Do Democratic Principles Constrain the Effectiveness of Elite Cues on Election Rules?

31 August 2020, Version 1
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


The public’s perception of the fairness of an election rule is an important determinant of popular support for that rule. Thus, the public’s fairness principles might act as a constraint on party elite attempts to manipulate election rules for their own electoral benefit. However, if party elites are able to influence what the public considers fair, the effectiveness of this constraint would be limited. This paper posits two possible mechanisms by which this elite influence could function. First, elites could change the public’s perception of whether a given fairness principle applies to a given election rule. Second, elites could attempt to directly change which fairness principles people prioritize or endorse. This study tests both mechanisms using survey experiments, finding that elites are able to influence opinion on voting policy issues even when their messages use inapplicable principles. However, elites are unable to directly affect the democratic principles that citizens prioritize.


election reform
partisan cues
democratic decline
public opinion
voter access


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