Perspectives on Politics


Changing Mass Priorities: The Link between Modernization and Democracy

Ronald Ingleharta1 and Christian Welzela2

a1 World Values Surveys

a2 Jacobs University, Bremen


A revised version of modernization theory implies that certain cultural variables (deeply-instilled attitudes among the public of a society) play an important role in democratization—and considerable empirical evidence supports this claim. Nevertheless, these variables are rarely used in econometric analysis of democratization. Why? One important reason is a tendency to view subjective mass orientations as volatile, relatively “soft” data. Analyzing data from many Large-N comparative survey projects, this article demonstrates that: (1) certain mass attitudes that are linked with modernization constitute attributes of given societies that are fully as stable as standard social indicators; (2) when treated as national-level variables, these attitudes seem to have predictive power comparable to that of widely-used social indicators in explaining important societal-level variables such as democracy; (3) national-level mean scores are a legitimate social indicator; and (4) one gets maximum analytic leverage by analyzing data from the full range of societies. We find numerous strong correlations between these subjective indicators and important societal attributes such as democracy, which suggest that causal linkages exist—but we do not attempt to demonstrate them here. Previous research has tested some of these linkages, finding support for causal interpretations, but conclusive tests of all the linkages shown here would require several book-length treatments. We briefly review some of the evidence supporting the conclusion that modernization leads to enduring mass attitudinal changes that are conducive to democracy.

Ronald Inglehart ( helped found the Euro-Barometer surveys and directs the World Values Surveys, which has surveyed representative national samples of the publics of 97 countries containing almost 90 percent of the world's population. His research deals with changing belief systems and their impact on social and political change. For more information, see Inglehart's website: and the World Values Survey website:

Christian Welzel ( is Professor of Political Science at Jacobs University, Bremen. His work deals with the impact of modernization on mass values and the impact of these values on democracy and good governance.


This article was inspired by an idea developed by Thorlief Pettersson. Fieldwork in the U.S. and several other countries was supported by the National Science Foundation.

A list of permanent links to supplementary materials provided by the authors precedes the references section.