Democratic Institutions and Political Culture: Misconceptions in Addressing the Ecological Fallacy

Inglehart, R. & Welzel, C.
Do individual-level attitudes play a significant role in sustaining democratic institutions at the societal level? In a recent contribution to this journal, Seligson claims that the strong correlations between indicators of political culture and stable democracy that Inglehart has demonstrated at the aggregate level are "spurious" because they are not reflected in correlations between the same political culture indicators and overt support for democracy at the individual level. Seligson's analysis exemplifies precisely the sort of cross-level fallacy that he attributes to Inglehart: he equates individual-level support for democracy, with the presence of democratic institutions. Surprising as it may seem, however, individual-level lip service to democracy is only weakly linked with societal-level democracy. At this point in history, democracy has a positive image almost everywhere, and the Albanians or Armenians are as likely to express a favorable opinion of democracy as are the Swedes or Swiss. But these favorable opinions are often superficial, and unless they are accompanied by deeper-rooted orientations of tolerance, trust, and a participatory outlook, the chances are poor that effective democracy will be present at the societal level. On the other hand, as we demonstrate, the linkage between these deeper-rooted orientations and effective democracy, is remarkably strong: a specific type of political culture seems to be an essential precondition to effective democracy.

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