'Negative democratic gap' serves as predictor for instability such as in Egypt: researchers

February 1, 2011, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Research carried out at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem shows that it was possible already in 2008 to predict that countries such as Egypt and Iran were headed for dangerous periods of instability because of citizens' demands for democratization.

The researchers were able to make this observation on the basis of a "democratic gap" scale of measurement between the level of freedom existing and the desire of citizens for more freedom, which was analyzed in about 90 countries around the world.

In their research, Prof. Tamir Sheafer and Dr. Shaul Shenhav from the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University used this scale to help explain the current violent protests in Egypt and the protests seen in Iran after the last elections there, while similar events did not happen in other non-democratic nations from which they gathered data in 2008.

Unlike other researchers who have singled out the religious element in conflicts or the lack of alone as the central causes of instability, Sheafer and Shenhav have stressed the need to examine on a scale the freedom that citizens have striven for and the level of democracy granted to them. They found that in states such as Egypt, Iran, Morocco, , Thailand, Belarus and China there is a "negative democratic gap" -- that is that the citizens are granted less democracy than their expectations. In such circumstances, say the researchers, the chances of undermining the existing rule is increased.

On the other hand, they say, there are other states, such as Jordan, Algeria and Malaysia, in which there is a "positive democratic gap." In those countries, the level of democracy accorded to the citizens (even though the actual regimes cannot be described as democratic) is nevertheless higher than the aspirations of the citizens. In such a situation, there is a lesser danger of instability.

The research of Sheafer and Shenhav, which is to be published soon in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, measured for the first time this element of the positive or negative gap between the democratic expectations of the public and the actual situation in 90 countries.

Political scientists over the years focused on the level of incongruence between democratic desires among the public and in political institutions in a country as an important indication of political instability. The theory was that the greater the incongruence, the greater the instability.

Sheafer and Shenhav have refined that theory so that it places less emphasis on the size of that growth but rather on whether or not there exists at all the "negative democratic gap" in which might take to the streets to protest. In making this judgment, the researchers based their approach on the work of public decision making done in past years by former Hebrew University Professors Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tverski and for which Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in economics.

The researchers caution that one must use their model with caution, since there are many other factors involved in issues of instability, such as the way in which regimes deal with attempts to undermine their rule, economic conditions, and processes towards greater democratization that the regimes might be willing to institute.

Explore further: In absence of other democratic institutions, freedom of press can lead to cycles of violence

Related Stories

Democracy not good at helping poor people

October 19, 2006

A group of U.S. political scientists has concluded democracy may not be more beneficial to the poor than other political systems, contrary to prior findings.

Civic education conducive to a more democratic America

October 23, 2008

Successful democracies depend on an informed, thoughtful, and engaged electorate. However, social scientific research shows the American electorate to be poorly informed and often disengaged. In an article in the 2008 Yearbook ...

Denmark, Finland and Belgium have best democracies: study

January 27, 2011

A new democracy barometer from the University of Zurich and the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB) shows the development of the thirty best democracies in the world. Den-mark, Finland and Belgium have the highest ...

Recommended for you

Lifting barriers to citizenship for low-income immigrants

January 15, 2018

Taking the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony is an emotional moment for many immigrants, and for good reason: it is the culmination of an often arduous process and many years of striving. Citizenship also opens ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.