Authority orientations and democratic attitudes in East Asia: a test of the 'Asian Values' hypothesis

Dalton, R. J. & Ong, Nhu-Ngoc
Our research focuses on a central question for the nations of East Asia: how is the political culture of the region related to its democratic development? Political culture theory argues that the social authority relations in a society often influence the political regime choice of a nation. Consequently, much of the literature on East Asia emphasizes the importance of family, hierarchy, community, and traditional social authority relations as a consequence of Confucian cultural traditions, and asks whether these values are compatible with positive orientations toward democracy. Drawing upon the newest wave of the World Values Survey (WVS), this article analyzes public opinion in China, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam, as well as the established Pacific Rim democracies of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. We begin by assessing orientations toward authority among these publics. Then we link these sentiments to support for democracy. The results contradict the core tenets of the Asian values literature, and offer a more positive view of the prospects for modernization in the region. In addition, the weak relationship between authority orientations and democratic attitudes raises questions about the congruence thesis that is a basic premise of political culture theory.

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