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Sounding the Alarm: Comparing Early Signs of Democratic Recession in Established and Backsliding Democracies

Participation
Institutions
P022
Joep van Lit
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
Honorata Mazepus
University of Amsterdam
Monday 09:00 – Thursday 17:00 (25/03/2024 – 28/03/2024)
There is a growing debate on how serious the threat to democracy is. Should we really be worried that the specter of authoritarianism is haunting old democracies? Many countries appear to be resilient, consolidated democracies, like Denmark, Japan, or Argentina. Yet, the Danish government expressed concerns about Danish democracy, international observers have raised questions about Japanese democracy 2012, and Argentine opposition accused president Fernandez of undemocratically interfering with judiciary. Given that many of the receding democracies started out as consolidated and ‘safe’ from autocratization, it is unclear whether the concern about these ‘safe’ democracies is exaggerated or justified.
This workshop proposes to focus on the response to early alarms warning about the signs of democratic recession. It investigates if seemingly resilient democracies are, in fact, resilient because they respond differently to initial attempts to erode liberal democracy. Conceptually and empirically, it is important to look at two types of alarms: ‘false positives’, where researchers and observers find no democratic recessions (yet); and ‘true positives’, where the early signs transformed into actual democratic recession – the latter being the primary focus of research until now. If academics and policy-makers care about democracy, they should err on the side of caution, looking at all alarms – be it true or potentially false. If no counteraction follows, what we treat as ‘false positives’ initially, might actually be the beginning of democratic recession. Therefore, comparing false and true alarms is essential for better understanding of democratic recession and resilience.
The existing literature tends to focus on clear cases of recession (e.g., Poland, Hungary, or Turkey), where incremental decline of democratic rights and institutions has occurred (Bermeo, 2016; Boese et al., 2022; Waldner & Lust, 2018; Wunsch & Blanchard, 2023). Recent scholarship focuses also on the role of pro-democracy actors: their strategies and opportunities to stop and revert democratic recession (Cleary & Öztürk, 2022; Gamboa, 2022; Tomini et al., 2023). However, both literatures often select on the outcome: studying cases where democracy already receded. Importantly, experimental and survey research across different political systems demonstrates that citizens are often faced with a choice between democratic principles and partisan or economic preferences (Carey et al., 2020; Gidengil et al., 2022; Graham & Svolik, 2020; Mazepus & Toshkov, 2022; Saikkonen & Christensen, 2023; Simonovits et al., 2022). However, although there is growing evidence when citizens allow transgressions of democratic rules, we know less about what makes some democracies more resilient against autocratization.
1: In what situations is the alarm of democratic recession first sounded?
2: Who are the actors that sound the alarm, what is their mandate and argumentation?
3: What is the response to the early alarms, by whom and what is their argumentation?
1: We invite papers focusing on ‘safe’ democracies or comparing ‘safe’ and ‘endangered’ democracies.
2: Contributions that tease out the role of citizens, political participation, and preference-signaling
3: Elite decision-making, their interpretation of norms or clauses, and the ways they seek to garner support
4: Political communication in times of ‘democratic turmoil’, the (mis)information provided by either actor.
5: Political communication in times of the development of the discourse