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The Functions of Democratic Innovations from a Citizen Perspective

Democracy
Political Participation
Political Psychology
Referendums and Initiatives
Political Sociology
Public Opinion
Hannah Werner
University of Leuven
Hannah Werner
University of Leuven

Abstract

Democratic innovations have been repeatedly put forward as a potential solution to the so-called democratic malaise. The underlying assumption both in normative democratic theories as well as in political practice often is that the involvement of citizens in political procedures will enhance the perceived legitimacy of authorities and the political system. Existing empirical research has however found rather mixed evidence for such an effect, often influenced by the favorability of the outcome. Comprehensive knowledge of the legitimacy-enhancing potential of democratic innovations is still missing. I argue that this is due to a lack of understanding of the actual mechanism by which involvement of citizens should produce more subjective legitimacy. Why should individuals perceive politics as more legitimate if citizens are involved? This approach relates to Mark Warrens recent call to study democratic procedures in regards to the specific functions they fulfill. I aim to engage with the question from a bottom-up perspective: What are the specific functions democratic innovations can fulfill for citizens? Accordingly, I make use of recent attempts in the research on process preferences to understand what citizens really want from democratic procedures and for what reason. In this paper I will propose a first typology of such functions, focusing specifically on why citizens desire involvement. They range from strategic considerations to normative expectations of democracy or mere signaling functions. To achieve this aim I integrate normative democratic theory with micro-level accounts from social psychology (e.g. on procedural fairness, group identity). To accommodate the bottom-up perspective of this approach, theory building is further based on quantitative surveys as well as qualitative interviews were conducted in the context of a citizen participation project in Belgium.