The poor and the viability of democracy

Adam Przeworski

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Introduction This chapter begins where others have ended, namely, with the finding that poor people differ little in their attitudes toward democracy, their political values, and in the actual rates of electoral participation from those who are better off. Even if they may be more likely to see democracy in instrumental terms, the poor value democracy and participate in democratic politics. What do these facts imply for the viability of democracy? How could the poor threaten democracy? We need to distinguish three possibilities: First, by not participating. Democracy is anemic and vulnerable when participation is low. Indeed, we commonly read low rates of turnout as indications of a crisis of democracy, as weakness of “diffuse support” (Easton 1968) for democratic institutions. The causal mechanism typically entailed here is that when the poor do not participate, they may end up exploding in the form of peasant revolts, ghetto riots, millenarian movements, and so on. Second, by participating while being vulnerable to authoritarian appeals. The prototype of this scenario was the 1851 plebiscite in France, in which poor peasants supported the coup of Louis Napoleon. The specter that haunted American political science during the cold war was that when the masses of the poor become politicized, they are vulnerable to extremist, read communist, appeals. This was the great fear of participation in the 1960s (Almond 1954; Huntington 1968; Shils 1965).

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationPoverty, Participation, and Democracy
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    Number of pages22
    ISBN (Electronic)9780511756160
    ISBN (Print)9780521504454
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2008

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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