Democratic consolidation is the process by which a new democracy matures, in a way that it becomes unlikely to revert to authoritarianism without an external shock, and is regarded as the only available system of government within a country. This is the case when: no significant political group seriously attempts to overthrow the democratic regime, the democratic system is regarded as the most appropriate way to govern by the vast majority of the public, and all political actors are accustomed to the fact that conflicts are resolved through established political and constitutional rules. The notion of democratic consolidation is contested because it is not clear that there is anything substantive that happens to new democracies that secures their continuation, beyond those factors that simply make it 'more likely' that they continue as democracies. Many scholars have attempted to explain the factors that are responsible for democracies consolidating, which has led to the emergence of different ‘consolidation theories’ in the academic literature. Unconsolidated democracies often suffer from formalized but intermittent elections and clientelism.
Indicators of Consolidation
A democracy is widely considered consolidated when several or all of the following conditions are met. Firstly, there must be a durability or permanence of democracy over time, including (but by no means limited to) adherence to democratic principles such as rule of law, independent judiciary, competitive and fair elections, and a developed civil society. Some theorists believe that this secondary process of instilling democracy into the institutions of government is how consolidation occurs. The democracy must also be accepted by its citizens as the ruling form of government, thus ensuring stability and, again, minimizing the risk of reverting to an enforcement or advocacy of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom regime.
Some scholars think that the process by which a democracy becomes consolidated involves the creation and improvement of secondary institutions of the democracy. Linz and Stepan's thesis, for example, is that democracy is consolidated by the presence of the institutions supporting and surrounding elections. They distinct five conditions that must be present in a state, in order for a democracy to be consolidated; First, there needs to be a ‘civil society’, which Linz & Stepan describe as an “arena of the polity where self-organizing and relatively autonomous groups, movements, and individuals attempt to articulate values, to create associations and solidarities, and to advance their interests”. Secondly, there must be a relatively autonomous 'political society', which is the arena in which political actors can compete with one another for the legitimate right to rule. The third condition is that all actors throughout the state’s territory are subject to the rule of law. Fourthly, there must be an existing system of state bureaucracy that is ready for the democratic government to use. Lastly, there must be an institutionalized economic society, by which Linz & Stepan mean that consolidated democracies cannot co-exist alongside a command economy, nor alongside a pure free-market economy. So in order for democracies to be able to consolidate, there needs to be a set of economic norms, institutions, and regulations that mediates between the state and the market, according to Linz & Stepan.
O'Donnell believes that the institutionalization of electoral rules is not the most interesting feature of democratic consolidation. He thinks that scholars focus too much on the formal institutions as drivers of consolidation, while the informal institutions and rules in a state are often overlooked. It’s the informal rules and norms that often shape the behaviour and expectations of all sorts of political actors. His approach is to compare the formal institutional rules (for example the constitution) with the informal practices of actors, arguing that in many countries exists a ‘gap’ between the two. Consolidation on this view is when the actors in a system follow (have informally institutionalised) the formal rules of the democratic institution.
Political culture is linked to democratic consolidation. Scholars Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, in The Civic Culture (1963), argued that public participation in government and attitudes toward government were significant in democratic transition and consolidation. Some scholars identify political tolerance and trust in institutions as important to democratic consolidation.
One of the suggested obstacles to democratic consolidation is brain drain in which high skilled workers from developing countries migrate to high-income and capital-rich countries. This leaves many new democracies in the developing world problems in terms of steering effective governance due to the lack of high-skilled professionals.
Whether Mexico is a fully consolidated democracy is the source of much debate, but the process has clearly begun in the country. After over 70 years of authoritarian rule under the Mexican PRI party, Mexican politics have transitioned into a competitive, multi-party system. Their courts are independent and may check the powers of other branches of government, and media censorship is slowly loosening its grip. Recent political results, such as those of the 2018 presidential election, suggest that the PRI is unlikely to regain sole power over the country.
In general, the countries of western Europe serve as examples of fully consolidated democracies. The United Kingdom and the Netherlands, for example, are both very unlikely to revert to authoritarian monarchies, because they have adopted the aspects that are often associated with fully consolidated democracies: There is adherence to the rule of law, they frequently organize fair and competitive elections and they have a developed civil society.
- Linz, J. J., & Stepan, A. C. (April 1996). "Toward consolidated democracies". Journal of Democracy. 7 (2): 14–33. doi:10.1353/jod.1996.0031. S2CID 154644233 – via Project MUSE.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- O'Donnell, Guillermo A. (April 1996). "Illusions about Consolidation". Journal of Democracy. 7 (2): 34–51. doi:10.1353/jod.1996.0034. S2CID 153457880 – via Project Muse.
- Russell J. Dalton and Doh Chull Shin , Reassessing The Civic Culture Model (2011).
- Carlos Garcia-Rivero, Hennie Kotzé & Pierre Du Toit, Political culture and democracy: The South African case. Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies, pp. 163-181, Vol. 29, 2002.
- RRegilme Jr, Salvador Santino F. "Is International Labor Migration Good for Democratic Consolidation?." Peace Review 25.1 (2013): 97-103.
- "Mexico: Democracy and the Future" (PDF).