Democracy belief systems in Europe: Cognitive availability and attitudinal constraint

Enrique Hernández*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


There is a growing interest in analyzing what citizens think about democracy. However, gauging citizens' opinions about a complex concept such as democracy might be hindered by the apparent low levels of political sophistication of mass publics. This paper contributes to the emerging literature on citizens' views and evaluations of democracy by analyzing to what extent ordinary citizens are capable of developing structured opinions about democracy and its constitutive principles. For this purpose, the paper adapts Converse's notion of political belief systems to analyze the articulation of individuals' democracy belief systems (DBS). The first goal of this paper is to conceptualize and operationalize the main components of individuals' DBS: cognitive availability, horizontal constraint, and vertical constraint. Drawing on data from the sixth round of the European Social Survey, the second goal is to describe the articulation of DBS in Europe. The third and final aim of this paper is to trace the most relevant individual-and country-level correlates of the articulation of the three components of DBS. In line with recent findings about political belief systems in other policy domains, the results indicate that most Europeans have coherently structured attitudes about democracy. However, even if the results imply that Europeans have a relatively articulated DBS, the empirical analysis also reveals some individual-and country-level variation in the articulation of specific components of DBS.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)485-502
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Political Science Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


  • attitudinal constraint
  • democracy
  • political attitudes
  • political support
  • survey


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