‘Key point: different societies are characterized to very different degrees by a specific syndrome of political culture attitudes. The cultural differences are relatively enduring, but not immutable, and they have major political consequences, being closely linked to the viability of democratic institutions. Economic development can make democracy more stable, but only because it has the potential to change cultures (i.e. shift from materialism to post-materialism).
Method: analyses data from cross-national surveys (mainly from Europe) over a 15 year period.
Findings: there is a broad syndrome of related attitudes that show substantial and consistent cross-cultural variation, with certain societies being characterised by satisfied and trusting attitudes to a much greater degree than others. The cross-national differences show impressive stability over time, and this syndrome is linked with the persistence of democratic institutions; certain societies are characterized relatively strongly by a durable set of orientations that roughly corresponds to the ‘civic culture’ Almond and Verba discussed.
The emergence and viability of mass-based democracy is shown to be closely related to economic development, but the outcome is contingent on specific cultural changes. (Relatedly, economic development itself is influenced by cultural variables – although the tests of this are overly simplified so should not be taken as conclusive).
*interpersonal trust is important to the support of stable mass democracy (see Almond and Verba, 1963), and does indeed differ across cultures, but it is not sufficient. A long term commitment to democratic institutions among the public is also required, in order to sustain democracy when conditions are dire (i.e. when democracy isn’t actually providing you with any benefits).
*attitudes that democracy is inherently a good thing may reflect economic and other successes that one experienced long ago or learned about second-hand as a part of one’s early socialization.
*evidence presented below indicates that the public of certain societies have much more positive feelings toward the world they live in than do those of other socieities. One of the best indicators of this orientation is satisfaction with one’s life as a whole