chapter  4
21 Pages

Assessing the inequality-democracy linkage at the individual level

75Evidence from East Asia

This chapter assesses the descriptive validity of the individual-level assumptions of political economy theories linking inequality to democracy in the context of East Asia by using cross-national public opinion data. It primarily focuses on how people at the top end of the income distribution differ from those at the bottom in support for democracy and opposition to dictatorship. Analysis reveals that high levels of income inequality neither mobilised the poor for democracy nor induced the wealthy to turn to dictatorship. It was found that neither the poor nor the wealthy constituted an anti-democracy constituency across much of the region. It is notable that the wealthy were no less supportive of inclusive citizenship, a key component of electoral democracy, than the poor, regardless of levels of income inequality. More notable is that the wealthy were more supportive of checks and balances, a key component of liberal democracy, than the poor. Furthermore, both the poor and the wealthy alike preferred reducing economic inequality to protecting political freedom. Overall, the micro-level foundations of political economy theories linking inequality to democracy remain tenuous in the context of East Asia.