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Policy Responsiveness in Post-communist Europe: Public Preferences and Economic Reforms

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2011


This article assesses the degree of policy responsiveness in the new democracies of post-communist Europe. Panel data on economic reform and public opinion show that public support for reform has a large and significant effect on reform progress. Where public support for reform is high, reform proceeds more quickly. This effect remains strong even when controlling for the endogeneity of public support and other economic and political causes of reform, though it is strongest in more democratic countries. These results suggest that economic reform may be better promoted by persuading the public of the beneficial consequences of reform than by trying to insulate reformers from the public, and that the quality of democracy in the region may be higher than commonly perceived.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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1 Arguably, the same is true of more established democracies.

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3 There has been an active debate on whether citizens possess enough information to guide policy. For two opposing perspectives, see Page, Benjamin I. and Shapiro, Robert Y., The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americans’ Policy Preferences (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Delli Carpini, Michael X. and Keeter, Scott, What Americans Know about Politics and Why It Matters (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996)Google Scholar.

4 We focus only on the quantitative study of responsiveness. There are many qualitative case studies of responsiveness. For a survey, see Manza, Jeff and Lomax Cook, Fay, ‘A Democratic Polity? Three Views of Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion in the United States’, American Politics Quarterly, 30 (2002), 630667CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Scholars typically focus on dyadic representation in first-past-the-post electoral systems where politicians represent territorial constituencies and party representation in proportional electoral systems where parties represent national electorates. Powell has also looked at the correspondence between the decisive legislator and the median voter, which might be called collective correspondence. See Bingham Powell, G., Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000)Google Scholar.

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28 There are strong normative reasons for favouring the median voter. If citizens voted directly on policies, the position of the median would win these referendums. See Powell, , Elections as Instruments of Democracy, pp. 163–165Google Scholar.

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31 Their effects are mediated by presidential popularity. There is less responsiveness when a president is very popular or very unpopular. See Canes-Wrone and Shotts, ‘The Conditional Nature of Presidential Responsiveness to Public Opinion’.

32 Powell, Elections as Instruments of Democracy.

33 In fact, Powell finds greater correspondence in consensus democracies.

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35 The World Bank index consists of three components: internal liberalization, external liberalization and private sector entry, which are averaged to produce an overall score that ranges from 0 to 1. The EBRD index has eight measures that are averaged to produce a total reform score. These measures are of: small-scale privatization, large-scale privatization, governance and enterprise restructuring, competition policy, banking reform, securities markets and non-bank financial institutions, price liberalization, and trade and foreign exchange liberalization. The scores range from 1, the level of a centrally planned economy, to 4.33, the level of advanced industrial economy, with steps of 0.33 in between. The two measures are highly correlated with each other with r ranging from 0.6 to 0.8 depending on the sample.

36 Karlheinz Reif, George Cunningham and Malgorzata Kuzma, Central and Eastern Eurobarometer Survey Series, We considered other cross-national surveys such as the World Values Survey, the New Democracies Barometer and the International Social Survey Project, but all of them suffered from either sporadic coverage or failure to include policy-relevant questions.

37 It was suspended after 1997 and resumed in 2001 as the Candidate Countries Eurobarometer. The project surveys approximately 1,000 nationally representative individuals in each country. It uses a multi-stage random probability sample design and weights responses by education, age and region.

38 The survey occasionally included other countries, but only for short periods.

39 ‘Don't know’ and non-responses were excluded from this calculation. We tested whether the percentage of ‘Don't know’ and non-responses affected our results and found that it had no effect.

40 The survey included an alternative question that might have been a better match. This question read: ‘The way things are going, do you feel that [our country's] economic reforms are going [too fast/about the right speed/too slow/there are no economic reforms]?’ Unfortunately, this question was only asked from 1991 to 1995 and only in a small number of countries. The correlation between the change in the support for the market question and the change in the assessment of reforms question is 0.45, suggesting that they may be measuring similar feelings.

41 This is an unweighted average of country-years.

42 Similarly, far more respondents answered that reforms were going too slowly than answered that they were going too fast.

43 For a recent summary, see Kim, Byung-Yeon and Pirttila, Jukka, ‘Political Constraints and Economic Reform: Empirical Evidence from the Post-communist Transition in the 1990s’, Journal of Comparative Economics, 34 (2006), 446466CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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45 Leaving out the lagged dependent variable does not alter the main results.

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47 EBRD, Transition Report; UNU-WIDER, World Income Inequality Database V 2.0b, (2007), accessed at

48 We define reform progress as the annual change in the levels of the WB and EBRD reform scores.

49 We plot changes in reform rather than cumulative reform because reform tends to increase monotonically.

50 We also conducted estimations where we left out the lagged dependent variable or substituted the cumulative reform score to deal with ceiling effects, but found that the results were substantially the same.

51 Observers frequently commented on the speed with which reforms had to be carried out.

52 We also experimented with controls for negotiations with the European Union (EU) and external debt to capture international effects on reform. The EU variable was never significant and the external debt variable had only sporadically significant effects with higher debt levels leading to more reform. Neither variable altered the importance of public support.

53 We conducted a number of diagnostic tests on these estimations. In particular, we tested for auto-correlation, heteroscedasticity, functional form and normality. All the test results suggested no problems except normality. We used a bootstrapping method to check whether our inferences were affected by the non-normality of the residuals, but found no evidence of it.

54 Kim and Pirttila find similar results. See Kim and Pirttila, ‘Political Constraints and Economic Reform’.

55 Przeworski, Democracy and the Market; Stokes, Public Support for Market Reforms in New Democracies.

56 Indeed, governments are often criticized because of their indifference to levels of inequality. By contrast, post-communist citizens appear to be particularly sensitive to inequality. See Michael Bernhard and Ekrem Karkoc, ‘Moving West or Going South: Economic Transformation and Institutionalization in Post-communist Party Systems’, Comparative Politics, forthcoming.

57 Bootstrapping the standard errors is specifically aimed at correcting for the generated variable bias, that is, the bias arising from using the predicted values as regressors. Bootstrapped standard errors were calculated from the distribution of each of the 1,000 estimated parameters obtained in these replications.

58 We also estimated GMM models developed by Arellano and Bover and Blundell and Bond to correct for biases in dynamic fixed effects. The results are substantially similar to those presented above and are available from the authors upon request. Arellano, Manuel and Bover, Olympia, ‘Another Look at the Instrumental Variable Estimation of Error-Components Models’, Journal of Econometrics, 68 (1995), 2951CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Blundell, Richard and Bond, Stephen, ‘Initial Conditions and Moment Conditions in Dynamic Panel Data Models’, Journal of Econometrics, 87 (1998), 115143CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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61 We present the simple lags here because of the limited number of cases.

62 We reversed the Freedom House scores so that higher numbers reflect higher degrees of democracy.

63 These countries are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

64 For evidence on unequal responsiveness in the United States, see Bartels, Unequal Democracy; and Gilens, ‘Inequality and Democratic Responsiveness’.

65 There were several difficulties with calculating the income quartiles. First of all, the question on income was not asked in all the surveys. Secondly, it was impossible to calculate exact quartiles because respondents had to choose from set categories. We aggregated the categories that best approximated quartiles, which meant that quartiles sometimes come closer to quintiles and sometimes to thirds. Thirdly, we expect that there is greater measurement error in the income variable because incomes were quite uncertain early in the transition as several countries suffered from hyperinflation. For this reason, we put greater faith in the education variable.

66 Soroka and Wlezien find equivalent results in the United States. See Soroka and Wlezien, ‘On the Limits to Inequality in Representation’.

67 Adams and Ezrow find similar effects for most subgroups of the population, but they did find that opinion leaders (politically engaged citizens) were more influential. We were unable to test this possibility here; see Adams, James and Ezrow, Lawrence, ‘Who Do European Parties Represent? How Western European Parties Represent the Policy Preferences of Opinion Leaders’, Journal of Politics, 71 (2009), 206223CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Soroka and Wlezien, ‘On the Limits to Inequality in Representation’.

68 The generally high rate could also be attributed to international pressure.

69 Bartels, Unequal Democracy; Gilens, ‘Inequality and Democratic Responsiveness’.

70 For a number of reasons, these hypotheses would be more difficult to test on the non-democracies. In the case of parliamentary composition, not only were these countries mostly presidential, but their party systems were often incoherent and their parliaments included large numbers of independents. Pre-election periods were also difficult to determine because of the presence of non-simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections. Finally, due to presidentialism and unconsolidated party systems, it was difficult to determine which governments were coalitions or had majority support.

71 Bugajski, Janusz, Political Parties of Eastern Europe: A Guide to Politics in the Post-Communist Era (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 2002)Google Scholar.

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74 We used a number of alternative measures to probe the robustness of this result. For example, we excluded Christian Democratic parties because their policy stance is ambiguous, we used expert assessments of left–right ideology from Benoit and Laver and from Kitschelt et al., and we calculated ratios instead of differences. In all cases, the results were substantively similar. One may object that some social democratic parties – for example, the Hungarian MSZP or the Polish SLD – were actually reformist parties. But in fact this judgement is based on their performance in office and is thus endogenous to the dependent variable. Prior to winning elections, both ran fairly traditional left-wing campaigns. See Benoit and Laver, Party Politics in Modern Democracies; Kitschelt et al., Post-communist Party Systems.

75 This may explain why worries about the election of ex-communists mostly turned out to be groundless.

76 However, there is some ambiguity in the fact that the substantive size of the coefficients is considerably larger in the pre-electoral period. We attribute the generally weak results here to the small sample sizes.

77 Falcetti et al., ‘Defying the Odds’; Kim and Pirttila, ‘Political Constraints and Economic Reform’.

78 Balcerowicz, Leszek, Socialism, Capitalism, Transformation (Budapest: Central European University Press, 1995)Google Scholar.

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82 Bunce, Valerie, ‘Democratization and Economic Reform’, Annual Review of Political Science, 4 (2001), 4365CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Steven Fish, M., ‘The Determinants of Economic Reform in the Post-Communist World’, East European Politics and Societies, 12 (1998), 3178CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hellman, ‘Winners Take All’.

83 Druckman, James N. and Jacobs, Lawrence R., ‘Lumpers and Splitters: The Public Opinion Information that Politicians Collect and Use’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 70 (2006), 453476CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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