Undemocratic Incumbents and the Shifting Electorate: Evidence from Polish Elections

Do voters withdraw their support from undemocratic incumbents who seek re-election due to concerns about democracy? I argue that citizens can only hold their government accountable for undermining democracy when they withdraw electoral support because they are committed to democratic values and oppose undemocratic conduct. To examine the drivers of electoral shifts during democratic backsliding, I focus on voter movements under Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) government. Using survey panel data, I find that citizens’ attitudes towards democratic principles and civic engagement do not correlate with shifts away from the incumbent. Instead, vote shifting is primarily linked to economic concerns. Subnational electoral patterns across Polish municipalities (gminy) are consistent with these findings. While incumbents may not face consequences for undermining democracy, they are not immune to being penalized for failing to deliver economic prosperity.