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Democratic Lip Service or Defending Democracy in the Electoral Arena?

Democracy
Extremism
Political Parties
Populism
Political Sociology
Electoral Behaviour
Survey Experiments
Carsten Wegscheider
Universität Salzburg
Zoe Lefkofridi
Universität Salzburg
Markus Wagner
University of Vienna
Carsten Wegscheider
Universität Salzburg

Abstract

Democracies persist as long as they are supported by their citizens. However, the rise of populist and authoritarian parties in established democracies cast doubt on the commitment of parts of the population to liberal and democratic principles. What is not yet clear is under what conditions people support certain parties, even if they know that these parties may undermine democratic principles in the long run. Recent research shows that partisanship and polarization play an important role in endorsing the erosion of democratic norms and supporting undemocratic actions. Yet, beyond partisan loyalty and policy preferences, we don’t know much about the role of citizens’ populist attitudes and their perceptions of democracy. Furthermore, given that research is limited to the United States and thus a two-party system, we know little about who defends democratic principles in the electoral arena of multiparty systems. In this study, we investigate the extent to which policy positions as well as the orientation of fictional parties toward democracy influence citizens' voting behavior. We argue that, in addition to partisanship, populist attitudes as well as peoples` perceptions of democracy affect their decision to support otherwise politically congruent candidates, even if they appeal to limiting democratic principles or supporting undemocratic actions. In particular, we expect that individuals with a strong party identification are more likely to support parties that match their political profile, even if this would imply restrictions on democracy. In contrast, we expect that individuals, who exhibit high aversion to certain parties would not vote for those parties even if it would ensure the protection of democracy. To investigate these hypotheses, we conduct a survey experiment. Prior to the experimental component, we measure people`s attitudes and feelings towards political parties and voting intentions, as well as their opinions on policy positions, their populist attitudes and perceptions of democracy. Within the experiment, respondents are confronted with different profiles of parties that differ on several dimensions; economic positions such as redistribution and the role of the state in the economy, and cultural positions such as on immigration and law-and-order policies or sociocultural issues such as abortion and homosexuality. In addition to the parties' positions on the cross-cutting issue of European integration, we implement different positions such as supporting or limiting liberal democratic principles or extending authoritarian mechanisms. This study thus helps to better understand the role of partisanship as well as citizens' populist attitudes and their perceptions of democracy in defending democratic principles in the electoral arena.