In the past decade a sizeable body of research has addressed the question of individual-level variations in evaluations of democratic performance. In contrast little is known about why, at the aggregate level, some societies are more content than others with the overall functioning of their respective political systems. Using longitudinal data from seventeen Western European democracies, including an indepth case-study analysis of Denmark, this dissertation finds that cross-national and intertemporal variations in aggregate levels of citizen satisfaction are a function of the interaction of institutional context and citizen capacity.
This study shows that citizen satisfaction is fundamentally shaped by how easy a country’s architecture of government makes it for ordinary people to exercise effective influence in meaningful areas of public life, both at and beyond the ballot box. When citizens believe that the structures of governmental institutions allow them to use their personal resources to make their voices heard in the political arena—that is, when a “fit” exists between context and capacity—citizens are highly likely to be satisfied with the overall functioning of democracy in their country. When citizens believe the organization of state authority prevents them from using the resources they possess to exercise meaningful political influence, they are highly likely to be critical of their country’s overall democratic performance.
A key finding of this dissertation is that municipal or local governments play a central role in improving the fit between context and capacity by enhancing the opportunities for citizen influence. Taking political action at the local level requires fewer resources than at higher levels of government, and the probability that such action will be successful is greater. As a result, the more politically empowered elected local governments are—that is, the more municipalized a political system becomes—the better the overall fit between institutional context and personal resources. In short, this study demonstrates that municipalization is a major driver of cross-national and intertemporal variations in aggregate levels of citizen satisfaction.
|Adviser||Ezra N. Suleiman|
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