COVID-19 TOTAL DAILY
CASES 324,077 618
DEATHS 6,673 14
World

Political polarisation have made Americans more accepting of anti-democratic behavior, warns report

  • What if a respected politician, one with unanimously accepted positions on a wide range of issues, does or says something antidemocratic? Will that have any impact on the voting patterns and electoral behavior?
Updated 30 Sep 2020

In a recent article in the American Political Science review by Matthew H. Graham and Milan W. Svolik of Yale University, an interesting hypothesis has been raised - what if a respected politician, one with unanimously accepted positions on a wide range of issues, does or says something antidemocratic? Will that have any impact on the voting patterns and electoral behavior? Svolik and Graham make astute determinations on the state of the American political system, reflected by how much voters actually care about democracy, and how likely it is for a politically-charged and highly partisan electorate to take a stand against undemocratic behavior, especially if it is coming from a preferred candidate.

The study, through conducting randomised surveys, determined that approximately 3.5 percent of voters would choose to defect from a candidate of their choice, on the basis of undemocratic statements or actions - adding that this small fraction of voters are equally distributed between left and right leaning voters. Svolik and Graham add that there is a social norm prevalent in the United States through which individuals feel compelled to express pro-democratic views, at risk of being ostracised or judged, and this sort of “social conditioning” elicits a knee-jerk reaction to questions pertaining to democratic stability.

The study mentions that partisanship can encourage more antidemocratic action, as the electorate can be sharply divided amongst polarised political groups - with the larger political groups less likely to be held accountable for undemocratic ideals. Donald Trump, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Viktor Orban, and Narendra Modi - each of these world leaders represent a form of populism that has swept across the international political spectrum in recent years, and while they have been elected over a democratic platform, each of them have showed a tendency to take antidemocratic measures, which encouraged little to no accountability from the electorate. Voters are far less likely to hold politicians and public officials accountable, as far as they remain aligned with their own particular values - with the report adding that “the hypocrisy is evenly distributed”.

The report concludes by adding that according to the data collected through Graham and Svolik’s survey, individuals (regardless of their political leaning) are adept at recognising undemocratic behavior, whether that includes shutting down newspapers, or attacks on the journalistic community, or even preventing political opponents from campaigning - citizens remain the last line of defense in the effort to uphold democratic values. Unfortunately, the concoction of politically activist media organizations, and increasingly divergent political parties - which rather than gravitating centrally on the political spectrum, have now shifted towards the extremities - has consistently driven the electorate to view issues of any magnitude with an increasingly partisan lens.