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Democratic Innovations and Quality of Democracy: Do We Need New and More Creative Recipes?

Democracy
Institutions
Political Participation
Thamy Pogrebinschi
WZB Berlin Social Science Center
Thamy Pogrebinschi
WZB Berlin Social Science Center
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Abstract

Recent studies on the quality of democracy have concluded that “the greater the participation, the higher the probability that government and its decisions are responsive” (Levine and Molina 2011). However, quality of democracy indices usually measure political participation based on voting turnout, opportunities to vote and representativity of institutions. In addition to voting, surveys define participation as organizing, assembling, protesting and lobbying. Access to government offices and membership in groups like political parties and civil society associations are also included in most indices. Those definitions of participation still amount to a minimalist or, at most, pluralist model of democracy; they do not account for the social and political changes brought about worldwide by the increasing dissemination of democratic innovations. This paper claims that an updated and more comprehensive notion of (non-electoral) participation is an integral part of the task of reforming political institutions and assessing the quality of democracy. It proposes a set of criteria to assess democratic innovations and the conditions for their replication, envisaging the improvement of current measurements of the quality of democracy. The paper also argues that an enlarged account of political participation is one of the key elements that distinguish recent institutional reform in Latin America and Europe, and one that may explain the increasing disaffection with democracy in the latter in contrast with the decreasing levels of political distrust in the former.