Are citizens turning away from democracy?

Democracy is under stress. Over the past ten years, there were more nations moving towards autocracy than countries moving towards democracy. In the past year alone, we have lost eight democracies (including Hungary, according to V-DEM data). In short, as the world is gradually is becoming less democratic we are in the midst of the third wave of autocratization (Lührmann et al. 2019). 

Some scholars argue that democracy’s eroding societal foundations are one reason for the global trend of democratic backsliding. Because citizens have grown tired of democracy political entrepreneurs and wanna-be autocrats have easy game in transforming a democratic country towards a more autocratic regime type. In two studies, we weigh the empirical evidence for the ‚democratic deconsolidation hypothesis‘.

Study 1: Have Europeans Grown Tired of Democracy? 

Study 1 [Open Access] is crossnational, examining the trajectories of democratic support among European citizens in eighteen consolidated democracies from 1981 to 2018. Because the question of democratic support is contested and scholars have previously argued that some of the presented evidence was cherry-picked we pre-registered our prospective data analyses including indicator selection and analysis syntax. Moreover, we present the entire evidence in an interactive Shiny Web Appendix. As a special treat, we use statistical techniques that allow disentangling age, cohort, and period effects. In short, our analyses do not provide much evidence for widespread democratic deconsolidation. Citizens of Europe continue to support democracy (but there is, at the same time, some evidence for an indeterminate but growing openness for trying out alternative non-democratic forms of government.). 

Abstract – British Journal of Political Science

Study 2: Examining the democratic deconsolidation hypothesis on the mass level in East and West Germany

Study 2 [Open Access] is a case study with focus on Germany that can be seen as a continuation of the cross-national analyses. Due to data availability Study 1 could only investigate attitudes towards democracy as a generic concept without considering whether citizens still support core principles of the liberal variant of democracy. Again, there is not much evidence in favor of the democratic deconsolidation hypothesis. 

Altogether, the studies can be seen as adding nuance to the very gloomy picture on the state of democratic support as democratic support is largely stable, at least in Europe. However, this is no reason to stop worrying about democracy as there is other evidence that many citizens cannot be counted on to defend democracy when it really mattes. More on this in a twitter thread.   

Abstract – Research & Politics

If you live in a Lockdown-affected country and really have no idea what to do with your time, I can offer you this 40 min video in which I run through the studies in greater detail:

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