How do people understand democracy and the right to protest? A cross-cultural comparison of lay people in Chile, the US, and Turkey
Fecha: 2018
Estado: In Process


Investigador Responsable:
Otros Co-Investigadores: Brian Lickel, Özden Melis Ulug


The proposed project aims to explore, compare and contrast people’s understanding of democracy and the right to protest in three different countries: 1) the U.S., 2) Chile and 3) Turkey. This examination, first, will help understand the relationship between democracy and collective action. Second, it will help uncover the similarities and differences between the countries regarding the conceptions of democracy and protests. We are applying for COES funding only for the Chilean section of the study – other sources will fund the U.S. and Turkey studies as mentioned below. However, we present the whole project here to provide a complete picture of its rationale.

The term democracy comes from the Greek language, means rule by the people. Social scientists expand on this definition to describe four key characteristics of democracy (Diamond, 2004): 1) a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections (e.g., a means for the people to choose leaders), 2) the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life (e.g., voting in elections), 3) protection of the human rights of all citizens (e.g., every citizen has certain basic rights), and 4) a rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens (e.g., the rule of law protects the rights of citizens, maintains order, and limits the power of government).

Although social science research points to some core components of democracy, it is also a concept that may have different meanings to people from different cultural and ideological backgrounds (Dalton, Shin, & Jou, 2007). People may define democracy from different perspectives depending on the countries they live in, what kind of values they hold, and to what extent they endorse egalitarianism, etc. People may also have limited political knowledge about democracy even in advanced industrial democracies (Dalton et al., 2007) and this may be the reason for them to see democracy from very different perspectives.

Although people may define democracy in different ways, there may still be common democratic values people share in different countries. Polling data indicates that people around the world support fundamental democratic values such as freedom of expression (Wike & Simmons, 2015), but the degree of support differs. For example, people in the United States are more likely to support all forms of freedom of expression (e.g., criticizing the government’s policies publicly and calling for violent protests) than others worldwide. Similarly, Latin Americans are also supportive of freedom of expression even though the mean scores of Latin American countries (e.g., MChile = 4.58; 0 = less supportive; 8 = more supportive) on freedom of expression are lower than the US (MUS = 4.58; Wike & Simmons, 2015).

Prior research has not examined the link between people’s views of democracy and their views of protest movements.  Participating in a protest can be seen both as freedom of expression and as an integral part of democracy. For example, polling data indicate that a big majority of the US population perceives the right to nonviolent protest as a very important component of a strong democracy (Pew Research, 2016). Although such opinion polls indicate there are certain democratic values that are generally shared around the world, this polling data is unfortunately limited in that it does not a) approach democracy and the right to protest guided by a holistic and comprehensive framework and b) provide a detailed account of lay people’s opinions on democracy and the right to protest. In other words, there has been no detailed qualitative investigation regarding how people see the right to protest in a democratic society. However, a qualitative investigation may provide a rich description of lay people’s subjective perspectives on the right to protest, both in violent and non-violent protest movements. One should understand how lay people think and talk about protests, protest participation, and violent and non-violent movements as lay people are social and political actors who play major roles in social change both in democratic and non-democratic societies (Bayat, 2010). For example, what do people think about protesting in a democratic society in general? Do they think protests are a good or bad for democracy? To what extent should people be able to protest in a democratic society? Are there any forms of protests that are not acceptable in democratic societies? Are there any conditions that protesting could be banned? What do people think about protesting the election results and decisions of a leader/president? Investigating such questions qualitatively in different contexts may help us better understand the dynamics of protesting from lay people’s perspectives.


Objective 1: To understand what democracy means for lay people

This project, first, aims to understand what democracy means for lay people as citizens of certain countries and how they define democracy personally. In this regard, lay people’s opinions on what democracy means for them, whether there is a universal definition of democracy, whether there are any major problems about democracy, etc. are investigated in this project. Thus, the proposed project aims to identify the basic elements of democracy from the perspectives of lay people.

2: To understand the relationship between democracy and the right to protest

We believe understanding people’s opinions on democracy and protests in detail is crucial, as these opinions will shape people’s reactions if their rights to protest are restricted especially in democratic societies. Therefore, the proposed project also aims to investigate different ways that citizens make their voices heard in a democracy by specifically focusing on protests. In this context, the relationship between the understanding of democracy and the right to participate in non-violent protests is investigated in detail. More specifically, questions regarding lay people’s opinions on protesting in a democratic society, to what extent people should be able to participate in non-violent protests in a democratic society, any forms of “unacceptable” protests in a democratic society and any conditions that protesting could be banned will be examined in this project. These questions will help us examine what kinds of conceptions of democracy lead to different types of collective action.

3: To compare people’s opinions in three different contexts

The proposed project aims to compare people’s opinions on democracy in three different contexts: the U.S., Chile, and Turkey. We focus on these three countries as they represent three different forms of democracy. To begin with, they have different democratic trajectories: the U.S. is one of the oldest democracies in the world; Chile has a considerable experience with democratic institutions (about two centuries) yet interrupted by Pinochet’s dictatorship a few decades ago; and Turkey began to experiment with representative institutions less than one centry ago, having a troubled trajectory after that. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index in 2017, the US was defined as a full democracy, Chile as a flawed democracy and Turkey as a hybrid regime (Economist, 2017). However, democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets—including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law—came under attack around the world (Freedom House, 2018). In 2018, these three countries get different scores. To be more specific, Turkey is sliding into authoritarian rule, and its status declined from partly free to not free (score = 32; 0 = Least free, 100 = Most free). Even though the status of the United States is still free (score = 86), the country retreated from its traditional role as both a champion and an exemplar of democracy due to an accelerating decline in American political rights and civil liberties (Freedom House, 2018). Chile, on the other hand, has the highest score among these three countries (score = 94).

When it comes to participation in protests, these three countries also differ. In Chile, there is a long tradition of protest participation whereas protest participation is less common in the US and Turkey. Only a small minority in Turkey (4.8%) has participated in peaceful protests in the past. Compared to Turkey, the number is higher in the US (13.7%). In Chile, on the other hand, 23.1% of the population have participated in peaceful protests in the past (World Values Survey, 2011). As these three countries differ regarding democracy types and trajectories, as well as protest participation levels, we also aim to compare the perspectives of lay people in these three countries in the proposed project.

4: To apply a multi-methodology approach

Our study is truly multi-method. In the first phase we focus on qualitative understandings of democracy and right to protest as well as their relations (see below “Methodology 1: Qualitative method” section). In the second phase, we will use Q methodology to uncover socially shared understandings of democracy and the right to protest. As we will use the same methodology in three different countries, this will allow us to conduct a second-order analysis to compare and contrast the findings across the countries. Finally, we will also resort to the World Values Survey to compare the three countries and contextualize our findings from phases 1 and 2.

5: To conduct a collaborative and interdisciplinary project

Fifth, this project gives us the opportunity to work in a collaborative environment. Both researchers from UMass Amherst and COES (Centre for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies) will collaborate to conduct simultaneous studies in different countries. Also, we will have the opportunity to work with colleagues from Turkey.

This multi-country project will also bring people from different academic backgrounds. In this project, both sociologists and social psychologists will participate and work in a collaborative group. Both sociologists and social psychologists have different theoretical and methodological approaches to researching democracy and protest; working in an interdisciplinary team will help researchers complement each other.


In this project, three research methodologies will be employed: 1) qualitative methods (i.e. open-ended surveys) and 2) mixed methods (i.e., Q methodology). In other words, this project does not rely solely on quantitative methods, but rather blends qualitative (e.g., open-ended questions) and mixed methods (e.g., Q methodology). Additionally, 3) we will complement these two methodologies with a comparison among the three countries regarding popular perceptions of democracy and protest participation using the recent waves of the World Values Survey.

Methodology 1: Qualitative method

First, a qualitative approach will be used for maximization of perspectives to see a broader picture of democracy (see Bauer & Aarts, 2000). Through a qualitative approach, lay people’s specific understandings of democracy and the right to protest as well as their subjective views on those two topics will be understood in greater detail.

Three studies will be conducted in three different countries by using qualitative methods:

Study 1a—the US: We started conducting the first study (Study 1a) in the US. In August 2017, we collected data from 300 lay people by using’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) system. In this open-ended survey, there were 22 open-ended questions about democracy and protests. We also included three scales (e.g., system justification) and demographic questions in the survey (please see Appendix).

Study 1b—Chile: We are planning to conduct Study 1b in Chile in May 2018. We aim to collect data from 300 participants by using online data collection platform (to be defined). In this study, we aim to replicate Study 1a in the US. As this study will be the replication of the first study, we are planning to use the same questions in the first survey. However, we will also add a few more scales (e.g., current protest participation) to examine the relationship between participants’ previous protest experiences and their understanding of protests.

Study 1c—Turkey: We are planning to conduct Study 1c in Turkey in July 2018. We aim to collect data from 300 participants as well. Infakto Research will conduct the data collection process in Turkey. In this study, we aim to replicate Study 1a and Study 1b. As this study will be the replication of the first two studies, we will use the same questions, which will be included in Study 1b.

Methodology 2: Q methodology

Q methodology, also widely known as Q-sorting technique (McKeown & Thomas, 1988) will be used in the second phase of the project to deepen on the conceptions of protest and democracy (and their relationships) uncovered in the previous phase of the study. Q methodology is a method that “encompasses a distinctive set of psychometric and operational principles and … provides researchers a systematic and rigorously quantitative means for examining human subjectivity” (p. 7). It is a method wherein participants reflect their understanding of a particular issue by rank-ordering statements. For this reason, Q methodology is very useful to find socially shared perspectives (Shinebourne, 2009; Watts & Stenner, 2005). By using Q methodology in this research project, we will uncover socially shared perspectives about democracy and protests among lay people.

Three studies will be conducted in three different countries by using Q methodology:

Study 2a—the US: We are planning to conduct Study 2a in Massachusetts. We aim to collect data from 45 participants. These participants will be from various racial (e.g., White, Black), religious (e.g., Christian, Muslim), and ideological backgrounds (e.g., liberal, conservative, independent).

Study 2b—Chile: We are planning to conduct Study 2b in Santiago. We aim to collect data from 45 participants in Chile as well. Participants from different ethnic (e.g., the Mapuche people) and ideological backgrounds (e.g., leftist, independents, and rightists) will participate in this study.

Study 2c—Turkey: We are planning to conduct Study 2c in Istanbul. We aim to collect data from 45 participants in different parts of ?stanbul. We aim to collect data from various ethnic (e.g., Turkish, Kurdish), religious (e.g., Sunni, Alevi) and ideological backgrounds (e.g., leftist, conservative) in Turkey.

Methodology 3: improving interpretation with World Values Survey and ELSOC

In order to contextualize and better interpret the results from phases 1 and 2, we will use the World Values Survey (WVS) – which provides nationally representative samples of the adult population – to compare the three countries regarding popular perceptions of democracy and protest participation. In the last two waves (2005-2009 and 2010-2014), the WVS asked respondents in each country about (i) their participation in different types of protest tactics (demonstrations, blockades, etc.), and (ii) their conceptions of democracy – both in terms of how much they value democracy, and by asking to what extent they believe that certain features (such as protecting civil rights or state economic redistribution) are essential components of democracy. We will examine how the three countries vary (i) in their protest levels, (ii) in the prevalence of different conceptions of democracy, and (iii) in the relations between protest and conceptions of democracy. In particular, we will examine whether protestors and non-protestors conceive democracy in similar or different ways, and whether eventual differences among both groups vary across the three countries. This will provide a broader picture of national contexts and their differences that will help interpreting the results from phases 1 and 2.

Additionally, in order to disentangle the relationships between protest participation and satisfaction with democracy, we will resort to the waves 1 and 2 of ELSOC (COES panel survey), which asks about protest participation (question C8) and conceptions of democarcy (questions C1 and C25). Although limited to just one of the three countries of our study, this will advance our knowledge about whether protest shapes democracy conceptions and/or the opposite.