Democracy and the Culture of Skepticism

Democracy and the Culture of Skepticism: The Politics of Trust in Argentina and Mexico

Matthew R. Cleary
Susan C. Stokes
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Democracy and the Culture of Skepticism
    Book Description:

    Some theorists claim that democracy cannot work without trust. According to this argument, democracy fails unless citizens trust that their governing institutions are serving their best interests. Similarly, some assert that democracy works best when people trust one another and have confidence that politicians will look after citizen interests. Questioning such claims, Democracy and the Culture of Skepticism, by Matthew Cleary and Susan Stokes, suggests that skepticism, not trust, is the hallmark of political culture in well-functioning democracies. Drawing on extensive research in two developing democracies, Argentina and Mexico, Democracy and the Culture of Skepticism shows that in regions of each country with healthy democracies, people do not trust one another more than those living in regions where democracy functions less well, nor do they display more personal trust in governments or politicians. Instead, the defining features of the healthiest democracies are skepticism of government and a belief that politicians act in their constituents' best interest only when it is personally advantageous for them to do so. In contrast to scholars who lament what they see as a breakdown in civic life, Cleary and Stokes find that people residing in healthy democracies do not participate more in civic organizations than others, but in fact, tend to retreat from civic life in favor of private pursuits. The authors conclude that governments are most efficient and responsive when they know that institutions such as the press or an independent judiciary will hold them accountable for their actions. The question of how much citizens should trust politicians and governments has consumed political theorists since America's founding. In Democracy and the Culture of Skepticism, Matthew Cleary and Susan Stokes test the relationship between trust and the quality of governance, showing that it is not trust, but vigilance and skepticism that provide the foundation for well-functioning democracies.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-128-5
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    • Chapter 1 The Place of Trust in the Political Culture of Democracy
      (pp. 3-18)

      The concept of trust has been rediscovered of late by students and theorists of democracy. They have revived the idea that civic participation generates trust, and that trust among citizens is crucial for democracy to function well. But an equally long, if currently less fashionable, tradition views democracy (or representative government) as functioning best if citizens retain a sense of the fallibility of their leaders and hence the importance of constraining institutions. Distrust is good for democracy. And this latter tradition places rather more weight on the delegation of political involvement from the citizenry to its elected representatives than on...

    • Chapter 2 Regional Variation in the Quality of Democracy in Mexico
      (pp. 21-54)

      Here, we introduce the concept of subnational democracy and discuss several approaches to cross-state measurement. Borrowing from Linz and Stepan’s (1996) definition of democratic consolidation, we analyze the nature of electoral competition in Mexico, and then turn our attention to regional and local political institutions, party behavior, and public opinion. The evidence attests to substantial variation in the pace of democratization and quality of democracy across the Mexican states.

      Mexico has a three-tiered federal system, with thirty-one state governments and more than twenty-four hundred municipalities.¹ Many of the northern states, such as Baja California and Nuevo León, are relatively industrialized,...

    • Chapter 3 Regional Variation in the Quality of Democracy in Argentina
      (pp. 55-80)

      To uncover cross-regional differences in the quality of democracy in Argentina, we draw on provincial and local studies, as well as on our own research. We begin by exploring differences among provinces in patronage and fiscal behavior. We then examine the differences among a subset of regions on a broader set of dimensions: the level of support for political parties and the volatility of this support; the tendency of voters to split their ticket and vote simultaneously for different parties in different races; voters’ media exposure and political sophistication; and their willingness to openly discuss their political choices. As in...

    • Chapter 4 Political Culture and the Quality of Democracy
      (pp. 83-128)

      Earlier we found no compelling theoretical link between democracy and personal trust. We identified flaws in the propositions that if citizens trust each other, and if citizens personally trust politicians, democracy works better. If trust and democracy are related, the deepening of democracy should induce a shift from personal to institutional trust, from clientelism to accountability. The political culture of democracy, we argue, should be one of skepticism, not of trust.

      Here we probe these propositions empirically by seeking answers to a number of questions. Do citizens in less democratic regions display personal trust in politicians, and do those in...

    • Chapter 5 Trust and Democratization
      (pp. 129-174)

      In an effort to explain why the pace of democratization and of the deepening of democracy has been quick in some regions of Mexico and Argentina and slow in others, we begin by testing the social capital approach. Does a richer civic culture produce the differences we have observed in political culture and in the quality of democracy across regions? Finding scant support for social capital theory, we then turn to other propositions. For decades, theorists have posited that economic development encourages countries to democratize. Does it also encourage a deepening of regional democracies within countries? If so, why? Our...

    • Chapter 6 Region, Democratization, and Political Culture
      (pp. 177-190)

      As democracy in a country or a region deepens, the nature of political trust is likely to change. Citizens will turn from the belief that what matters for producing responsive government is that politicians be personally trustworthy, to the belief that what matters is that institutions constrain politicians to be trustworthy. Our findings generally—although not universally—support this basic claim. Here we consider the lessons these findings contain for our understanding of why democracy deepens and why it causes a shift in political trust.

      We then step back and make broader claims. One is that the questions perpetually asked...

  10. Appendix
    (pp. 191-210)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 211-226)
  12. References
    (pp. 227-234)
  13. Index
    (pp. 235-250)