UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Democracy's (occasional) supporters Benjamin, Rachele


Worldwide, support for democracy’s principles has risen in the past half century. Yet democratic citizens do little to reverse global democratic backslides, even cheering on populist leaders who threaten institutions in place to protect them. I ask for whom democracy is a priority; who is disturbed by democratic backslides, and in any what contexts might they actually approve of this troubling trend? Chapters 2 and 3 uncover ideologically-linked dispositions and contexts explaining people’s reactions to democracy’s decline. Pre-registered laboratory experiments combined with analyses of World Values Survey data indicate that overall, liberals are more distressed than conservatives by low democracy. At the same time, the political context matters: This pattern emerges most strongly when the ruling party is conservative and disappears (though it does not flip into its mirror image) when the ruling party is liberal. The results from these chapters contribute to ongoing debates over ideological symmetry and asymmetry. Going beyond ideology, Chapter 4 identifies a broader set of stable dispositions associated with support for democracy. Moreover, similar to Chapter 3, it finds contexts where those associations weaken or disappear. Three pre-registered experiments reveal that those valuing equality are more supportive of democracy’s principles, and authoritarians and elitists are less supportive. At the same time, when it comes to supporting democracy in practice at the expense of other valued goals, these dispositions show only weak associations. Together, these findings suggest possible discrepancies between self-proclaimed values and actual behavior. Chapter 4 also explores potential differences in people’s feelings towards democracy’s multiple facets; civil liberties, the rule of law, and formal democratic procedures. My results contribute to ongoing research of support for democracy during its period of decline, suggesting that, if democracy is worth protecting, not everyone, in all contexts, will feel the urgency.

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