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

Abstract

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.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    See Marshall et al. (2016). Data are available at http://www.systemicpeace.org/inscrdata.html. To facilitate comparisons, we rely on the 11-points democracy scale “DEMOC” instead of Polity’s composite democracy-autocracy scale.

  2. 2.

    The ESS survey on which this study is based upon has been administered between January and June 2013.

  3. 3.

    These figures come from the Eurobarometer 80 administered in November 2013.

  4. 4.

    These figures are drawn from the TNS-Kanter barometer on the popularity of the French president: http://www.tns-sofres.com/dataviz?type=1&code_nom=hollande&start=1&end=12&submit=Ok.

  5. 5.

    These figures come from the Electoral System website of Michael Gallagher (TCD), with the complete list of indices available online: http://www.tcd.ie/Political_Science/staff/michael_gallagher/ElSystems/Docts/ElectionIndices.pdf.

  6. 6.

    The 3.44 and a skewness of −0.75: both values are significantly different from the values we would have found under normal distribution (p < 0.001). We additionally ran a Shapiro–Wilk test, which confirms that the variable is not normally distributed (p < 0.001).

  7. 7.

    The ESS also asks respondents whether they think each of these democratic criteria are actually fulfilled in their own country. Yet, we decided not to use these items and to rely solely on the importance respondents assign to these aspects of democracy, in order to minimize endogeneity issues. Even if respondents who describe their own system as nondemocratic are also more likely to evaluate the state of direct and social democracy in their country as very bad, we cannot ascertain if the former really is a consequence of the latter or if respondents respond similarly to all items for reasons of consistency or because they are generally dissatisfied with the whole system.

  8. 8.

    In order to know which parties have been in power in France in the last 20 years (since 1992), we have used the Parlgov database, taking into account the fact that several of the parties mentioned in the list did not exist in 1992 and are the result of mergers, splits or changes of party labels: Döring, Holger and Philip Manow. 2016. Parliaments and governments database (ParlGov): Information on parties, elections and cabinets in modern democracies. Development version. The parties in government in 2012 (coded 3) are the following: Parti Socialiste (PS), Europe Ecologie les Verts (EELV), Parti Radical de Gauche (PRG). Parties that have been in the government within the last 20 years (coded 2) include Nouveau Centre (NC), Parti Radical Valoisien, Union des démocrates et indépendants (UDI), Union pour un movement populaire (UMP), Mouvement démocrate (MODEM), Parti communiste français (PCF). Parties that have never been in government (coded 1) include Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA), Lutte ouvrière (LO), Parti de gauche (PG), Mouvement pour la France (MPF), autres.

  9. 9.

    We also ran a likelihood-ratio test in order to see which of the two procedures fits the data better. The test confirms that the multinomial logit is more adequate (p < 0.0001).

  10. 10.

    Switching the reference category from 0 to 2 indicates that there is also no statistically significant difference in evaluations between respondents who identify with a permanently losing party and those who identify with a former government party.

  11. 11.

    We do find a slight negative effect of direct democracy in the ordered logit model, but the coefficient switches sign when Electoral democracy is removed from the model.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Correspondence to Camille Bedock.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Descriptive statistics

See Tables 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11.

Table 5 Definitions of democracy (valid responses only)
Table 6 Representation
Table 7 Governments’ perceived willingness to fight income inequality (valid responses only)
Table 8 Place in society (valid responses only)
Table 9 Income by deciles
Table 10 Control variables (continuous)
Table 11 Control variables (categorical)

Appendix 2: Additional estimates

See Tables 12 and 13.

Table 12 Determinants of democracy assessment (ordered logistic regression, displaying odds ratios; dependent variable recoded in seven categories)
Table 13 Determinants of democracy assessment (multinomial logistic regression, displaying relative risks ratios; dependent variable recoded in seven categories)

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Bedock, C., Panel, S. Conceptions of democracy, political representation and socio-economic well-being: explaining how French citizens assess the degree of democracy of their regime. Fr Polit 15, 389–417 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41253-017-0043-8

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Keywords

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