Social Indicators Research

, Volume 136, Issue 3, pp 859–880 | Cite as

The Meaning of Democracy to Citizens Across European Countries and the Factors Involved

  • Mario Quaranta


What do citizens think democracy is and what factors contribute to its meaning? Previous works on the public understanding of democracy have shown that, overall, citizens see democracy in “minimal” terms. However, advanced democracies are complex and encompass several elements other than elections and freedoms. This article uses the European Social Survey module “Europeans’ understandings and evaluations of democracy” and multilevel item response theory models to build a measure of the meaning of democracy in terms of multiple attributes and to account for individual- and country-level variation. The findings show that the meaning of democracy can be seen as a continuum, and that middle-aged educated men who are interested in politics, have extreme ideological positions, and are engaged in civic organizations include more elements in their idea of democracy, and that the cross-country variation in the meaning of democracy mostly depends on democratic performance.


Meaning of democracy Public understanding of democracy Concept intension European Social Survey Multilevel item response theory models 

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceLUISS “Guido Carli”RomeItaly

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