Distrusting Democrats

Outcomes of Participatory Constitution Making
Devra C. Moehler
Does participation lead citizens of new democracies to invest or disinvest in democracy?


How does mass participation affect political culture in countries undergoing political transition? Distrusting Democrats examines the consequences of citizen involvement in Uganda, one of a growing number of countries employing the participatory model of constitutional reform. Contrary to predictions, author Devra Moehler finds that participation contributes to the creation of "distrusting democrats": citizens who are democratic in their attitudes, but suspicious of their governmental institutions in practice. Moehler argues that participation in developing democracies gives citizens new tools with which to evaluate their imperfectly-performing institutions. Participation raises democratic expectations and alerts citizens to existing democratic deficits. The general implications for constitution-building countries are clear: short-term risks of disillusionment and instability; and long-term advantages from a more sophisticated citizenry capable of monitoring leaders and promoting political development.

Moehler's analysis is based on in-depth interviews, archival research, and a national random-sample survey of 820 Ugandan citizens.

Devra C. Moehler is Assistant Professor at University of Pennsylvania and a 2006-7 Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies.

Visit Devra Moehler's website

Praise / Awards

  • "A gem. This book shows that political participation breeds critical citizenship. A timely reminder that successful democratization must be home-grown."
    —Michael Bratton, University Distinguished Professor, Michigan State University

  • "Distrusting Democrats is an outstanding exemplar of the new breed of Comparative Politics scholars doing rigorous and exciting empirical work in Africa. Moehler's problem in this book is to explain both the beneficial and harmful effects of citizen participation in Uganda's constitution-making process. Using ingenious and highly resourceful research methods, she has produced an account of how democratic political cultures get built as newly designed political institutions seek the legitimacy of popular involvement in their creation. Many of her conclusions may startle—distrust of government is good for democracy, not bad—but the arguments and evidence produced in this book are highly germane not just to Africanists, but to all comparativists."
    —James L. Gibson, Washington University

  • "Moehler draws on extensive original data to make a novel argument about the impact of political participation on democratic attitudes. She shows that those who participated in Uganda's constitution-making process learned what democracy is about and came to value it. But they also came to recognize more acutely than those who did not participate just how far short the Ugandan government has fallen of the democratic ideal. Participation, in short, generated informed but distrusting democrats. This is an important argument, and it has implications for understanding the challenges of democratic consolidation that apply well beyond Uganda."
    —Daniel N. Posner, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the UCLA Global Fellows Program, University of California, Los Angeles

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Copyright © 2008, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 264pp.
  • 8 fig, 18 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2008
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06993-4

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  • $29.95 U.S.



  • Political Science, Law, Public Policy, Development Studies, Democracy, African American Studies, Comparative Politics, Public Opinion, Political Behavior