Political Acceptance As an Alternative or Complement to Political Legitimacy: Concepts, Measurement and Implications.

Roger R. Betancourt (U. of Maryland)
Alejandro Ponce (World Justice Project)

Abstract: In this brief paper we introduce a rigorous definition of political acceptance that we offer as an alternative or complement to the long standing concept of political legitimacy relied upon in political science. It has four important features: it is a positive not a normative concept; it is an encompassing concept; it is capable of direct measurement with survey data; and it has a stock or reservoir of goodwill feature that allows differentiation between political acceptance of a system and of a regime. The first three features represent a conceptual improvement over the concept of political legitimacy. The fourth feature is analogous to one possessed by political legitimacy that is useful for empirical analyses. We develop two questions that make feasible direct measurement of these concepts for acceptance and two versions of political legitimacy a la Lipset with survey data on individuals. These questions are implemented with survey data from 36 countries as part of the Rule of Law Index surveys developed by the World Justice Project. We establish an empirical pattern where political acceptance of a system is consistent with its being a buffer for political acceptance of a regime in each of the very diverse 36 countries in our data. We compare empirically political acceptance to two versions of political legitimacy a la Lipset. We find that political acceptance outperforms both measures of legitimacy in a majority of countries either as an alternative or a complement to either measure of legitimacy a la Lipset in explaining acts of civil disobedience. We relate the concept to the vast literature on political legitimacy in the introduction and summarize in brief concluding remarks.

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