What makes up democracy? Meanings of democracy and their correlates among adolescents in 38 countries

  • Mario QuarantaEmail author
Original Article


Several studies investigate the meanings of democracy among the adult population. In contrast, less is known about young citizens’ ideas of democracy, and which individual and contextual characteristics are associated with them. This article contributes to the literature by uncovering the meanings of democracy and their correlates among adolescents in 38 countries. Using the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study 2009, the article shows that meanings of democracy vary among adolescents. These meanings are the results of how adolescents find various aspects of democracy, as the rule of law, freedoms, rights, pluralism, or equality, constitutive of it. Then, the article assesses whether socialization agents and personal characteristics account for the different meanings of democracy to adolescents. Finally, the analysis addresses the role that larger contexts—democratization and human development—have in the formation of concepts of democracy among adolescents.


Meaning of democracy Adolescents Political socialization Context International Civic and Citizenship Education Study 


Supplementary material

41269_2019_129_MOESM1_ESM.docx (103 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 102 kb)


  1. Abramson, P.R., and T.M. Hennessey. 1970. Beliefs about democracy among British adolescents. Political Studies 18 (2): 239–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amnå, E. 2012. How is civic engagement developed over time? Emerging answers from a multidisciplinary field. Journal of Adolescence 35 (3): 611–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andolina, M.W., K. Jenkins, C. Zukin, and S. Keeter. 2003. Habits from home, lessons from school: Influences on youth civic engagement. PS: Political Science and Politics 36 (2): 275–280.Google Scholar
  4. Arensmeier, C. 2010. The Democratic common sense: Young swedes’ understanding of democracy – theoretical features and educational incentives. Young 18 (2): 197–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baldi, S., M. Perie, D. Skidmore, E. Greenberg, C. Hahn, and D. Nelson. 2001. What Democracy Means to Ninth-Graders: U.S. Results from the International IEA Civic Education Study. Washington: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics.Google Scholar
  6. Campbell, D.E. 2008. Voice in the classroom: How an open classroom climate fosters political engagement among adolescents. Political Behavior 30 (4): 437–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carlin, R.E., and M.M. Singer. 2011. Support for polyarchy in the Americas. Comparative Political Studies 44 (11): 1500–1526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ceka, B., and P.C. Magalhães. 2016. How people understand democracy: A social dominance approach. In How Europeans View and Evaluate Democracy, ed. M. Ferrin and H.-P. Kriesi, 90–110. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Collier, D., and S. Levitsky. 1997. Democracy with adjectives: Conceptual innovation in comparative research. World Politics 49 (3): 430–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Collins, L.M., and S.T. Lanza. 2010. Latent Class and Latent Transition Analysis: With Applications in the Social, Behavioral, and Health Sciences. Hoboken: Wiley.Google Scholar
  11. Dalton, R.J. 2009. The Good Citizen: How a Younger Generation is Reshaping American Politics. Washington: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  12. Dalton, R.J., and C.J. Anderson (eds.). 2010. Citizens, Context and Choice. How Context Shapes Citizens’ Electoral Choices. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Delli Carpini, M.X. 1989. Age and history: Generations and socio-political change. In Political Learning in Adulthood, ed. R. Siegel, 11–56. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  14. Delli Carpini, M.X., and S. Keeter. 1996. What Americans Know About Politics and Why it Matters. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Dinas, E. 2013. Opening “openness to change”: Political events and the increased sensitivity of young adults. Political Research Quarterly 66 (4): 868–882.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dobson, A.J., and A.G. Barnett. 2008. An Introduction to Generalized Linear Models. Boca Raton: Chapman and Hall/CRC.Google Scholar
  17. Ferrín, M., M. Fraile, and M. Rubal. 2015. Young and gapped? Political knowledge of girls and boys in Europe. Political Research Quarterly 68 (1): 63–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ferrin, M., and H.-P. Kriesi (eds.). 2016. How Europeans View and Evaluate Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Flanagan, C.A. 2013. Teenage Citizens: The Political Theories of the Young. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Flanagan, C.A., P. Cumsille, S. Gill, and L.S. Gallay. 2007. School and community climates and civic commitments: Patterns for ethnic minority and majority students. Journal of Educational Psychology 99 (2): 421–431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Flanagan, C.A., M.L. Martínez, and P. Cumsille. 2010. Civil societies as cultural and developmental contexts for civic identity formation. In Bridging Cultural and Developmental Approaches to Psychology: New Synthesis in Theory, Research and Policy, ed. L. Arnet Jensen, 116–137. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Flanagan, C.A., L.S. Gallay, S. Gill, E. Gallay, and N. Nti. 2005. What does democracy mean? Correlates of adolescents’ views. Journal of Adolescent Research 20 (2): 193–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Franklin, M., and P. Riera. 2016. Types of liberal democracy and generational shifts. In How Europeans View and Evaluate Democracy, ed. M. Ferrin and H.-P. Kriesi, 111–130. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Freedom House (2015) Freedom in the World. Accessed 1 Feb 2017.
  25. Geboers, E., F. Geijsel, W. Admiraal, and G.G. ten Dam. 2013. Review of the effects of citizenship education. Educational Research Review 9: 158–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gelman, A., and J. Hill. 2006. Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Held, D. 2006. Models of Democracy. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  28. Hess, R.D., and J.V. Torney. 1967. Development of Political Attitudes. Chicago: Aldine Press.Google Scholar
  29. Hooghe, M., and B. Wikenfeld. 2008. The stability of political attitudes and behaviours across adolescence and early adulthood: A comparison of survey data on adolescents and young adults in eight countries. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 37 (2): 155–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Husveldt, V., and R. Nikolova. 2003. Students’ concepts of democracy. European Educational Review 2 (3): 396–409.Google Scholar
  31. Ichilov, O. 2007. Civic knowledge of high school students in Israel: Personal and contextual determinants. Political Psychology 28 (4): 417–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ichilov, O., D. Bar-Tal, and A. Mazawi. 1989. Israeli adolescents’ comprehension and evaluation of democracy. Youth and Society 21 (2): 153–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Inglehart, R., and C. Welzel. 2005. Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Jebril, N., V. Stetka, and M. Loveless. 2013. Media and Democratisation: What is Known about the Role of Mass Media in Transitions to Democracy. Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.Google Scholar
  35. Jennings, M.K. 2006. Political socialization. In The Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior, ed. R.J. Dalton and H.-D. Klingemann, 29–45. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Jennings, M.K., L. Stoker, and J. Bowers. 2008. Politics across generations: Family transmission re-examined. Journal of Politics 71 (3): 782–799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kruikemeier, S., and A. Shehata. 2017. News media use and political engagement among adolescents: An analysis of virtuous circles using panel data. Political Communication 34 (2): 221–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. McIntosh, H., D. Hart, and J. Youniss. 2007. The influence of family political discussion on youth civic development: Which parent qualities matter? PS: Political Science & Politics 40 (3): 495–499.Google Scholar
  39. McLeod, J.M. 2000. Media and civic socialization of youth. Journal of Adolescent Health 27S: 45–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Morlino, L. 2011. Changes for Democracy: Actors, Structures, Processes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Munck, G.L. 2016. What is democracy? A reconceptualization of the quality of democracy. Democratization 23 (1): 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Niemi, R., and J. Junn. 1998. Civic Education: What Makes Students Learn. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Nieuwelink, H., P. Dekker, F. Geijsel, and G.G. ten Dam. 2016. Democracy always comes first: Adolescents’ views on decision-making in everyday life and political democracy. Journal of Youth Studies 19 (7): 990–1006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pasek, J., K. Kenski, D. Romer, and K. Hall Jamieson. 2006. America’s youth and community engagement: How use of mass media is related to civic activity and political awareness in 14- to 22-year-olds. Communication Research 33 (3): 115–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Plutzer, E. 2002. Becoming a habitual voter: Inertia, resources, and growth in young adulthood. American Political Science Review 96 (1): 41–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Przeworski, A. 1999. Minimalist conception of democracy: A defense. In Democracy’s Value, ed. I. Shapiro and C. Hacker-Cordon, 23–55. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Putnam, R. 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  48. Quaranta, M. 2018. The meaning of democracy to citizens across European countries and the factors involved. Social Indicators Research 136 (3): 859–880.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Quaranta, M., and G.M. Dotti Sani. 2016. The relationship between the associational involvement of parents and children: A cross-national analysis of 18 European countries. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 45 (6): 1091–1112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sapiro, V. 2004. Not your parents’ political socialization: Introduction for a new generation. Annual Review of Political Science 7: 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Schedler, A., and R. Sarsfield. 2007. Democrats with adjectives: Linking direct and indirect measures of democratic support. European Journal of Political Research 46 (5): 637–659.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Schultz, W., J. Ainley, J. Fraillon, D. Kerr, and B. Losito. 2011. ICCS 2009 International Report. Amsterdam: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.Google Scholar
  53. Shin, D.C. 2017. Popular understanding of Democracy. Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Politics. Scholar
  54. Sigel, R.S., and M.B. Hoskin. 1981. The Political Involvement of Adolescents. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Slater, M.D. 2007. Reinforcing spirals: The mutual influence of media selectivity and media effects and their impact on individual behavior and social identity. Communication Theory 17 (3): 281–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Torney-Purta, J.V. 2002. The school’s role in developing civic engagement: A study of adolescents in twenty-eight countries. Applied Developmental Science 6 (4): 203–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Torney-Purta, J.V. 2004. Adolescents’ political socialization in changing contexts: An international study in the spirit of Nevitt Sanford. Political Psychology 25 (3): 465–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Torney-Purta, J.V., R. Lehmann, H. Oswald, and W. Schultz. 2001. Citizenship and Education in Twenty-Eight Countries: Civic Knowledge and Engagement at Age Fourteen. Amsterdam: The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.Google Scholar
  59. UNDP (2015) Human Development Reports. Accessed 1 Feb 2017.
  60. Van Deth, J.W., S. Abendschön, and M. Vollmar. 2010. Children and politics: An empirical reassessment of early political socialization. Political Psychology 32 (1): 147–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Verba, S., K.L. Schlozman, and H.E. Brady. 1995. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Vollebergh, W.A.M., J. Iedema, and Q.A.W. Raaijmakers. 2001. Intergenerational transmission and the formation of cultural orientations in adolescence and young adulthood. Journal of Marriage and Family 63 (4): 1185–1198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social and Political SciencesEuropean University InstituteSan Domenico Di FiesoleItaly

Personalised recommendations