Citizen Support for Democracy, Anti-pluralist Parties in Power, and Democratic Backsliding


Anti-pluralist parties have come to power in democracies around the world. However, only a subset of them have induced democratic backsliding while in government, raising the question of why some anti-pluralist governments subvert democracy while others are more reluctant to do so. I argue that anti-pluralist incumbents undermine democratic institutions most severely during times of weak citizen support for democracy. In such settings, anti-pluralist parties in power face a low risk of voter punishment and public backlash. By contrast, in democracies where citizens’ commitment to democratic rule is strong, the cost of attacking democratic institutions for incumbents is considerably higher, making democratic backsliding less likely. I test this theory by combining data from public opinion surveys, party systems, and institutional democratic changes in about 100 democracies and implement dynamic time-series cross-section models covering the period from 1990 to 2019. Consistent with expectations, periods in which anti-pluralist parties are in government during times of weak citizen support for democracy predict episodes of democratic decline. These findings have implications for the potential of citizens to constrain anti-pluralist incumbents in pursuing undemocratic reforms.

European Journal of Political Research, forthcoming