Changing Mass Priorities: The Link between Modernization and Democracy

Inglehart, R. & Welzel, C.
A revised version of modernization theory implies that certain cultural variables (deeply-instilled attitudes among the public of a society) play an important role in democratization—and considerable empirical evidence supports this claim. Nevertheless, these variables are rarely used in econometric analysis of democratization. Why? One important reason is a tendency to view subjective mass orientations as volatile, relatively “soft” data. Analyzing data from many Large-N comparative survey projects, this article demonstrates that: (1) certain mass attitudes that are linked with modernization constitute attributes of given societies that are fully as stable as standard social indicators; (2) when treated as national-level variables, these attitudes seem to have predictive power comparable to that of widely-used social indicators in explaining important societal-level variables such as democracy; (3) national- level mean scores are a legitimate social indicator; and (4) one gets maximum analytic leverage by analyzing data from the full range of societies. We find numerous strong correlations between these subjective indicators and important societal attributes such as democracy, which suggest that causal linkages exist—but we do not attempt to demonstrate them here. Previous research has tested some of these linkages, finding support for causal interpretations, but conclusive tests of all the linkages shown here would require several book-length treatments. We briefly review some of the evidence supporting the conclusion that modernization leads to enduring mass attitudinal changes that are conducive to democracy.

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