Citizens as a Democratic Safeguard? The Sequence of Sanctioning Elite Attacks on Democracy


In many elections worldwide, citizens confirm politicians who undermined democracy in office. Why? For citizens to safeguard democratic institutions, they must not only disapprove of a candidate’s undemocratic conduct but also be willing to retract support from her at the next election. This paper examines under which conditions citizen evaluations of undemocratic elite conduct are consequential for behavioral actions and whether specific segments of the electorate, such as politically educated, liberal, anti-majoritarian, and moderate partisans, react more forcefully to such elite violations. Evidence from a survey experiment in Poland closely following the sequence of presidential elections reveals that citizens firmly dislike attacks on core electoral institutions, irrespective of committed by incumbent or oppositional co-partisans. However, neither the electorate’s nor any segment’s dissent translates into revised vote choices. The study has implications for why undemocratic elite behavior often remains unpunished and citizens rarely avert democratic backsliding.

American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming