AMERICAN POLITICS & PUBLIC POLICY WORKSHOP
Is support for democracy in the United States robust enough to deter undemocratic behavior by elected politicians? We develop a model of the public as a democratic check and evaluate it using two empirical strategies: an original, nationally representative candidate choice experiment in which some politicians take positions that violate key democratic principles, and a natural experiment that occurred during Montana’s 2017 special election for U.S. House. Our research design allows us to infer Americans’ willingness to trade-off democratic principles for other valid but potentially conflicting considerations such as political ideology, partisan loyalty, and policy preferences. We find the U.S. public’s viability as a democratic check to be strikingly limited: only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices and their tendency to do so is decreasing in the strength of their partisanship, policy extremism, and in candidate platform polarization. Our findings echo classic arguments about the importance of political moderation and cross-cutting cleavages for democratic stability and highlight the dangers that political polarization represents for democracy. (This is joint work with Matthew Graham.)
Milan Svolik is a Professor of Political Science at Yale University. His research and teaching focus on comparative politics, political economy, and formal political theory. Svolik has authored and co-authored articles on the politics of authoritarian regimes and democratization in leading political science journals, including the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, and the Journal of Politics. He is the author of The Politics of Authoritarian Rule (Cambridge University Press, 2012), which received the best book award from the Comparative Democratization Section of the American Political Science Association. His latest research includes projects on electoral fraud, patronage politics, the political economy of identity, and a new book Democratization in the Age of Elections.