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Changing Mass Priorities: The Link between Modernization and Democracy

  • Ronald Inglehart (a1) and Christian Welzel (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 17 June 2010

A revised version of modernization theory implies that certain cultural variables (deeply-instilled attitudes among the public of a society) play an important role in democratization—and considerable empirical evidence supports this claim. Nevertheless, these variables are rarely used in econometric analysis of democratization. Why? One important reason is a tendency to view subjective mass orientations as volatile, relatively “soft” data. Analyzing data from many Large-N comparative survey projects, this article demonstrates that: (1) certain mass attitudes that are linked with modernization constitute attributes of given societies that are fully as stable as standard social indicators; (2) when treated as national-level variables, these attitudes seem to have predictive power comparable to that of widely-used social indicators in explaining important societal-level variables such as democracy; (3) national-level mean scores are a legitimate social indicator; and (4) one gets maximum analytic leverage by analyzing data from the full range of societies. We find numerous strong correlations between these subjective indicators and important societal attributes such as democracy, which suggest that causal linkages exist—but we do not attempt to demonstrate them here. Previous research has tested some of these linkages, finding support for causal interpretations, but conclusive tests of all the linkages shown here would require several book-length treatments. We briefly review some of the evidence supporting the conclusion that modernization leads to enduring mass attitudinal changes that are conducive to democracy.

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Daron Acemoglu , and James A. Robinson . 2000. “Why Did the West Extend the Franchise? Growth, Inequality and Democracy in Historical Perspective.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 115(4): 1167–99.

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Ronald Inglehart , and Wayne Baker . 2000. Modernization, Cultural Change and the Persistence of Traditional Values. American Sociological Review 65(1): 1951.

Pippa Norris . 2009. “The Globalization of Comparative Public Opinion Research.” In The Sage Handbook of Comparative Politics, eds. Todd Landman and Neil Robinson . Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

James A. Robinson 2006. Economic Development and Democracy. Annual Review of Political Science 9: 503527.

William S. Robinson 1950. “Ecological Correlations and the Behavior of Individuals.” American Sociological Review 15(2): 351357.

Shalom H. Schwartz 2006. “A Theory of Cultural Value Orientations: Explication and Applications.” Comparative Sociology 5(2–3): 137182.

Mitchell Seligson . 2002. “The Renaissance of Political Culture or the Renaissance of the Ecological Fallacy?Comparative Politics 34(3): 273–92.

Christian Welzel , Ronald Inglehart , and Hans-Dieter Klingemann . 2003. “The Theory of Human Development: A Cross-Cultural Analysis.” European Journal of Political Research 42(2): 341380.

Christian Welzel . 2007. “Are Levels of Democracy Influenced by Mass Attitudes?International Political Science Review 28(4): 397424.

Christian Welzel , and Ronald Inglehart . 2008. “Democratization as Human Empowerment.” Journal of Democracy 19(1): 126140.

Paul J. Zak , and Stephen Knack . 2001. “Trust and Growth.” The Economic Journal 111(2): 295321.

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Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
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