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Popular Legitimacy and the Exercise of Legal Authority: Motivating Compliance, Cooperation and Engagement


Tom Tyler


Yale University - Law School

Jonathan Jackson


London School of Economics & Political Science - Department of Methodology

September 1, 2013

Forthcoming in Psychology, Public Policy and Law
Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 306
Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 477

Abstract:     
The traditional goal of legal authorities has been to obtain widespread public compliance with the law. Empirical research findings have shown that legitimacy – typically operationalized as the perceived obligation to obey and trust and confidence in the relevant institutions – plays an important role in achieving such compliance. But over time the goals of legal authorities have broadened in two ways. First, they increasingly include the desire to motivate willing cooperation, with legal authorities and members of the public working together to produce social order. Second, conceptions of the goals of the legal system have broadened to include the importance of promoting public engagement in communities in efforts to build social, political and economic vitality. Drawing on these broader goals – and building upon recent conceptual advances in the meaning of legitimacy – we report findings from a major new national survey of US citizens. We examine the role that legitimacy plays in achieving each of these goals of law and in defining the policies and practices of the police and courts which influence legitimacy. Importantly, we also consider whether a focus on achieving this broader set of goals leads to a need to reexamine the traditional theoretical conception of legitimacy. Our findings support the utility of a multidimensional conception of legitimacy that differentiates between consent to authority and normative justifiability of power.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 28

Keywords: legitimacy, compliance, cooperation, community engagement

JEL Classification: K40

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Date posted: July 12, 2013 ; Last revised: May 12, 2014

Suggested Citation

Tyler, Tom and Jackson, Jonathan, Popular Legitimacy and the Exercise of Legal Authority: Motivating Compliance, Cooperation and Engagement (September 1, 2013). Forthcoming in Psychology, Public Policy and Law; Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 306; Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 477. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2292517 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2292517

Contact Information

Tom Tyler (Contact Author)
Yale University - Law School ( email )
P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
Jonathan Jackson
London School of Economics & Political Science - Department of Methodology ( email )
Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom
+0044-207-955-7652 (Phone)
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