Democratic Hypocrisy and Out-Group Threat: Explaining Citizen Support for Democratic Erosion

Simonovits, Gabor; McCoy, Jennifer; Littvay, Levente
Journal of Politics

With widespread democratic backsliding globally, people’s support for democracy-eroding leaders is receiving overdue attention. But existing studies have difficulty disentangling contextual effects (such as who is in power at the time of the survey) from individual differences (like which party one supports and how strongly). Moreover, we lack evidence on the causal antecedents of these attitudes. We propose a novel survey experimental design to strip away the political context through hypothetical scenarios, allowing us to identify citizens’ differential support for democratic norms when their own party is in versus out of power. Our findings indicate a large degree of democratic hypocrisy among the American public, whose support for norm-eroding policies increases when their own party is in power, an effect further amplified by two indicators of polarization: strong expressive partisanship and threat perceived from the opposing party.