cover of book

Democracy's Meanings: How the Public Understands Democracy and Why It Matters
by Nicholas T. Davis, Kirby Goidel and Keith Gaddie
University of Michigan Press, 2022
Cloth: 978-0-472-13312-3 | eISBN: 978-0-472-22038-0
Library of Congress Classification JK1764
Dewey Decimal Classification 323.0420973


Democracy’s Meanings challenges conventional wisdom regarding how the public thinks about and evaluates democracy. Mining both political theory and more than 75 years of public opinion data, the book argues that Americans think about democracy in ways that go beyond voting or elected representation. Instead, citizens have rich and substantive views about the material conditions that democracy should produce, which draw from their beliefs about equality, fairness, and justice.

The authors construct a typology of views about democracy. Procedural views of democracy take a minimalistic quality. While voting and fair treatment are important to this vision of democracy, ideas about equality are mostly limited to civil liberties. In contrast, social views of democracy incorporate both civil and economic equality; according to people with these views, democracy ought to meet the basic social and material needs of citizens. Complementing these two groups are moderate and indifferent views about democracy. While moderate views sit somewhere in between procedural and social perspectives regarding the role of democracy in producing social and economic equality, indifferent views of democracy involve disaffection toward it. For a small group of apathetic citizens, democracy is an ambiguous and ill-defined concept.

See other books on: American Government | Democracy | How | Public opinion | Why It Matters
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