Cultural liberalism in Eastern and Western Europe: a societal antidote to democratic backsliding?

Aurelia Ananda, James Dawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
73 Downloads (Pure)


While all European democracies have been subject to the ‘stress test’ of the global rise of illiberal populism, institutional erosion has occurred mainly in the East. Several qualitative analyses have claimed that the weakness of liberalism explains democratic vulnerability in the region. Seeking inspiration and quantitative data, we turn to the research field of global support for democracy, which has always started from the assumption that it is through cultural change rather than institutional reform that democracy takes root. By melding empirical strategies from this field with insights from democratic theory, we present a new and more exacting measure of cultural liberalism. We extract individual-level data from the European Social Survey to measure the effect of the ‘Proportion of Cultural Liberals’ (PCL) within national cohorts on levels of (de)democratization between and within East and West Europe 2012–2021. We find that PCL is positively correlated with increasing democracy levels (and resistance to democratic backsliding) across Europe. More significantly, this relationship holds independently for both Eastern and Western Europe, with the PCL effect being stronger in the East.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)801-824
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of European Public Policy
Issue number3
Early online date23 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis GroupThis is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDer-ivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distri-bution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered,transformed, or built upon in any way


  • Cultural liberalism
  • democratization
  • democratic backsliding
  • Central and Eastern Europe
  • counterpublics
  • emancipative values

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


  • Equality and Inclusion
  • Social Movements and Contentious Politics
  • Governance, Leadership and Trust


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