Comparative Politics

Do Popular Norms Matter for Democratic Backsliding?

Dean Schafer The Graduate Center, CUNY
Do norms have a causal impact on the decline of democratic institutions? I use a dyadic analysis that draws on data from the European and World Values Survey and Polity IV. I find that popularly held norms do not matter, but that the norms of economic elites do. There are two theoretical points driving these findings. One, the decisions of political elites is disproportionately influenced by voters wealthier than the median. The resources commanded by economic elites make them more important than the average citizen, and accordingly, their interests and values are also more important. In effect, the selectorate is considerably smaller than the full voting population. Two, wealthy elites have historically been opposed to democratic concessions. Due to greater levels of income inequality, elites’ opposition to democracy, along with their relative power, has increased. Therefore, their normative attitudes are increasingly likely to translate into democratic decline.