By Jessica Engelman – Communiqué: Fall 2011, Volume 9
Are you satisfied with how your democracy is working? Regardless of your answer, Quinton Mayne wants to know why. Mayne, the Ash Center’s inaugural Democracy Fellow, has won two awards from the American Political Science Association (APSA) for his dissertation, entitled The Satisfied Citizen: Participation, Influence, and Public Perceptions of Democratic Performance. APSA has recognized Mayne’s research with both the 2011 Ernst B. Haas Best Dissertation Award in European Politics and the 2011 Best Dissertation Award in Urban Politics. Mayne received the awards at APSA’s annual conference in Seattle over Labor Day.
The Satisfied Citizen explains why some societies are more content than others with the overall functioning of their political systems. Thus far, most research into this question has focused on satisfaction at the level of the individual. However, the findings of Mayne’s research are based on cross-national analyses of four decades of aggregate public opinion data from 17 European democracies, as well as a focused case study of Denmark. Combining a range of quantitative and qualitative methods, Mayne demonstrates that it is the degree of political empowerment and institutional openness of local government, in particular, that fundamentally determines cross-national differences in citizen satisfaction.
The Satisfied Citizen presents a powerful challenge to contemporary policy and scholarly debates that paint a bleak picture of widespread political malaise in Europe, North America, and elsewhere. By focusing on the operation of politics at the sub-national level, Mayne’s dissertation delivers a more nuanced assessment of the state of democracy in the world’s high-income societies. Explaining why this variation in democratic performance exists also provides clear evidence about the types of reforms that improve democratic quality. The research exposes the serious limitations of policies widely enacted in recent decades that aim to deepen democracy through a reconfiguration of power relations mainly at national and regional levels of government. The Satisfied Citizen demonstrates instead the importance of transferring wide-ranging powers to local elected governments in order to revitalize democratic citizenship and enhance democratic performance.
At the heart of The Satisfied Citizen lies the argument that the process of “municipalization” – in which political powers are transferred from central governments to elected local authorities – profoundly affects the extent to which citizen influence is institutionalized. The more local governments are politically empowered and open to citizen involvement, the more likely it is that citizens will be satisfied with their political system. In Denmark, satisfaction increased incrementally over time, but over the course of 40 years this has yielded a dramatic rise. Mayne’s case study, which comprises the second half of his dissertation, examines how reforms enacted in the course of the past four decades have not only empowered Danish local governments but also made it easier for citizens to influence local policy making beyond the ballot box. Mayne argues that by granting far-reaching powers to local governments in the planning and delivery of key public policies, coupled with the creation of enhanced opportunities for political voice between elections, citizen influence has been progressively institutionalized in Denmark, which in turn has lead to increasing levels of citizen satisfaction.
Mayne earned his Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University in 2010. He then went on to be a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute, Italy, from 2009 to 2010, before coming to the Ash Center. The American Political Science Association, founded in 1903, is the leading professional organization for the study of political science and serves more than 15,000 members in over 80 countries.