Which matters more, the means or the ends? Preferences for responsiveness in process and policy

February 1, 2023

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Public dissatisfaction with democracy seems to have increased across the world. This has prompted alarms among academics, pundits, and citizens alike about what motivates this type of backsliding and support for more authoritarian practices. Researchers have found that support for democracy dropped during the economic crises of the 2000s (Armingeon and Guthmann 2014; Foster and Frieden 2017), that there are a growing number of “democrats in name only” especially among the young (Wuttke, Gavras, and Schoen 2022), that many are tolerant of undemocratic or illiberal encroachments on democracy (Carlin and Singer 2011; Singer 2018), and that citizens trade democratic norms and principles for their preferred political outcomes even in environments with low levels of polarization (Carey et al. 2020; Graham and Svolik 2020; Saikkonen and Christensen 2022; Krishnarajan 2022).

Why do some citizens turn away from democratic government, and what things do citizens want from democratic government that they are not currently getting? What might improve support for democracy generally and elected officials within a democracy? One key area of focus is how political systems react to the views and attitudes of citizens. Various theories about democracy propose that the responsiveness of the government to citizens matters deeply in evaluating political systems; how responsive citizens think the government is can be equally important (Dahl 1971; Pitkin 1967; Sabl 2015).

To evaluate how democratic responsiveness influences attitudes towards government, we theorize about a version of responsiveness that we call process responsiveness. In contrast to policy-focused forms of responsiveness, process responsiveness occurs when elites and governments actively listen to their constituents, independent of the policies they ultimately enact. Responsiveness to process signals to citizens consideration and representation on the part 3 of elected officials and facilitates further engagement, feelings of being understood, and trust on the part of constituents.

Read the paper on this website.