Lip service to liberal democracy in Western Europe?

European Political Science Review


Political scientists heavily rely on standard survey questions referring to “democracy” when they study citizens’ attitudes toward (liberal) democracy. However, we only know little about the way in which citizens respond to these questions. This article focuses on two frequently highlighted issues: social desirability and the consistency between citizens’ understanding and researchers’ understanding of the term “democracy.” To address these issues, I collected novel survey data via YouGov from 14,000 British, French, German, and Italian respondents. I use a list experiment to show that respondents do not feel socially pressured to misreport their support for democracy. However, what citizens have in mind when they claim to support democracy only reflects norms and institutions of minimal conceptions of democracy. Overall, this encourages the usage of questions regarding citizens’ support for democracy widely, although this should not be interpreted as the support for anything going beyond minimal conceptions of democracy (providing freedom and allowing for citizens’ influence on political decisions).