French Politics

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 389–417 | Cite as

Conceptions of democracy, political representation and socio-economic well-being: explaining how French citizens assess the degree of democracy of their regime

  • Camille Bedock
  • Sophie Panel
Original Article


This paper investigates the determinants of citizens’ assessment of the degree of democracy in France, based on the ESS Round 6 data. A substantial share of respondents claims that France is barely democratic or not democratic at all, while still another nonnegligible share gives France the highest possible score on a 11-point democracy scale. We find that democracy assessment is mostly driven by political variables and by policy evaluations rather than by respondents’ own social and economic status. Individuals who endorse a minimal definition of democracy are overall less critical of their political system. We also find that respondents who identify with the current government party are consistently more likely to rate France higher on the democracy scale, while voters who identify with a non-governing party do not rate France differently from those who do not feel close to any party. Respondents who consider that the government adequately fights income inequalities are much more likely to consider France democratic. Finally, results regarding the impact of respondents’ socio-economic status are inconclusive.


Attitudes toward democracy European Social Survey Critical citizens’ hypothesis Instrumental support hypothesis Sore loser hypothesis 



We want to warmly thank Isabelle Guinaudeau and Céline Bélot for their very useful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript during the seminar “Entre politique et marché : penser la contrainte économique” organized in Bordeaux in January 2017.


  1. Abedi, Arim. 2002. Challenges to Established Parties: The Effects of Party System Features on the Electoral Fortunes of Anti-Political-Establishment Parties. European Journal of Political Research 41(4): 551–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. 2006. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, Christopher J. 2011. Electoral Supply, Median Voters, and Feelings of Representation in Democracies. In Citizens, Context, and Choice: How Context Shapes Citizens’ Electoral Choices, ed. Russell J. Dalton and Christopher J. Anderson, 214–240. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Anderson, Christopher J., and Matthew M. Singer. 2008. The Sensitive Left and the Impervious Right. Comparative Political Studies 41(4–5): 564–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Anderson, Christopher J., André Blais, and Shaun Bowler. 2005. Losers’ Consent: Elections and Democratic Legitimacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Anderson, Christopher J., and Christine A. Guillory. 1997. Political Institutions and Satisfaction with Democracy: A Cross-National Analysis of Consensus and Majoritarian Systems. American Political Science Review 91(1): 66–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ariely, Gal, and Eldad Davidov. 2011. Can We Rate Public Support for Democracy in a Comparable Way? Cross-National Equivalence of Democratic Attitudes in the World Value Survey. Social Indicators Research 104(2): 271–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Armingeon, Klaus, and Kai Guthmann. 2014. Democracy in Crisis? The Declining Support for National Democracy in European Countries, 2007–2011. European Journal of Political Research 53(3): 423–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Armingeon, Klaus, Kai Guthmann, and David Weisstanner. 2016. How the Euro Divides the Union: The Effect of Economic Adjustment on Support for Democracy in Europe. Socio-Economic Review 14(1): 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Beaudonnet, Laurie, André Blais, Damien Bol, and Martial Foucault. 2014. The Impact of Election Outcomes on Satisfaction with Democracy under a Two-Round System. French Politics 12(1): 22–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bengtsson, Åsa, and Mikko Mattila. 2009. Direct Democracy and Its Critics: Support for Direct Democracy and ‘Stealth’ Democracy in Finland. West European Politics 32(5): 1031–1048.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bernauer, Julian, and Adrian Vatter. 2012. Can’t Get No Satisfaction with the Westminster Model? Winners, Losers and the Effects of Consensual and Direct Democratic Institutions on Satisfaction with Democracy. European Journal of Political Research 51(4): 435–468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Blais, André, and François Gélineau. 2007. Winning, Losing and Satisfaction with Democracy. Political Studies 55(2): 425–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Blais, André, Alexandre Morin-Chassé, and Shane P. Singh. 2017. Election Outcomes, Legislative Representation, and Satisfaction with Democracy. Party Politics 23(2): 85-95.Google Scholar
  15. Bowler, Shaun, Todd Donovan, and Jeffrey A. Karp. 2002. When Might Institutions Change? Elite Support for Direct Democracy in Three Nations. Political Research Quarterly 55(4): 731–754.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Bowler, Shaun, Todd Donovan, and Jeffrey A. Karp. 2007. Enraged or Engaged? Preferences for Direct Citizen Participation in Affluent Democracies. Political Research Quarterly 60(3): 351–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Bratton, Michael, and Robert Mattes. 2001. Support for Democracy in Africa: Intrinsic or Instrumental? British Journal of Political Science 31(03): 447–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Bratton, Michael, Robert B. Mattes, and E. Gyimah-Boadi. 2005. Public Opinion, Democracy, and Market Reform in Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Braun, Daniela, and Markus Tausendpfund. 2014. The Impact of the Euro Crisis on Citizens’ Support for the European Union. Journal of European Integration 36(3): 231–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Canache, Damarys, Jeffery J. Mondak, and Mitchell A. Seligson. 2001. Meaning and Measurement in Cross-National Research on Satisfaction with Democracy. Public Opinion Quarterly 65(4): 506–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ceka, Besir, and Pedro C. Magalhaes. 2016. How People Understand Democracy: A Social Dominance Approach. In How Europeans View and Evaluate Democracy, ed. Monica Ferrín and Hanspeter Kriesi, 90–110. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Chu, Yun-han, Michael Bratton, Marta Lagos, and Mark A. Tessler. 2008. Public Opinion and Democratic Legitimacy. Journal of Democracy 19(2): 74–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Cordero, Guillermo, and Pablo Simón. 2016. Economic Crisis and Support for Democracy in Europe. West European Politics 39(2): 305–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Córdova, Abby, and Mitchell A. Seligson. 2009. Economic Crisis and Democracy in Latin America. PS. Political Science & Politics 42(4): 673–678.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Curini, Luigi, Willy Jou, and Vincenzo Memoli. 2012. Satisfaction with Democracy and the Winner/Loser Debate: The Role of Policy Preferences and Past Experience. British Journal of Political Science 42(2): 241–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dahl, Robert A. 2000. A Democratic Paradox? Political Science Quarterly 115(1): 35–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dalton, Russell J. 2004. Democratic Challenges, Democratic Choices: The Erosion of Political Support in Advanced Industrial Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Dalton, Russell J. 2008. The Quantity and the Quality of Party Systems. Comparative Political Studies 41(7): 899–920.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Davis, Nicholas T. 2014. Responsiveness and the Rules of the Game: How Disproportionality Structures the Effects of Winning and Losing on External Efficacy. Electoral Studies 36(December): 129–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. de Regt, Sabrina. 2013. Arabs Want Democracy, But What Kind? Advances in Applied Sociology 3(1): 37-46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Delgado, Irene. 2016. How Governing Experience Conditions Winner-Loser Effects. An Empirical Analysis of the Satisfaction with Democracy in Spain after 2011 Elections. Electoral Studies 44: 76–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Dolez, Bernard, Annie Laurent, and Laurence Morel. 2003. Les référendums en France sous la Ve république. Revue internationale de politique comparée 10(1): 111–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Dompnier, Nathalie, and Raul Magni Berton. 2012. How Durably Do People Accept Democracy? Politicization, Political Attitudes and Losers’ Consent in France. French Politics 10(4): 323–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Donovan, Todd, and Jeffrey Karp. 2017. Electoral Rules, Corruption, Inequality and Evaluations of Democracy. European Journal of Political Research 56: 469–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Easton, David. 1957. An Approach to the Analysis of Political Systems. World Politics 9(3): 383–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Evans, Geoffrey, and Stephen Whitefield. 1995. The Politics and Economics of Democratic Commitment: Support for Democracy in Transition Societies. British Journal of Political Science 25(04): 485–514.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ferland, Benjamin. 2015. A Rational or a Virtuous Citizenry? The Asymmetric Impact of Biases in Votes-Seats Translation on Citizens’ Satisfaction with Democracy. Electoral Studies 40: 394–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ferrin, Monica, and Hanspeter Kriesi. 2016. How Europeans View and Evaluate Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Gallagher, Michael. 1991. Proportionality, Disproportionality and Electoral Systems. Electoral Studies 10(1): 33–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Galland, Olivier, Yannick Lemel, and Alexandra Frénod. 2013. La perception des inégalités en France. Revue européenne des sciences sociales. European Journal of Social Sciences 51(1): 179–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Gaxie, Daniel. 1990. Au delà des apparences… [Sur quelques problèmes de mesure des opinions]. Actes de La Recherche En Sciences Sociales 81(1): 97–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Graham, Carol, and Sandip Sukhtankar. 2004. Does Economic Crisis Reduce Support for Markets and Democracy in Latin America? Some Evidence from Surveys of Public Opinion and Well Being. Journal of Latin American Studies 36(2): 349–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Grosfeld, Irena, and Claudia Senik. 2010. The Emerging Aversion to Inequality. Economics of Transition 18(1): 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Grossman, Emiliano, and Nicolas Sauger. 2014. ‘Un Président Normal’? Presidential (in-)Action and Unpopularity in the Wake of the Great Recession. French Politics 12(2): 86–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Grossman, Emiliano, and Nicolas Sauger. 2017. Pourquoi détestons-nous autant nos politiques ?. Paris: Presses de Sciences Po.Google Scholar
  46. Hernández, Enrique. 2016. Europeans’ Views of Democracy: The Core Elements of Democracy. In How Europeans View and Evaluate Democracy, ed. Monica Ferrín and Hanspeter Kriesi, 43–63. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Howell, Patrick, and Florian Justwan. 2013. Nail-Biters and No-Contests: The Effect of Electoral Margins on Satisfaction with Democracy in Winners and Losers. Electoral Studies 32(2): 334–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Huppert, Felicia A., Nic Marks, Andrew Clark, Johannes Siegrist, Alois Stutzer, Joar Vittersø, and Morten Wahrendorf. 2008. Measuring Well-Being Across Europe: Description of the ESS Well-Being Module and Preliminary Findings. Social Indicators Research 91(3): 301–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Inglehart, Ronald, and Christian Welzel. 2005. Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Jamal, Amaney A., and Mark A. Tessler. 2008. Attitudes in the Arab World. Journal of Democracy 19(1): 97–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Kiewiet de Jonge, Chad P. 2016. Should Researchers Abandon Questions about ‘Democracy’? Evidence from Latin America. Public Opinion Quarterly 80(3): 694–716.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Jou, Willy. 2009. Political Suport from Election Losers in Asian Democracies. Taiwan Journal of Democracy 5(2): 145–175.Google Scholar
  53. Klingemann, Hans-Dieter. 1999. Mapping Political Support in the 1990s: A Global Analysis. In Critical Citizens: Global Support for Democratic Governance, ed. Pippa Norris, 31–56. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Kotzian, Peter. 2011. Public Support for Liberal Democracy. International Political Science Review 32(1): 23–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Kuhn, Raymond. 2014. Mister Unpopular: François Hollande and the Exercise of Presidential Leadership, 2012–14. Modern & Contemporary France 22(4): 435–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Laakso, Markus, and Rein Taagepera. 1979. ‘Effective’ Number of Parties : A Measure with Application to West Europe. Comparative Political Studies 12(1): 3–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Lachat, Romain. 2008. The Impact of Party Polarization on Ideological Voting. Electoral Studies 27(4): 687–698.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Lewis-Beck, Michael S., and Richard Nadeau. 2015. Explaining French Elections: The Presidential Pivot. French Politics 13(1): 25–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Lijphart, Arend. 1984. Democracies: Patterns of Majoritarian and Consensus Government in Twenty-One Countries. New Haven: Yale University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Lijphart, Arend. 1999. Patterns of Democracy. Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Luskin, Robert C. 1990. Explaining Political Sophistication. Political Behavior 12(4): 331–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Marshall, Monty G., Ted R. Gurr, and Keith Jaggers. 2016. Polity IV Project: Political Regimes Characteristics and Transitions, 1800-2015. Dataset Users' Manual. Center for Systemic Peace.
  63. Norris, Pippa. 2011. Democratic Deficit: Critical Citizens Revisited. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Paoletti, Marion. 2010. L’idéal démocratique face à ses tensions oligarchiques : de la démocratie locale à la parité. Bordeaux: Université Montesquieu Bordeaux iv, Habilitation à diriger des recherches en science politique.Google Scholar
  65. Przeworski, A., S. Stokes, Bernard Manin, and James A. Stimson. 1999. “Party Government and Responsiveness.” In Democracy, Accountability, and Representation, 197–221. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Rich, Timothy S. 2015. Losers’ Consent or Non-Voter Consent? Satisfaction with Democracy in East Asia. Asian Journal of Political Science 23(3): 243–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Rothstein, Bo, and Uslaner, Eric. 2005. All for All: Equality, Corruption, and Social Trust. World Politics 58(1): 41–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Sauger, Nicolas, and Sarah-Louise Raillard. 2014. The economy and the vote in 2012. An election of crisis? Revue française de science politique 63(6): 1031–1049.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Scharpf, Fritz. 1999. Governing Europe. Effective and Democratic?. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Schedler, Andreas, and Rodolfo Sarsfield. 2007. Democrats with Adjectives: Linking Direct and Indirect Measures of Democratic Support. European Journal of Political Research 46(5): 637–659.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sineau, Mariette, and Bruno Cautrès. 2013. Les attentes vis-à-vis du nouveau président. In La Décision Électoale En 2012, ed. Pascal Perrineau, 229–242. Paris: Armand Colin.Google Scholar
  72. Singh, Shane, Ignacio Lago, and André Blais. 2011. Winning and Competitiveness as Determinants of Political Support. Social Science Quarterly 92(3): 695–709.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Singh, Shane P. 2014. Not All Election Winners Are Equal: Satisfaction with Democracy and the Nature of the Vote. European Journal of Political Research 53(2): 308–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Singh, Shane P., and Judd R. Thornton. 2016. Strange Bedfellows: Coalition Makeup and Perceptions of Democratic Performance among Electoral Winners. Electoral Studies 42: 114–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Teixeira, Conceição Pequito, Emmanouil Tsatsanis, and Ana Maria Belchior. 2016. A ‘Necessary Evil’ Even during Hard Times? Public Support for Political Parties in Portugal before and after the Bailout (2008 and 2012). Party Politics 22(6): 719–731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Tiberj, Vincent. 2017. Les citoyens qui viennent. Comment le renouvellement générationnel transforme la politique en France. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.Google Scholar
  77. Tiberj, Vincent, Bernard Denni, and Nonna Mayer. 2013. Un choix, des logiques multiples. Revue française de science politique 63(2): 249–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Torcal, Mariano. 2014. The Decline of Political Trust in Spain and Portugal. American Behavioral Scientist 58(12): 1542–1567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Van Erkel, Patrick F.A., and Tom W.G. Van Der Meer. 2016. Macroeconomic Performance, Political Trust and the Great Recession: A Multilevel Analysis of the Effects of within-Country Fluctuations in Macroeconomic Performance on Political Trust in 15 EU Countries, 1999–2011. European Journal of Political Research 55(1): 177–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Webb, Paul. 2013. Who Is Willing to Participate? Dissatisfied Democrats, Stealth Democrats and Populists in the United Kingdom. European Journal of Political Research 52(6): 747–772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Université Libre de Bruxelles/CEVIPOLBrusselsBelgium
  2. 2.Sciences Po Bordeaux/Centre Emile DurkheimPessacFrance

Personalised recommendations