Chapter 8: Political confidence
People’s confidence in elected politicians is, in the eyes of many, another indicator of the quality of democracy. Summarizing an extensive review of the literature, Wright (1981: 8), for example, noted how the proposition that ‘democratic polities require large quantities of political efficacy and trust among the citizenry is […] a commonplace among the scholars of our time’. Low levels of political confidence, the prevalent view suggested, constituted a potential danger to democracy because widespread lack of confidence could provide the basis for civic unrest and anti-democratic sentiments. The assumptions underlying this position, however, have not gone unchallenged. Wright himself argued that because of vast differences in personal backgrounds it is highly unlikely that the alienated, ‘in all their glorious diversity’, would be jointly attracted to one single common cause (e.g. an anti-democratic movement), and hence it is implausible that they will pose a serious threat to democratic stability (Wright 1981: 70; see also Sniderman 1981: 13). A negative view of low levels of political confidence has also been criticized on normative grounds. Much recent literature, in fact, is based on the idea that a critical citizenry constitutes a democratic asset, not a threat (Geissel 2005: 2–3). Joseph Nye (1999: vi), in his preface to Pippa Norris’ book Critical Citizens, for instance, argues that critical citizens are a positive asset for democracy.
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