How do citizens envision democracy? We explore people's understanding and perception of democracy through two approaches. Firstly, we pose open-ended questions to citizens, asking them to describe what democracy means to them. Previous research has primarily focused on citizens' preferences using closed-ended questions, limiting their understanding to predefined theoretical models found in scientific literature. However, by allowing citizens to express what democracy signifies to them and the meanings they associate with this fluid and multifaceted concept, we aim to "do democratic theory democratically." Thus, we adopt a bottom-up approach to democratic theory, refraining from imposing existing theoretical models on citizens' understanding. Instead, we will employ an inductive approach to bring citizens’ responses in a fruitful dialogue with theory.
To conduct our research, we carry out extensive surveys in two countries from the global north (Germany and the United States) and one from the global south (India).