DOI: 10.1111/ajps.12847 ISSN: 0092-5853

Citizens as a democratic safeguard? The sequence of sanctioning elite attacks on democracy

Marc S. Jacob
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Sociology and Political Science


In many elections worldwide, citizens support politicians who have undermined democracy while in office. Why? For citizens to safeguard democratic institutions, they must not only disapprove of a politician's undemocratic conduct but also be willing to retract support from her at the next election. This article examines under which conditions citizen evaluations of undemocratic elite conduct become consequential for behavioral actions and whether specific segments of the electorate, such as politically educated, liberal, antimajoritarian, and moderate partisans, react more forcefully to such elite violations. Evidence from a survey experiment in Poland, closely following the sequence of presidential elections, reveals that citizens firmly dislike attacks on core electoral institutions, irrespective of whether they are committed by incumbent or oppositional copartisans. However, neither the electorate's nor any segment's dissent translates into revised vote choices. The study has implications for why undemocratic elite behavior often remains unpunished and citizens rarely avert democratic backsliding.