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Measuring Democracy in the Age of Digitalization

Democracy
Media
Comparative Perspective
Dannica Fleuß
Helmut-Schmidt-University/University of the Armed Forces Hamburg
Karoline Helbig
WZB Berlin Social Science Center
Dannica Fleuß
Helmut-Schmidt-University/University of the Armed Forces Hamburg
Karoline Helbig
WZB Berlin Social Science Center
Gary S. Schaal
Helmut-Schmidt-University/University of the Armed Forces Hamburg
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Abstract

A major challenge for the measurement of democracy results from the changes posed by the increasing digitalization of modern societies. Theoretical, conceptional and methodological problems arise and have to be tackled in order to obtain valid measures of democracy. Nevertheless, so far an approach that takes these problems into account is still a desideratum. The proposed paper (a) identifies important aspects of this gap in research, (b) describes strategies to fill the gap and (c) specifies the findings for one integral element of democracy: the public sphere. Based on this analysis (d) the particular challenges for the comparative measurement of democracy posed by digitalization will be presented and discussed. First, with reference to Munck/Verkuilen (2002) we address the theoretical level of the conceptualization of democracy: Do researchers merely have to adapt the attributes of an otherwise liberal conceptualization of democracy? Or do they have to change the concept of democracy itself as digitalization challenges the core of liberal democracy? This paper states that in the short and medium term, researchers can adhere to the contemporary conceptualization of democracy, but have to adapt operationalization and measurement. However, in the long term the concept of democracy prevalent in contemporary political theory itself has to be transformed in order to provide an adequate foundation for valid measurement of democracy. Thus, the following methodological questions have to be addressed: How can politically relevant phenomena resulting from digitalization be included in order to achieve valid measurement of democracy? Can commonly used attributes of democracy be supplemented by new components of attributes or are changes on the higher level of attributes necessary? As a specification of this general issue we will analyze the measurement of the public sphere under the conditions of digitalization. Our analyses include yet another angle: From a comparative perspective empirical research has to take into consideration the varying cultural practices of using digital technologies. The concept of “digitality“ developed by Stalder (2015) seems promising in that context. Empirical research on participation already was able to demonstrate that the habits of citizens regarding political participation via digital means differ significantly with accordance to their age (cf. Vowe 2014). Measurements taking the intensity of participation into account therefore would implicitly evaluate the age structure of the society under analysis. In addition, comparative research could show that citizens participating via digital means usually participated offline, too. Thus, the potential of digital media for mobilization proves to be low (cf. Ritzi/Wagner 2016). The latter insight has to be taken into account when analyzing different forms of participation. While both examples vary in time and space, they still demonstrate the necessity to include micro-level research in the development of a valid comparative interpretation of macro-level democracy measurement (cf. Kaase 2015). This paper exemplifies the challenges posed by digitalization to discuss the potential insights that can be derived from combining micro- and macro-level research to offer comprehensive understanding of cross-country macro-level data.