What is a good democracy? Citizens’ support for new modes of governing

Didier Caluwaerts, Benjamin Biard, Vincent Jacquet, Min Reuchamps

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From the beginning of the 1990’s onwards, political analysts in all Western countries discovered the contours of a widespread crisis of democratic representation. The alleged decline of political trust and public participation, the increasing dissatisfaction with the functioning of democracy, and the rise of electoral volatility pointed out that the gap between politicians and citizens had never been wider. This idea of a deep-rooted crisis of democratic legitimacy offered an excellent breeding ground for critical reflection on the role, shape and function of democracy in modern societies. It is in this turbulent period that a quest for new ways of governing have arisen (Geissel and Newton 2012). Established conceptions of democracy were challenged, and innovative democratic disruptors – be it deliberative, direct or participatory modes of governing – entered the political market place. Even though each of these challengers claimed to be capable of generating political decisions that receive broad public support, even when there is strong disagreement on the aims and values a polity should promote, we know surprisingly little about the actual support among the citizenry for these new modes of governing. In this chapter, we look at these profound democratic transformations from the perspective of citizens. More specifically, the research question of this chapter is: who supports these new (deliberative and participatory) and old (representative, technocratic and business) models of democracy or modes of governing? And can these preferences be explained by differences individuals’ attitudes and resources? We will answer these questions with the data of the 2014 PartiRep Voter Survey. Belgium is a particularly interesting country to study citizens’ preferences for different models of democracy for two reasons. On the one hand, Belgium with its strong consociational characteristics, has been a very elitist type of democracy since the 1950s. Because of its deep ethno-linguistic divides, its democratic infrastructure is shaped on the two premises of prudent elites and deferent citizens (Lijphart 1968). In other words, it is a democracy in which the demos generally plays second fiddle (Caluwaerts and Deschouwer 2014). On the other hand, Belgium too has witnessed a strong political debate on the state of democracy since the early 1990s, but no fundamental changes to the political system have been implemented, and Belgium’s closed political system has hindered the implementation of democratic innovations (Caluwaerts and Reuchamps 2015). As such, it is interesting to study the preferences of Belgian citizens on new and old types of democracy. Our findings suggest that citizens hold very complex preferences when it comes to democracy, and that these preferences are strongly related to levels of educational attainment and political trust.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMind the Gap. Political Participation and Representation in Belgium
EditorsKris Deschouwer
Place of PublicationColchester
PublisherECPR Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9781786605412
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Citizens
  • Democracy


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