Understanding Democracy: Data from Unlikely Places

Issue Date October 2007
Volume 18
Issue 4
Page Numbers 142-156
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Some skeptics have asked whether ordinary people possess an understanding of democracy that allows them to evaluate it as a form of government. Our research yields three generalizations about popular understanding of democracy. First, even in new democracies, most people can offer a definition of democracy in their own words. Second, most people think of democracy in terms of the freedoms, liberties, and rights that it conveys, rather than institutional elements or social benefits. Third, the breadth of these sentiments suggests that the democratic ideal has broadly spread throughout the world, and its freedoms and liberties are the main source of its popular appeal.

About the Authors

Russell J. Dalton

Russell J. Dalton is professor of political science at the University of California–Irvine and author of The Good Citizen: How the Young Are Reshaping American Politics (2007).

View all work by Russell J. Dalton

Willy Jou

Willy Jou is a doctoral candidate at the University of California–Irvine.

View all work by Willy Jou

Doh Chull Shin

Doh C. Shin is professor of political science at the University of Missouri and director of the Korean Democracy Barometer surveys.

View all work by Doh Chull Shin