Why perceived deprivation matters: social status and support for Democracy in Europe

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Why perceived deprivation matters: social status and support for Democracy in Europe
Lea Heyne

Why do losers like democracy less than winners? The fact that social status has an impact on satisfaction with democracy is, while empirically established, often overlooked in the literature. This paper analyses the effects of subjective and objective social status on citizens' expectations and evaluations of democracy. I argue that relative deprivation, defined as the notion of being left behind in society and disadvantaged by social inequality, systematically affects the way citizens judge their own democracy: The lower their status, the more they support substantive over procedural democracy, and the more critical they see their own democracies. Using data for 26 countries from the European Social Survey 6, I test whether citizens’ attitudes towards democracy are affected by perceived deprivation as well as objective socio-economic status. Results show that a low status leads citizens to value democratic dimensions differently - they prefer social justice over liberal criteria. Additionally, low status citizens also evaluate the performance of their own democratic system in all dimensions significantly more critical than their higher status counterparts. These two effects combined create a bigger difference between low-status citizens' expectations and evaluations, especially in the social dimension, causing them to be more prone to democratic dissatisfaction. I further find differences across countries: Citizens in former communist countries and countries affected by the Eurocrisis generally have higher expectations of democracy, while simultaneously evaluating their own democratic systems more negatively. In Western Europe, on the other hand, social status affects citizens' attitudes more strongly than in the other country groups.

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