American Government and Politics

How Does American Public Opinion React to Overt Anti-Democratic Behavior by Politicians? Natural Experimental Evidence from the January 6 Insurrection

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Abstract

Do American politicians that clearly violate democratic norms lose significant public support, or does the American public form little constraint on democratic backsliding? Existing studies have examined this fundamental question using hypothetical survey experiments which suffer from limited ecological validity and potential weak treatment bias. I overcome these problems by studying a novel natural experiment created by the fact that Donald Trump's incitement of the January 6 insurrection unexpectedly occurred while Gallup was conducting a nationally representative public opinion 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 already stood at 93% of its pre-insurrection support level. While not zero, the public constraint on democratic backsliding is remarkably limited.

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Thumbnail image of van Noort, Sam (2022) How Does American Public Opinion React to Overt Anti-Democratic Behavior by Politicians

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