Working title: Democracy and its meanings

Democracy is appealing. Plato described it as a “charming” form of government that dispensed equality independent of merit. Madison and his colleagues believed it to be the bedrock for self-governance. De Tocqueville wrote glowingly that it produced both social and economic opportunity. Churchill lauded its treatment of the humble man, who, in turn, was supportive of democracy throughout much of the 20th Century.

Yet, recent polling suggests that citizens’ attitudes toward democracy have begun to sour. Indeed, there is growing concern that, amidst palpable dissatisfaction with public and political institutions, ordinary Americans have started disengaging from democracy. As such, it is unclear whether such dissatisfaction represents broader discontent with the core features of democracy – things like the freedoms of press, speech, and religion – or, rather, understandable anger and frustration over legislative gridlock and unseemly politicking that is directed toward governing institutions.

This book project (with Kirby Goidel) leverages survey data collected from two CCES modules fielded in 2016 and 2017 to explore how Americans conceptualize democracy in order to both diagnose whether these attitudes are concerning and what – if anything – can be done about them. A proper draft of the monograph is expected by late 2018.