American Government and Politics

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



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.

Version notes

Very fundamental re-interpretation of results. Please disregard earlier versions entirely.


Thumbnail image of How Strongly Do American Voters React to Anti-Democratic Behavior by Politicians (Main Text).pdf


Log in or register with APSA to comment
Comments are not moderated before they are posted, but they can be removed by the site moderators if they are found to be in contravention of our Commenting and Discussion Policy [opens in a new tab] – please read this policy before you post. Comments should be used for scholarly discussion of the content in question. You can find more information about how to use the commenting feature here [opens in a new tab] .