How Strongly Do American Voters React to Anti-Democratic Behavior by Politicians? Natural Experimental Evidence from the January 6 Insurrection

18 March 2022, Version 5
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


Do American politicians that clearly violate democratic norms lose significant public support, or do contemporary American voters form little effective constrain on democratic backsliding? The existing literature has studied this fundamental question using hypothetical survey experiments which, while useful, suffer from potential weak treatment bias and external validity limitations. I alleviate these concerns by studying a novel natural experiment that occurred because Donald Trump's incitement of the January 6 insurrection unexpectedly occurred while Gallup was conducting a nationally representative survey using random digit dialing. Comparing party identification among respondents that were interviewed just before, and just after, January 6, 2021 suggests that the Republican Party retained 78% of its pre-insurrection support base during the first 1.5 weeks. Even this modest loss was short-lived---in February 2021 the Republican Party stood at 93% of its pre-insurrection support level. While not zero, the electoral constrain on democratic backsliding is remarkably limited.


Democratic Backsliding
Voter Behavior


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