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Democratic Challenges Democratic Choices review

Democratic Challenges Democratic Choices review

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Published by Stryker_12
This is an abbreviated review of Russell J. Dalton's book "Democratic Challenges, Democratic Choices." Though my notes are a little short, his book was pretty long-winded, so the real substance can be effectively condensed into a document of much shorter length. Free download.
This is an abbreviated review of Russell J. Dalton's book "Democratic Challenges, Democratic Choices." Though my notes are a little short, his book was pretty long-winded, so the real substance can be effectively condensed into a document of much shorter length. Free download.

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Published by: Stryker_12 on Apr 20, 2009
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 Democratic Challenges, Democratic Choices
Russell J. DaltonChapter 1: The Challenge to DemocracyThe challenge to democracy today comes from within in the form of dissatisfied citizens whoquestion democratic institutions and mistrust politicians.Public confidence in the government has been slowly declining since Vietnam.Average Americans think the politicians are so corrupted by special interests and controlled bythe parties that their decisions are essentially undemocratic and are thus rejected.People feel powerless and are cynical about the abilities of fellow citizens to make moral andintelligent decisions.This book suggests that simple solutions to the problem of declining public trust—like campaignfinance reform, a fairer media, or a period of very enlightened leadership—will not work.Public mistrust in government is occurring even in democratic countries without scandal-plaguedgovernments.Sliding public sentiments portend badly for the future.Fundamental aspects of the citizen-government interaction in advanced democracies explain thedecline in public trust.Public support for the government must be detached from its support of individual politicians or  parties.Democratic countries have made tremendous strides in improving the quality of living for their citizens and to provide effective government.Decreasing citizen participation in government will undermine the legitimacy of democraticgovernments and lead to further alienation.Skepticism about existing parties will lead to the fragmenting of current parties, or the formationof new ones, along with the swelling of the ranks of the Independents. This may create an evenworse political situation that lets voters down again.More democracy in elections might lead to worse and more undemocratic leadership—or not.Protests and political violence might rise.Mistrusted government agencies might have to alter operations to satisfy the public.Governments will waste more time reassuring and convincing citizens while citizens will wastemore time overseeing the operations of government.Governance will rise as people seek alternatives to government to meet their needs.The people may demand changes to electoral systems.Changes to public opinion in democratic countries became detectable in the 1960’s and 70’s.Chapter 2: Changing Citizen OrientationsPast social scientists jumped the gun in pronouncing democracy mortally wounded back in the60’s and 70’s as discontent swept the Western world.The author is careful to properly measure public attitudes with the right methodologies.It is natural for the public to disfavor individual politicians as their political careers drag on, butare attitudes towards politicians in general worsening?1
Starting in the 1960’s, people began believing more and more that the government is dishonest,doesn’t care about its citizens, and cannot be counted on to do the right thing. The decline has been steady.A series of major scandals in American politics since Nixon partly explains our mistrust of thegovernment.The author has brought together many different studies to show that public trust in governmenthas been declining in Canada and Western Europe over the same period.Membership in political parties has also declined. This is bad since party membership generallyindicates a person’s interest in politics and support for the whole political system.Party membership and self-identification have declined in countries with Presidential andParliamentary systems.People are less trusting in political parties.People are more cynical about the government as a whole and increasingly believe that it is runfor the benefit of a few big interests.People remain satisfied with democracy itself and have become more tolerant of includingrepresentation of new groups into government.Westerners remain patriotic to their countries.While different specific events may have precipitated the downfall of approval in differentWestern countries during the last 40 years, all are responding to the same force.While there may be temporary reversals, changing the overall trajectory of public attitudes mayrequire fundamental changes.Westerners still strongly believe in the ideals of democracy and of their respective nationalities, but they are very critical and mistrustful of the power institutions.The patriotic upswing resulting from 9/11 was just temporary, and just shortly after the attack,many people returned to being critical of the government on social issues even if expressingfavor on national security.Chapter 3: The Correlates of Public SupportAre democracies facing a crisis of public support?This chapter examines the reasons for the decline.Average people distinguish between political systems and politicians when casting support.There are four parts to support:-Authority support: Members of government-Institutions support: Branches of government as a whole-Democratic values: The idea of democracy itself -Community support: Patriotism/pride for one’s country/willingness to fight for itDifferent Western countries have different profiles.Reasons for diminished support-Performance*Government provides services to citizens in exchange for support.*National economic growth is not clearly linked to approval.*Income disparities are unrelated to approval.*Provision of other social services not purely economic is disconnected from approval.2
*Populations tending to favor one political persuasion are happier when a representative party isin charge, but given the alternations in political control over the years, this does not explain thelong-term decline in public support.-Changing values*People are becoming less materialistic and want the government to address environmental andcivil rights concerns. People are more libertarian and more resistant to authority and patriotism ingeneral.*Governments have been slow to adapt.*This explains decreases in patriotism.-Social Capital*Social and geographic mobility have weakened the ties between individuals and groups.*Group membership is needed to build skills necessary for participatory government.*More group membership correlates with higher approval. But this does not indicate causality.*Interpersonal trust facilitates government participation.-Media effects*The media focuses on scandals, failures and blunders, promoting a poor image of government.*There is no empirical evidence that watching more news media hurts approval.
Levels of interpersonal trust and postmaterial values have the strongest correlations withsupport.
Government performance influences public trust and institutional confidence.Membership in voluntary groups and high interpersonal trust increases social capital andimproves authority support.The author thinks the rise of postmaterialism is the greatest factor.There is no single explanation for the decline in public trust.Chapter 4: Social Change and the Accumulation of Incremental EffectsPolitical trust has declined across all races, genders, and age cohorts.Americans with more education have become more mistrustful while the less educated still likegovernment. This reversed the relationship that existed before the 1960’s.This effect is more pronounced since higher education has become more accessible over thesame period.This has occurred across nationalities.This could lead to a long-term decline in trust into the future. It is problematic since the well-educated youth will someday have to take over and run the system.The radical student movements of the 1960’s and 70’s began the trend. Those students wantedmore social change faster than the government could deliver it. Today, the old hippies remainmistrustful.Older, more trusting citizens died out and were replaced with younger, more critical ones,explaining the overall drop.The groups that have benefited the most from democratic government are now its worst critics.There are expectations for new changes and greater government openness to citizens. Younger  people thus dislike the focus and slow nature of democracy.Loss of support is not coming from marginalized groups.Chapter 5: Value Change and Political Support3

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