Trust and Democratization

Stratified modernity, political trust and political change in cross-national perspective: using harmonized survey data from 116 countries

Marta Kołczyńska
PhD candidate at The Ohio State University
Dissertation advisors: Kazimierz M. Slomczynski and J. Craig Jenkins

Weakness of civic culture, understood as the capacity of societies to sustain the system of democratic institutions through constant active engagement by citizens, has been one of the most frequently theorized reasons for democratic stagnation or decline, and the failure of some countries to establish stable and efficient institutions despite formal reforms and international support. This project identifies and analyzes the value-driven mechanism of political change by focusing on the differential adoption of modern values across social strata and the ramifications that this has for democratic institutionalization.

Drawing from literatures on political participation, modernization, attitude formation and change, as well as the psychological consequences of status inconsistency, hypotheses are formulated about how the differential rates at which social strata adopt modern values, and differences in political awareness and participation across these strata, affect political systems. Past work has not provided a conclusive test of this because of limited coverage of countries and time periods. Using harmonized data from cross-national survey projects from over 100 countries observed in multiple years, combined with country-level indicators describing the type of political regime and economic performance, it is possible to expand the scale of the analyses to provide more conclusive tests. Repeated observations of countries over time allow to estimate dynamic models and to increase the number of typically underrepresented regions of the world. Apart from providing the data for this doctoral dissertation, this research will improve our understanding of the cultural conditions for democratization, as well as further the methodological research on survey data harmonization, thus contributing to the development of social science research infrastructure.

This project has the potential to advance knowledge in several ways. First, the theoretical framework being used combines theories of democratization-through-values (i.e. the “civic culture” thesis) with the literature that links the dimensions of individual’s stratification position – education, occupation, and income – to political participation, as well as values, orientations, and psychological functioning. In addition to these ideas from comparative political science and sociology, this project also makes use of social psychological approaches to attitude formation, and theories of globalization and values diffusion. In terms of cross-national research methodology, this project proposes new ways to construct country-level measures from aggregating individual-level characteristics. Finally, it advances the harmonization of cross-national survey data, thereby improving the research infrastructure for comparative social science research.

The most direct impact of this project is improving the infrastructure for research and education through the development of harmonized cross-national survey data. It does this through several measures. First, new variables are harmonized that had previously been unavailable. Second, new surveys are harmonized, expanding the coverage of neglected world areas. Third, the documentation of survey quality is improved, making the data more attractive for researchers. Indirectly, this effort contributes to the development of the general standards for cross-national survey research as a field of study.

In terms of broader societal outcomes, this research will improve our understanding of the cultural conditions for the institutionalization of political democracy, a topic with immediate policy implications worldwide.