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Democracy’s Meanings: How the Public Understands Democracy and Why It Matters, Kirby Goidel, Nicholas T. Davis and Keith Gåddie

Reviewed by Patrick Flavin
 

How does the public think about and understand American democracy? The authors contribute to our knowledge on this question by analyzing original survey data and categorizing citizens into four typologies (chapters 3 and 4). Procedural or minimal democracy (which describes roughly 20 percent of citizens) focuses on basic democratic processes such as majority rule and protection of individual rights. Social or substantive democracy (40 percent of citizens) supports those same democratic procedures but goes beyond to also focus on outcomes such as government addressing economic inequality and securing the social and material needs of citizens. Situated somewhere in between the procedural and social conceptions is moderate democracy (30 percent of citizens). Finally, indifferent democracy (10 percent) describes citizens with ill-defined attitudes about, and little commitment to, the practice of democracy.

The authors assess how these four citizen typologies relate to demographics, political and ideological opinions, and evaluations of democratic norms and performance. For demographic and political correlates, proceduralists tend to be conservative and Republican and support limited government, whereas social democrats tend to be more demographically diverse and support government intervention to address racial and economic problems (chapter 5). For views on compro

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