Hypothesis 3: The reputation of parties is highest in countries where there is a strong preference amongst the citizens for democracy as a system of government
The indicator of preference for democracy was taken from the WVS survey and consisted of the following battery of questions:
I’m going to describe various types of political systems and ask what you think about each as a way of governing this country. For each one, would you say it is a very good, fairly good, fairly bad, or very bad way of governing this country?
…Having a strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections
…Having experts, not government, make decisions according to what they think is best for the country
…Having the army rule
…Having a democratic system
For our analysis, we converted these ratings of democracy to a four-point scale where zero equalled very bad and three equalled very good. Table 4 shows the average rating for each country in the WVS sample.
As can be seen, preference for democracy was high, with average citizen ratings in all countries in the sample at the “fairly good” level at least. In some cases, notably Greece, Denmark, and Sweden, there was almost overwhelming support for democracy as a very good way of governing the country. Differences in support for democracy were thus small in nature, and described only subtle variations in enthusiasm for the system.
When analyzed against the TRI*M index data for party reputation, preference for democracy showed a moderate relationship with levels of party support
(R²=0.15). Analysis using the core fifteen countries produced a similar result
(R²=0.18). This was not very strong compared to the relationship we have already seen coming from the opposite direction within the political system, but preference for democracy did seem to be a minor explanatory factor.
Citizens in democracies, then (or at least in the democracies analyzed here) have faith in the principles of the regime, and subtle variations in the degree of their enthusiasm do not greatly affect the way in which parties are evaluated. The values citizens hold regarding democracy are relevant to how they evaluate parties, but these judgments are ultimately more performance-based in nature.
The results of the Global Corporate Reputation study show two patterns when examined geographically. The first of these, as shown in last month’s issue of Public Opinion Pros, is that parties in a number of Asian countries are evaluated highly. It is difficult, however, to come to any conclusions on this when three of the seven Asian political systems in the study are semiauthoritarian in nature—we need to ask, do the high reputations of parties in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia reflect the fact that surveys were conducted in environments where the expression of political criticism is discouraged? Or are they, in fact, a result of the strong economic performance which, the leaders of these countries claim, justifies the curtailment of political freedoms? We must also consider Japan, where party reputation at the time of the study was considerably lower than elsewhere.
We can be clearer about the second pattern concerning variation among European countries: Scandinavian publics are more positive towards their parties than those in Western Europe, while parties are held in particularly low regard in Southern and, especially, Eastern Europe.
One matter that is not ambiguous is the lack of a relationship between post-materialist values and party reputation. It is hard to dispute that these values become more widespread the more wealth a country generates, but the evidence here shows they have not had the effect on political parties that post-materialists suggest—we did not find that parties had a lower reputation in countries with higher numbers of post-materialists.
The clearest findings relate to the influence on party reputation from specific objects (politicians and governments) and diffuse objects (principles of government) within the political system. In Figure 1 three different models were developed: performance-driven, values-driven, and dualistic. The evidence reviewed here strongly supports the first of these models—we saw a very strong relationship between party reputation and evaluations of current government performance. Furthermore, analysis of the individual TRI*M component questions shows that short-term performance evaluations have a relationship with the emotional, as well as the competence, elements of the party reputation equation. Trust and favorability toward parties appear in this light as changeable rather than deeply rooted. There is also a relationship, albeit a very moderate one, between preference for democracy and party reputation. While the results primarily support the performance-driven model, there are still dualistic elements to explaining reputation from within the system.
With this in mind, we can say that government performance and evaluations of parties collectively are related, but in a way that cannot be ascertained here. Although there may be some moderate relationship between preference for democracy as a way of governing and party reputation, they exist on planes that are largely unrelated to one another. We saw earlier that WVS data show democracy is positively viewed in all countries, including in those where its introduction has been more recent. Slight variations in how enthusiastic populations are about democracy are not enough to predict the differing reputations of political parties.
It appears, than, that democracy is in rude health where it exists, and that those living in these conditions are, by and large, satisfied that it offers the best system of governing. While democracy is well-accepted, though, citizens do not take a universally uncritical view of its parties—views which are largely determined by the performance of the governments produced by party competition.
Chris Levy is research executive, TNS Social. The author would like to thank Bill Blyth, Dave Addis, and Cynthia Pinto at TNS for their help, along with Dr. Steffen Hermann and Anne Uekermann at the Global TRI*M Centre in Munich. Data from the GCR study are available for download at http://www.tns-global.com. Click on the "Business Solutions" link, followed by the TRI*M link, and finally the Global Corporate Reputation button.