Research Paper on Political Culture

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This sample research paper on political culture features 6700+ words (24 pages), an outline, APA format in-text citations, and a bibliography with 46 sources.

Outline

I. Introduction

II. Studies on Political Culture

A. The Civic Culture

B. Social Capital and Political Culture

III. Empirical Research

A. Political Efficacy

B. Political Trust

C. Political Interest and Knowledge

D. Political Participation

IV. Developments in Contemporary Political Culture

V. Future Directions

VI. Conclusion

I. Introduction

The concept of political culture refers to the political attitudes and behavioral patterns of the population, and it is assumed that this culture largely determines the relation of citizens with the political system. Most studies on political culture claim that specific elements of that culture have an impact on the way political institutions function, although it has to be noted that the reverse causal logic (institutions determining the political culture) has been argued as well by authors adhering to an institutionalist perspective on politics. Political culture includes both the individual’s view of himself or herself as a competent political actor and the perception about his or her role within the political system. Strictly speaking, political culture refers only to the attitudes of citizens, but in practice it also includes behavioral patterns that are closely related to these attitudes. This research paper first reviews the development of studies on political culture, paying specific attention to the work of Gabriel Almond, Sidney Verba, and Robert Putnam. Subsequently it reviews the empirical research on specific elements of political culture before closing with a glance at future directions in this subfield of political science.

II. Studies on Political Culture

A. The Civic Culture

Very fewsubfields in political science have been determined so strongly by just one book as has the study of political culture. That book is The Civic Culture (TCC), by Almond and Verba, which first appeared in 1963. In this book, the authors argue that a specific orientation toward politics is crucial for maintaining the institutional status quo of democratic political systems. In this regard, Almond and Verba argue for a strong culturalist approach to the study of democratic stability. It is assumed in their work that the presence of a political culture is responsible for the effectiveness and stability of a political system. As such, they oppose various forms of institutionalism, arguing that democratic stability is enhanced first of all by the presence of strong and effective institutions and constitutional rules.

Almond and Verba distinguish three different phases in the development of political cultures. A first, more traditional form most often found in closed traditional societies is the parochial political culture. This kind of political culture is very strongly locally based and is focused on adherence and deference to a charismatic leader. This leader combines various social roles in that he or she does not exercise just political power; military, religious, and sometimes even medical powers are also attributed to him or her. Second, Almond and Verba list the subject political culture. In this form of political culture, roles are already more strongly differentiated, and this culture is compatible with the functioning of nation-states, covering a larger territory than the purely parochial communities. In this kind of system, citizens already have acquired a very distinct role, that of subject, with the duty to obey the commands of the head of state. This implies that this form of political culture is very closely linked to the development of absolute monarchy during the 16th and 17th centuries in Western Europe. The monarch holds absolute power and has no need to legitimize that power in public opinion, often claiming historical or even religious sources of legitimacy.

Almond and Verba note that the subject political culture has become unsustainable in the developed democracies of the 20th century. As both the education level and the economic status of Western populations have increased, it has become increasingly difficult to limit the role of citizens to merely obeying the sovereign’s orders. A typical modern form of political culture therefore is the participant political culture. In this form, citizens assume that they are able to express themselves on political matters, and they also take it for granted that they have the right to participate in processes of political decision making. During the 20th century, the participant political culture grew in power, and it has become almost impossible for the political elite to ignore the demand for more participatory openness.

However, Almond and Verba do not see the participant political culture as the type of culture that is most easily combined with the stability of democratic regimes. Although they acknowledge the fact that political systems should allow for routine participation of citizens, they also express concern about a possible “overload” of the political system. If a large number of citizens want to participate in a routine manner, and if they do not feel inclined to accept the output of the political system in case their demands have not been met, this would mean that the political system in effect can no longer govern. Almond and Verba, therefore, express some concern that citizens should not participate constantly or too intensively. Rather, they are potential participants, who do not interfere constantly but always feel sufficiently efficacious to interfere if the need should arise. Furthermore, they are willing to accept the decisions of the political system, as long as these are the result of the democratic process.

The ideal civic culture, therefore, according to Almond and Verba, is a mixture of the three preceding forms. Citizens feel sufficiently empowered to participate in the decision-making process, but they are also loyal to the political system, and they are willing to adhere to the decisions that have been made by that system.

The Almond and Verba study has been hugely successful, and it has continued to dominate the field of political culture studies for decades. There are a number of reasons TCC had such a strong and lasting impact.

First of all, it was one of the first successful applications of comparative survey research. The book included survey material from five different countries, which was very innovative in the early 1960s. As such, Almond and Verba could make more convincing claims about causality and relationships between variables than could earlier studies that focused on just one country. Second, and partly related to this, is that Almond and Verba were the first to be able to strongly defend the importance of public opinion. Claims about the effect of public opinion self-evidently require access to survey data, and since these data were hardly available before the 1950s, Almond and Verba could make a much more powerful claim than previous authors had done. One might even say that, by themselves, they reinvigorated the culturalist claim in the study of politics. Third, in the early 1960s, there was indeed quite some concern, both in academia and in society, about the stability of democratic political regimes. Quite a few Western countries felt threatened by the rise of Communist rule in Russia and in Central and Eastern Europe. The ongoing process of decolonization, furthermore, led to the question of how one could ensure democratic rule in the newly independent countries of Africa and Asia. TCC provided an instant answer to all these questions: One should try to install a civic culture among the populations of these countries.

In general, it can be observed that TCC endorsed a very moderate view of political culture that resonated apparently quite successfully with the dominant view in the early 1960s. On one hand, Almond and Verba strongly supported the normative ideal of an active citizenry, but they simultaneously stressed the need for citizens’ loyalty to the political system. This latter point especially was increasingly criticized during the 1970s, a period when support for an activist role of citizens became increasingly popular. In that period, TCC was also criticized for what was labeled its focus on Anglo-Saxon political cultures (Inglehart, 1988). The emphasis on citizens’ loyalty implies a preference for stability and incremental changes in the political system. Revolutionary or disruptive forms of political participation are not really evaluated in a positive manner in the Almond and Verba framework.

B. Social Capital and Political Culture

Research on the development of political cultures in modern democracies was strongly reinvigorated by the publication of the 1993 volume by Putnam on civic traditions in modern Italy. To some extent, one could argue that Putnam (1993) essentially took a new look at the question Almond and Verba had posed three decades earlier: What makes democracy work? The innovative feature of Putnam’s research was that he could start from a quasi-experimental research setting. In 1970, 20 regional governments in Italy received a large degree of autonomy. Two decades later, it could be observed that whereas some of these regional governments were highly effective and responsive to their population, other governments seemed caught in a downward spiral of corruption, lack of initiative, and poor quality of delivered services. Putnam set out to explain why some regional governments had a stronger performance record than others did. Exactly because the Italian regions had no autonomy before 1970, the Putnam study is better able to establish causal links than the Almond and Verba study because in Italy, prior differences in policy could not be responsible for the observed differences.

Based on extensive data sources and analyses, the main conclusion of Putnam’s study is that the presence of a civic political culture is the main determinant of government performance. In regions with a vibrant civic culture, regional governments are more likely to respond in an effective manner to citizens’ demands. Putnam identified a number of elements of this political culture. First of all, he considered the presence of voluntary associations to be not only a structural component of social capital. According to Putnam these associations not only dispose members to be socialized into a more socially oriented value pattern but also allow citizens to establish collective goals in a more effective manner. Following political news in the mass media is also considered an important indicator of a civic culture: If citizens read newspapers, they are likely to acquire political information, and they have the means to hold politicians accountable for policy decisions and outcomes.

Putnam’s research shows that in Italian regions where these elements of a civic culture are present, regional governments perform much better than elsewhere. The study remains rather vague, however, about the precise causal mechanisms involved. On one hand, it can be expected that because of the active interaction among citizens, democratic political attitudes are being interiorized, and the population as a whole becomes more closely involved in the way society functions. On the other hand, however, it can also be expected that political elites simply experience more pressure from public opinion, forcing them to react in a more responsive manner to demands from the population.

Putnam assumes that the origins of the present-day political culture in the various regions of Italy have to be traced back several centuries. Already in the 14th century, the city-states in the northern part of Italy had established basic forms of self-rule, giving political power to some of the most privileged groups of society. The argument is that this practice had already instilled some form of democratic awareness, so citizens had the feeling that they themselves were responsible for the way their political system was being run. Southern Italy, on the other hand, during that period was still being run by autocratic monarchs, which instilled a form of subject political culture. Even six centuries later, it is argued, this division is still present in contemporary Italian society.

III. Empirical Research

Numerous empirical studies are available on the development and the consequences of political culture. Most often, these studies tend to focus on one specific aspect of political culture: political efficacy, political trust, political interest and knowledge, and political participation.

A. Political Efficacy

Political efficacy is the expression of a feeling of empowerment with regard to the political system. It is an important attitudinal component of political culture because efficacy can be considered a prerequisite for any form of political participation to occur (Finkel, 1985). Efficacy can mainly be understood as a form of political empowerment: Citizens have the feeling that their opinion matters, that they are qualified to have an opinion on politics, and that if they make an effort to get their voice heard, they will have an impact on the decision-making process. Furthermore, political efficacy can be seen as a self-reinforcing attitude: Simply taking part in participation acts has a positive effect on the development of efficacy.

Measurement of political efficacy tends to make a distinction between internal political efficacy and external political efficacy. Internal political efficacy refers to an internal locus of control, that is, the feeling that the individual has sufficient (cognitive) skills and resources to arrive at a full understanding of what goes on in the political system. External political efficacy, however, is just as crucial. This dimension refers to the expectation that political decision makers will act in a responsive manner to the way citizens express their demands. The two dimensions of political efficacy do not necessarily go hand in hand: It is possible for a citizen to have the firm conviction that he or she is quite capable of expressing well-informed political opinions but to believe simultaneously that authoritarian rulers will not pay any attention to what citizens say. However, survey research often shows that in practice, internal and external political efficacy are closely related.

B. Political Trust

Political trust (sometimes also called institutional trust) refers to the feeling that citizens have of the trustworthiness of political institutions. As such, it can be seen as a form of diffuse support a system receives from citizens. It is important in this regard to make a distinction between different levels of the object of political trust. First, political trust can refer to the conduct of specific politicians, most notably those holding power. Unsurprisingly, this kind of specific trust is most volatile, and it is related to the performance of the politicians in power, of the political system in general, and of the economy of the country. Fluctuations in the level of trust toward specific politicians, however, are usually not seen as problematic, as incumbent politicians can be replaced.

A second level refers to trust in the institutions themselves, such as parliament, government, or the courts. Here the assumption is that trust in these institutions is vital for the stability of the system. Even if citizens do not agree with the policies that are being conducted by the governing party or parties, they may yet express trust in the institutions of government. Survey research indicates that trust in institutions is much more stable than trust in specific politicians. Third, and much more abstract, is trust in general principles governing political life, such as trust in democracy. In most Western societies, this trust level remains very elevated and stable.

In survey research, political trust is usually measured by asking respondents to indicate which, from a list of specific political institutions, they trust. In most of the available surveys, political trust can be considered to be one-dimensional, indicating that the scores on the different institutions will be related. In other words, respondents who have trust in parliament are also likely to express trust in, for example, the police force. Some other studies, however, reveal a dual structure, with a distinction between representative institutions (e.g., Parliament, government) on one hand and nonelected, law-and-order institutions (e.g., courts and police) on the other.

The recent literature contains quite a bit of discussion of whether political trust really should be seen as a valuable— or even indispensable—aspect of a democratic political culture. It has also been argued that in democratic regimes, citizens should adopt a critical attitude toward political decision makers, and that they should not put blind trust in the political elite (Norris, 1999). Some authors have even argued that it should be assumed that citizens will be distrustful toward the political elite, because there is no reason to expect that politicians will be motivated first of all by the interests of the people.

Research shows, however, that the presence of political trust has considerable consequences for the effectiveness of the political system. Scholars have noted a strong distinction between countries with high levels of political trust (most notably the Scandinavian countries) and the former authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe (Newton, 2007). High levels of political trust are associated with greater willingness of citizens to obey the law, with a higher level of legitimacy for state intervention, and with a reduced need for government control on, for example, tax legislation (Tyler, 2006). Here too, however, the direction of causality is uncertain. One can indeed observe a close relationship between levels of corruption in a country and the level of political trust among its citizenry. Studies on Central and Eastern Europe, however, have established the reverse causal relationship: Endemic corruption in a country has a negative impact on the development of political and institutional trust in the population (Mishler & Rose, 2001).

The United States offers a specific case in the study of political trust. Although in the 1950s, the United States clearly belonged to a group of countries with very high levels of political trust, the level of trust has continuously declined since the late 1960s. In the early 1970s, the Watergate affair led to a spectacular drop in trust levels, and the level of trust has never been restored to historical levels (Hetherington, 2005). It is difficult to determine the exact cause of this structural decline, but a number of arguments have been put forward. First, increasing ideological polarization between the political parties has rendered it more difficult to respect the opinions and the political functioning of opponents. Second, the way in which the mass media cover political affairs has become increasingly aggressive and cynical. During election campaigns, for example, the media place much more emphasis on strategic considerations and the “horse race” coverage of campaign dynamics than on the ideological and political differences between the candidates. Various scandals and affairs also receive considerable attention in the media, leading to the perception that corruption might be widespread in Washington, DC. The decline in levels of political trust also has political consequences. Hetherington (2005) argues that U.S. citizens are reluctant to accept government intervention in various fields (e.g., health care or education) exactly because they do not have the feeling that state institutions are able to deliver those services in a reliable or cost-effective manner.

C. Political Interest and Knowledge

The civic culture also requires that citizens be actively interested in political developments and that they expend time and effort to keep abreast of political developments. Cognitive involvement is thus an essential component of the civic culture. There is more discussion in the literature, however, on how exactly this form of involvement should be conceptualized and hence operationalized. Early research from the 1950s argued that citizens should acquire knowledge about the functioning of the political system, and therefore the state of political knowledge among the population could be used as an indicator of the presence of a sound political culture. Routinely, however, political knowledge levels in the population were shown to be very low, with most citizens apparently unaware of even the basic facts with regard to the functioning of the political system, and this result was of course a reason for concern among numerous political science scholars. During the 1970s and 1980s, however, this view was increasingly abandoned, as it was shown that political knowledge levels were mainly determined by education levels. Some deduced from this finding that those with lower education levels somehow could be blamed for not contributing sufficiently to the level of political knowledge (and hence of civic culture).

However, a number of studies by Michael Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter (1997) put political knowledge on the research agenda of political scientists. Carpini and Keeter’s study demonstrated that cognitive mobilization has strong consequences for various forms of political engagement. Those high on political knowledge are not only more tolerant, even toward citizens with other political preferences, but are also better able to identify their own political preferences and the way they match with the positions taken by political parties and politicians. To put it more simply, political knowledge allows citizens to participate in politics in an effective manner. Contemporary concern was further fueled by the finding that mass media play an increasingly divisive role with regard to political knowledge. Although entertainment media have a negative correlation to political knowledge, highbrow news media add to the development of political knowledge (Prior, 2005). This impact, of course, means that the knowledge gap between the haves (i.e., those with a high education level and a preference for news media) and the have-nots (those with low education levels and heavy use of entertainment media) will only continue to expand.

This trend does not mean, however, that political knowledge has become a generally accepted indicator of the presence of a civic culture. First of all, although it is possible to measure political knowledge in a more or less valid manner within one country, comparative tests of political knowledge (to be applied in a number of countries simultaneously) are almost totally absent from research. Even within a country, various questions have been raised about the validity of political knowledge tests. It has been shown, for example, that male respondents perform better on questions about leading male politicians, whereas female respondents respond better on questions about leading female politicians, serving as role models for female respondents, who apparently are able to identify more easily with female politicians (Mondak & Anderson, 2004).

A more indirect manner of testing cognitive involvement in the political process is to question the level of political interest of respondents. In this kind of research, respondents are simply asked whether they are interested in politics. How exactly they practice or express this political interest is not asked. This kind of survey question seems to work very well: Political interest is not only a stable attitude but also has a strong predictive effect on reading newspapers, on following political news on television, and on the level of political knowledge.

D. Political Participation

Citizens are also expected to participate in political life in order to convey information about their demands and preferences to political decision makers. Although various definitions of the concept of political participation can be found in the literature, they all have two elements in common. First, political participation is a form of action to express a demand. Whether citizens go out to vote, take part in a demonstration, or write an e-mail to a member of parliament, it is clear that they have a specific preference or demand and are asking the political system to respond in some way or another. Second, they are able to put some pressure on the decision makers to pay attention to their demand. This is most clear in elections, as it can be assumed that politicians who do not pay sufficient attention to the preferences of the population will not be returned to office. Demonstrations can also be used to disrupt the normal functioning of society or to endanger the legitimacy of government. Although the element of pressure might be weaker in an act such as writing to a member of Congress, the implicit threat is still that not responding to the demand will lead to fewer votes at the next election (Rosenstone & Hansen, 1993).

Political participation is determined, to a large extent, by the presence of resources (Verba, Schlozman, & Brady, 1995). The civic voluntarism model argues that citizens will participate only if they have time, money, cognitive skills, and other resources available. Some persons are also more likely to be targeted by mobilization efforts than are others. The model also includes civic skills, such as the ability to address a meeting, to voice a concern in a coherent manner, or to discuss politics with others. This model implies that strong differences in level of political participation occur. Specifically, citizens with higher levels of education will participate more often, more intensively, and more effectively than those with lower levels of education. Verba in particular claims that this form of inequality can lead to strong distortions in the political process: Those with abundant political resources will enjoy more opportunities to get their voices heard in the political process than those who have less access to these resources (Verba, Nie, & Kim, 1978).

In practice, citizens have access to a whole array of possible participation acts, ranging from voting to party activism to illegal protest. In the research on political participation, the repertoire of acts that are considered legitimate participation acts has gradually widened. In the 1950s, the emphasis was still strongly on voting in elections, taking part in electoral campaigns, or activities within political parties. In their hallmark study on Political Action, Barnes, Kaase, and Allerbeck (1979), however, argued that one should distinguish two totally different kinds of political participation. On one hand, conventional political participation refers to activities taking place within the context of mainstream political institutions such as political parties. But in addition, citizens have access to various other forms of participation that are much more elite-challenging. Examples would be signing petitions and taking part in demonstrations or even illegal protests. Barnes et al. show clearly that taking part in these unconventional forms of political participation is not an indication of total alienation from the political system. On the contrary, citizens who take part in one form of participation are also more likely to take part in other forms. Party members might, if the need arises, take part in demonstrations, for instance. Barnes et al. conclude that both conventional and unconventional participation acts have their place in a democratic political system and that citizens apparently select the participation act that they consider to be most effective in specific circumstances.

Although the 1979 Barnes et al. volume has been immensely successful, in the current literature it is also considered outdated to some extent. First of all, the distinction between conventional and unconventional participation has become blurred. Elite political actors increasingly rely on unconventional means to get their voices heard. Second, various new forms of political activism are gradually becoming more important in the early years of the 21st century. Internet activism is one obvious example. The Internet is increasingly being used as a medium to express political opinions (Krueger, 2002). Another addition to the political action repertoire is the rise of political consumerism, or consumers’ use of all kinds of boycott campaigns to get their message across, not just to national governments, but to international organizations or international corporations (Stolle, Hooghe, & Micheletti, 2005). It is unclear whether these “new” forms of political participation should be labeled conventional or unconventional participation.

IV. Developments in Contemporary Political Culture

As mentioned earlier, the civic culture approach to the study of political culture met with increasing criticism from the 1970s on. Various authors questioned Almond and Verba’s focus on loyalty and deference to authority in their notion of a civic culture. Increasingly, authors argued that citizens should become more active, and should enjoy a larger freedom to express their political opinions. Ronald Inglehart is one of the most prominent figures in this line of research. From the early 1970s, he argued that a gradual cultural shift is taking place in Western societies. Increasingly, citizens develop a postmaterialist, or post modern, value pattern. As material needs can now be taken for granted for a vast majority of the population, citizens increasingly develop postmaterial value preferences, paying more attention to quality-of-life issues, equality, and protection of the environment. One of the defining characteristics of this value pattern is a more positive appreciation of individuality and the need for self-expression. Citizens with this value pattern are less likely to respect authorities, and they demand more strongly that their individual opinions and patterns be paid attention to in the decision-making process. Whereas Almond and Verba feared that this increasing use of political participation might lead to an overload of the political system, Inglehart (1997) assumed that political systems simply have to find ways to deal with the increasing volume of demands from their citizens. The presence of critical citizens, therefore, does not pose a problem for the stability of democratic society. Inglehart produces empirical evidence that in the most stable democratic systems of the world (e.g., the Scandinavian countries or Canada), postmodern values are the most widespread across the population.

Other authors, too, have put forward the claim that cultural changes in Western societies have led to a different political culture from the one that prevailed when Almond and Verba conducted their study. Group identities have become less salient as processes of individualization have led to a more individualized outlook toward the political system. Class and religious cleavages, therefore, are less able to predict political preferences and political behavior. The feeling of loyalty toward political leaders has been eroded, and citizens now tend to develop a more critical attitude toward the political system. Furthermore, there is a strong demand for more effective ways of participating in political decision making. All these developments impose a strain on the functioning of political systems, which are forced to invent new ways to meet these social demands. It would be wrong, however, to consider these developments as a crisis for democracy. Survey research shows that citizens support democratic government more strongly than ever before. At the same time, however, they are increasingly critical for the political institutions that have to embody this form of government (Dalton, 2004).

V. Future Directions

The study of political culture remains as vibrant as ever in political science, although it has to be mentioned that little progress is being made in the perennial debate between cultural and institutional perspectives on the development of political culture. For empirical scholars, it is indeed very difficult to come up with a convincing and feasible research design that would settle this debate conclusively. Nevertheless, the distinction between cultural and institutional explanations is crucial for two hotly debated topics: Can a democratic political culture be established, and can the institutions of democratic political systems adapt to the rise of a new generation of “critical citizens”?

One of the main problems in the study of political culture remains to define how exactly a democratic political culture can be installed. Especially in the former authoritarian regimes of Central and Eastern Europe, the lack of support for democratic principles of government remains highly problematic. Even 20 years after the fall of the authoritarian regimes, it can be observed that levels of political trust, political interest, and political efficacy remain remarkably low. Although in some countries, an upward trend for these indicators can be observed, in other countries the levels remain very low. An institutional approach would argue that trust levels will rise only if the political institutions themselves will start to function in a more effective manner, by reducing the current high levels of corruption. In this regard, too, however, there is little reason for strong optimism: It cannot be expected that a fight against corruption will lead to a quick or immediate rise in political trust levels. Cultural approaches argue that the relation should be seen the other way around: Only if the political culture of the population changes in a profound manner will it become less likely that civil servants or politicians will resort to corruption. The basic question in this regard is how stable political cultures are. In his famous book The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington (1996) argues that political cultures are inherently stable and that they do not change much over time. The interaction between cultures, therefore, would easily lead to enduring conflicts. Empirical research, however, shows quite convincingly that cultures can and will change over time. One example may be instructive: In the early 1950s, there was considerable concern over whether the political culture in Germany was conducive to stable democracy. Little more than a decade later, however, survey research showed that the German population in a very stable manner supported democratic orientations and values, and Germany is now considered to be one of the most stable democracies in the world. Why exactly this transition occurred, and how this experience might be transferred to other social contexts, however, remains a question that needs to be explored further.

Another important debate concerns the impact of the rise of a new generation of critical citizens. That citizens in Western democracies have become more critical has been well established. Given the fact that this attitude is concentrated among younger and more highly educated cohorts, it can also be reasonably expected that this trend will continue to grow in importance in the decades ahead. What we do not know yet, however, is what the impact of this trend will be for the functioning of political systems. Is this just another challenge that democracy can easily overcome (Dalton, 2004)? In the framework of David Easton (1965), it is assumed that political systems are dependent for their stability and legitimacy on the diffuse support they receive from the population. We do not know what will happen if this form of loyalty becomes weaker. To put it differently, is it possible that citizens become too critical? Electoral research shows that a lack of political trust can lead to a vote for extremist or populist parties, and this too might form a threat for the stability of democratic political systems.

The rise of the generation of “critical citizens” poses a much more fundamental question for political science, and more broadly for the social sciences. On one hand, we know that almost all indicators of a democratic political culture are closely related to the education level of respondents. Those who have high educational levels are usually more trusting, and they also have a stronger feeling of political efficacy. Simultaneously, we know that the average education level of citizens in Western countries has risen strongly since the mid-20th century. So the assumption could be, for example, that feelings of efficacy would have risen in the same manner during this period. However, it is clear that this has not happened. Although access to higher education has been generalized in most Western democracies, the expected results of this evolution sometimes fail to materialize.

VI. Conclusion

Within democratic political systems, citizens’ attitudes toward the political system clearly matter. Traditionally, it was expected that citizens trust the political institutions but that they also feel sufficiently efficacious to play a part in political life and to get their voice heard. While there is a general consensus on the importance of a democratic political culture, there is an ongoing discussion about the direction of causality: Does a democratic political culture lead to democratic stability, or do effective institutions lead to the development of a democratic political culture? This problem largely remains unsolved. Empirical research, however, shows that political trust levels tend to decline, especially in the United States. How exactly political institutions retain their legitimacy and effectiveness in these circumstances remains to be investigated. A compelling issue, furthermore, is how a democratic political culture can be built in newly democratic systems.

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