Skip to main content

Changing Mass Priorities: The Link between Modernization and Democracy

  • Ronald Inglehart (a1) and Christian Welzel (a2)

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.

Hide All
Acemoglu Daron, and Robinson James A.. 2000. “Why Did the West Extend the Franchise? Growth, Inequality and Democracy in Historical Perspective.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 115(4): 1167–99.
Acemoglu Daron, and Robinson James A.. 2001. “A Theory of Political Transitions.” American Economic Review 91(4): 938–63.
Acemoglu Daron, and Robinson James A.. 2006. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Barro Robert J., and McCleary Rachel M.. 2003. “Religion and Economic Growth across Countries.” American Sociological Review 68(5): 760781.
Boix Carles. 2003. Democracy and Redistribution. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Deutsch Karl W. 1964. “Social Mobilization and Political Development.” American Political Science Review 55(3): 493514.
Haerpfer Christian, Bernhagen Patrick, Inglehart Ronald, and Welzel Christian, eds. 2009. Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press.
Inglehart Ronald. 1997. Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic and Political Change in 43 Societies. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Inglehart Ronald, and Baker Wayne. 2000. Modernization, Cultural Change and the Persistence of Traditional Values. American Sociological Review 65(1): 1951.
Inglehart Ronald, and Norris Pippa. 2003. Rising Tide: Gender Equality and Cultural Change Around the World. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Inglehart Ronald, and Welzel Christian. 2005. Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Inglehart Ronald, and Welzel Christian. 2009. “How Development Leads to Democracy: What We Know about Modernization.” Foreign Affairs March/April: 3348.
Lipset Seymour M. 1959. “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy.” American Political Science Review 53(1): 69105.
Moore Barrington Jr.. 1966. The Social Origins of Democracy and Dictatorship: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World. Boston: Beacon Press.
Norris Pippa. 2009. “The Globalization of Comparative Public Opinion Research.” In The Sage Handbook of Comparative Politics, eds. Landman Todd and Robinson Neil. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Norris Pippa, and Inglehart Ronald. 2004. Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Przeworski Adam, Alvarez Michael, Cheibub Jose, and Limongi Fernando. 2000. Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-being in the World, 1950–1990. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Robinson James A. 2006. Economic Development and Democracy. Annual Review of Political Science 9: 503527.
Robinson William S. 1950. “Ecological Correlations and the Behavior of Individuals.” American Sociological Review 15(2): 351357.
Schwartz Shalom H. 2003. “Mapping and Interpreting Cultural Differences around the World.” In Comparing Cultures, Dimensions of Culture in a Comparative Perspective, eds. Vinken Henk, Soeters Joseph, and Ester Peter. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
Schwartz Shalom H. 2006. “A Theory of Cultural Value Orientations: Explication and Applications.” Comparative Sociology 5(2–3): 137182.
Seligson Mitchell. 2002. “The Renaissance of Political Culture or the Renaissance of the Ecological Fallacy?Comparative Politics 34(3): 273–92.
Vanhanen Tatu, ed. 1997. Prospects of Democracy: A Study of 172 Countries. New York: Routledge.
Welzel Christian, Inglehart Ronald, and Klingemann Hans-Dieter. 2003. “The Theory of Human Development: A Cross-Cultural Analysis.” European Journal of Political Research 42(2): 341380.
Welzel Christian. 2007. “Are Levels of Democracy Influenced by Mass Attitudes?International Political Science Review 28(4): 397424.
Welzel Christian, and Inglehart Ronald. 2008. “Democratization as Human Empowerment.” Journal of Democracy 19(1): 126140.
Welzel Christian, and Inglehart Ronald. 2009. “Political Culture, Mass Beliefs and Value Change.” In Democratization, eds. Haerpfer Christian et al. New York: Oxford University Press.
Zak Paul J., and Knack Stephen. 2001. “Trust and Growth.” The Economic Journal 111(2): 295321.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary Materials

Ingelhart and Welzel supplementary material
Explanatory File

 Word (70 KB)
70 KB
Supplementary Materials

Ingelhart and Welzel supplementary material
Differences between the country scores-Figure 1

 Word (41 KB)
41 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 135
Total number of PDF views: 1147 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 3772 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 14th December 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.