What Makes “Ardent Democrats” in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan?

Document Type



Organizational Studies (Pitzer)

Publication Date



democracy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan


If Kazakhstan is home to Eurasia’s longest serving ruler, neighboring Kyrgyzstan is among its most competitive polities. We wanted to know if, as a growing body of literature posits, these differences in regime type translate into differences in political attitudes. Are Kyrgyzstanis, as might be surmised from their recent context of political contestation and constitutional reform, more likely to support democratic ideals? Are Kazakhstanis, long led by the same powerful, constitutionally enshrined, and by many accounts popular executive, less likely? Original public opinion data reveal that, on average, less than 35 percent of respondents in both countries strongly agree with practices associated with democracy. Moreover, on many measures the two populations are attitudinally indistinguishable, with country differences either small or statistically insignificant. At the same time, youth in Kazakhstan (18-29) are distinctively less democratic in their outlook. We account for these findings with a key contextual commonality. Rather than (nascent) democracy versus (entrenched) authoritarianism, public opinion reflects their shared system of patronage politics. Political context matters, but not in the ways often conceived of, which tend to define countries primarily along a democracy-versus-autocracy continuum.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License