How democratic are ordinary citizens in Western democracies?

Academic research has extensively studied this question recently.

This 🧵summarizes some of the most important findings from the past 10 years in 22 short tweets 👇🏾
The literature can be grouped into three strands:

(1) Do citizens support democracy?
(2) Why do citizens often accept undemocratic behavior by politicians?
(3) How can we intervene and improve citizens’ democratic values?

Let’s take each strand by turn.
Although citizens’ democratic support has been studied for decades, @Yascha_Mounk and Foa catalyzed the debate in two articles in 2016 and 2017 by highlighting the waning support for democracy in Europe and the US—particularly among young people. 1/22…
However, despite such dismal conclusions on citizens’ wavering democratic values, most research finds that support for democracy has remained high and stable over the past 50 years.

@CarolienvanHam et al. demonstrate this in their edited volume. 2/22
In a similar vein, @PippaN15 reexamines her classic edited volume from 1999, “Critical Citizens,” and concludes that citizens have not become more undemocratic. They are critical but hold steadfast democratic aspirations. 3/22…
Although @Kunkakom, @kongavras, and Schoen find declining democratic support in a few countries among specific groups, their overall conclusion is similar: citizens in Western democracies continue to endorse democracy. 4/22…
So, on the one hand, most citizens adhere to democratic principles.

On the other hand, we know citizens are willing to accept violations of democratic rules and norms.

How can we square this contradiction?

The second strand of literature provides at least 10 answers. 5/22
#1 Policy is most important:

@Matt__Graham and @MilanSvolik forcefully demonstrate that people deliberately accept undemocratic behavior if they gain from it politically. People are willing to trade off some democracy to get some policy. 6/22…
#2 We tend to rationalize:

Citizens do not deliberately accept undemocratic behavior. Instead, they rationalize their democratic conceptions—and convince themselves that a given undemocratic behavior is, in fact, perfectly democratic. 7/22…
#3 The other side is worse:

Many seem to think: “it is wrong that my party violates democratic norms, but the other side would be even worse, so I’ll accept it.”

See @AliaBraley, @GabeLenz, @_dval_, @hosinux, and @alex_pentland's ongoing work 👇🏾 8/22
#4 Identities matter:

@LilyMasonPhD, @julie_wronski, and @UptonOrwell show that citizens who dislike minority groups are more likely to support undemocratic candidates. 9/22…
#5 Political opinions matter:

Malka, @ylelkes, @bnbakker, and Spivack find that those with a “protection-based attitude package” (simultaneously left-wing on economic and right-wing on cultural attitudes) tend to accept undemocratic behaviors. 10/22…
#6 Need for chaos:

Some act undemocratically because they have a “need for chaos.” They wish to unleash chaos by burning down the entire political order and gaining status.

Check out @M_B_Petersen, @VinArceneaux, and Osmundsen’s forthcoming work 11/22
#7 Follow the leader:

@katie_clayton14, @ntdPhD, @BrendanNyhan, @EthanVPorter, @TJRyan02, and @thomasjwood show that norm-violating rhetoric from political elites undermines respect for and trust in democratic institutions among their supporters 12/22…
#8 It can’t happen here:

@kristianvsf finds that citizens in Western democracies have been so accustomed to living in a democracy that they take it for granted. Accepting violations of democracy is harmless as our democracy is so strong. 13/22…
#9 We get used to it:

@edogrilloecon & @carloprato_ argue that politicians can gradually move citizens’ red lines by repeatedly behaving in an undemocratic manner.

(See also @ZhaotianL and @AdamPrzeworski’s article “Democracy and its Vulnerabilities”)…
#10 Democracy involves trade-offs:

Sometimes we must accept decreases in one dimension (e.g. popular sovereignty) to improve another dimension (e.g. political equality).

@EHernandezPe new project examines this pivotal dilemma. 15/22
At this point, some might wonder why polarization has not been mentioned among the drivers of undemocratic acceptance.

The reason is simple: it does not seem to matter.

Check out @dbroockman, @j_kalla, and @seanjwestwood study. 16/22…
These findings lead to a third question: how can we intervene and prevent people from accepting violations of democratic rules and norms?

A third strand of literature examines this question. Two general approaches have been common so far. 17/22
The first approach is to teach citizens about the values of democracy. @AnjaNeundorf, Finkel, and Rascon-Ramirez demonstrate the effectiveness of this strategy. 18/22…
If you want to know more about how education can instill democratic values in citizens around the globe, check out @AnjaNeundorf ERC funded DEMED project 👇🏾 19/22…
The second approach seeks to reduce citizens’ affective polarization and, in turn, make them less likely to accept undemocratic behavior. This approach has provided mixed findings. 20/22
For example, @jgvoelkel, @jchu1225, @DG_Rand, @RobbWiller et. al. find no evidence that reducing affective polarization reduces support for undemocratic candidates, support for partisan violence, or prioritizing partisan ends over democratic means. 21/22…
Moreover, in an impressive megastudy led by @jgvoelkel, @RobbWiller, @DG_Rand et. al., most interventions that reduce polarization and partisan animosity fail to reduce anti-democratic attitudes in turn. 22/22
To sum up, we are slowly getting the diagnosis right by understanding why citizens act as they do.

Yet, it is still early days for the democracy intervention literature. Progress has been made, but we are still searching for the best prescriptions to improve democratic values
This 🧵 is not exhaustive. If you think I have forgotten some vital work on citizens’ democratic values, please feel free to share it below 👇🏾

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More from @Suthan_1607

Aug 31, 2022
A worrying development in our democracies today is that many of us are willing to accept undemocratic behavior by politicians if we agree with them politically.

In my new @apsrjournal article, I scrutinize the perceptual logic behind such behavior in the US & globally.🧵👇🏾
Democratic politics often confront citizens with undemocratic behavior. Recent examples include Donald Trump attempting to overturn the US 2020 presidential election or the Fidesz government’s closure of various Hungarian media outlets. 2/15
An extensive literature demonstrates that people accept such undemocratic behavior if they stand to gain from it politically. People are willing to trade off some democracy to gain some policy. 3/15
Read 16 tweets

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