Adolescents’ Conceptions of Democracy in Central/Eastern Europe and the United States


  • Patricia G. Avery University of Minnesota


social studies, democratic citizenship


The term democracy has an overwhelmingly positive connotation for most people (Diamond & Plattner, 2008), yet it is a contested, fluid, and evolving concept that represents many different things to different people. This article presents our analysis of conceptions of democracy among groups of adolescents (n=2,848, ages 13-19) in the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, and the United States. This study focused on students’ responses to one open-ended item on a written questionnaire. Our inquiry is significant because the ability to provide a meaningful definition of democracy has been shown to be associated with support for democratic institutions, and more complex understandings of democracy have been associated with greater political involvement and commitment to democracy (Bratton, Mattes, & Gyimah-Boadi, 2004; Miller, Hesli, & Reisinger, 1997). We found that the vast majority of the students gave acceptable definitions of democracy and that students were most likely to describe democracy in terms of freedoms and rights and least likely to mention civic equality as an aspect of democracy. Additionally, we found that demographic characteristics, students’ level of political engagement, and students’ perception of classroom climate sometimes impacted the complexity of the students’ conceptions of democracy.

Author Biography

Patricia G. Avery, University of Minnesota

Dr. Patricia G. Avery is Professor of Social Studies Education at the University of Minnesota.