quality of democracy. However, we believe that they provide valuable material to complement the existing indices derived from expert judgments.
  3. The study of people’s dissatisfaction with democracy: why are citizens dissatisfied? We want to test an unexplored source of satisfaction with democracy: the existence of a gap between citizens’ expectations and citizens’ evaluations of the democratic system.
  4. The study of the quality of democracy at the micro and macro levels: is there a correspondence between citizens’ evaluations and the objective political system? Our aim is therefore to compare citizens’ evaluations of the quality of democracy with objective indicators of the quality of democracy derived from the Democracy Barometer database.