American Government and Politics

Who Will Defend Democracy? Evaluating Tradeoffs in Candidate Support Among Partisan Donors and Voters

Brendan Nyhan University of Michigan
Gretchen Helmke University of Rochester
Mitchell Sanders Bright Line Watch
Katherine Clayton Dartmouth College
John Carey Dartmouth College
Susan Stokes University of Chicago
Scholars and pundits fear that the American public's commitment to democracy is declining and that citizens are willing to embrace candidates who would trample democratic principles. We investigate whether violations of democratic principles generate resistance from voters and top campaign donors and whether such resistance extends across partisan lines. In a conjoint survey experiment, we investigate how regular citizens and donor elites trade off partisanship, policy preferences, and democratic values when choosing between hypothetical political candidates. On three of the four democratic values we test, both citizens and donors punish violations of democratic principles irrespective of party. However, we find partisan polarization on support for voter identification laws that restrict access to the franchise, especially among donors. These results suggest that the public and donors may sometimes be willing to forgive transgressions against democratic norms that align with their partisan and policy preferences.