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DEMOS Creates ‘Democratic Efficacy’, a Concept to Counter Populism

‘Democratic efficacious’ citizens have positive attitudes toward politics, follow news regularly, embrace values such as tolerance, and are not biased against political parties.

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* DEMOS created the concept of democratic efficacy, an idea for capturing the quality of citizens’ political behavior and capacity to resist the populist appeal. * Democratic efficacy means that citizens not only have positive attitudes toward politics, but also follow news regularly, embrace values such as tolerance, and are not extremely biased toward any political parties. * Thus, the concept of democratic efficacy combines subjective attitudes with measurable political skills. * DEMOS is testing the concept on European data, and comparing the results with measures of populism. Budapest, Hungary—The EU-funded project DEMOS is releasing a research on “democratic efficacy”, a new concept supporting actions against populism. The idea is inspired by the notion of political efficacy, which captures citizens’ subjective attitudes toward politics. These include whether they feel capable of representing their needs and interests, and whether the political system is open to that. Democratic efficacy adds a missing objective dimension to that idea, with the aim of measuring the quality of political participation. DEMOS considers this as key to addressing the populist challenge; although populism spurs political participation, it is often associated with simplistic policies, polarizing attitudes, and disregard for pluralism. The study is a milestone for DEMOS to expand research on populism and formulate policy suggestions. According to the research, citizens who have high democratic efficacy also score high in measures of political efficacy. That means that they show positive attitudes toward politics. They also follow political news regularly, have some political skills, and are not extremely biased against political parties. Besides, “democratic efficacious” people embrace values such as tolerance, equality, and autonomy. “The research found a direct relationship between citizens being democratic efficacious and able to react against the populist appeal,” says Márton Bene, a political scientist from the Centre for Social Sciences in Budapest (CSS) who participated in the research. On the other hand, people who are less democratic efficacious are more likely to support populist and antidemocratic political actors, particularly through populism’s anti-elite rhetoric that speaks of representing “the people” against “the dangerous others”. Read the press release and download the open-access working paper on democratic efficacy on the DEMOS website at


democratic, efficacy, DEMOS, populism, Europe, Research, Innovation, Policy

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