Reference Points and Democratic Backsliding

65 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2019 Last revised: 12 Dec 2020

See all articles by Edoardo Grillo

Edoardo Grillo

University of Padova, Department of Economics and Management

Carlo Prato

Columbia University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: October 26, 2019

Abstract

We propose a theory of democratic backsliding where citizens' retrospective assessment of an incumbent politician depends on expectations that are endogenous to the incumbent's behavior. We show that democratic backsliding can occur even when most citizens and most politicians intrinsically value democracy. By challenging norms of democracy, an incumbent can lower citizens' expectations; by not doubling down on this challenge, he can then beat this lowered standard. As a result, gradual backsliding can actually enhance an incumbent's popular support not despite of, but because of citizens' opposition to backsliding. This mechanism can only arise when citizens are uncertain enough about incumbents' preferences (e.g., owing to programmatically weak parties). Mass polarization, instead, can reduce the occurrence of backsliding while simultaneously increasing its severity.

Keywords: Democratic Backsliding, Authoritarianism, Reference Dependent Preferences

JEL Classification: D70, D72, D78

Suggested Citation

Grillo, Edoardo and Prato, Carlo, Reference Points and Democratic Backsliding (October 26, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3475705 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3475705

Edoardo Grillo

University of Padova, Department of Economics and Management ( email )

Via del Santo 33
Padova, Vicenza 2-35122
Italy

Carlo Prato (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Department of Political Science ( email )

7th Floor, International Affairs Bldg.
420 W. 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

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