Are poorer people any less engaged with democracy than richer people? Does large-scale poverty in a country indicate that support for democracy will be low? Is democratic stability predicated upon the economic wellbeing of citizens?
Conventionally, these questions have been answered in the affirmative. The image from the advanced industrial democracies gives considerable support to an “elite theory of democracy,” in which impoverished, quiescent and largely anti-democratic masses enjoy the benefits of democracy as a gift handed down to them by their better-off, activist and pro-democratic countrymen. From these observations a conventional wisdom has arisen that people in poor countries are not supportive of democracies and that democracies will be stable only when a substantial middle class has emerged. Further, this view holds that poor people in general and, particularly, poor people in poor countries participate less in politics and support democracy less than those who are better off.
The papers presented here show how this conventional wisdom is wrong – or at least, if ever correct, is no longer true. Poor people in poor countries do not value democracy any less than their richer counterparts. Their faith in democracy is as high as (and sometimes higher than) other citizens’, and they do not participate in democratic activities any less (and sometimes more) than other citizens.