The Social Foundations of Democratic Norms

86 Pages Posted: 29 Dec 2022 Last revised: 13 Jan 2024

Date Written: October 26, 2022


Scholars have decried the erosion of democratic norms. Yet, they remain under-theorized phenomena that hold consequences for a key driver of democratic backsliding: voters who prioritize private interests over democracy. Can norms shift this calculus back in democracy's favor? This study advances the definition of two types of democratic norms: injunctive beliefs about appropriate political behavior and descriptive expectations. Game-theoretic models illustrate how an injunctive norm can amplify expected adherence to democratic principles by leading citizens with weak democratic commitments to overcome private interests, i.e., policy preferences and political values, to vote against undemocratic politicians. Next, survey experiments test the theory, uncovering support for financially-incentivized measures of descriptive and injunctive norms and a behavioral dictator game validating willingness to enforce these norms. Also included is a candidate-choice conjoint experiment to test the consequences for voting. The study provides a firmer theoretical and empirical foundation for the study of democratic norms.

Keywords: Democratic Norms, Political Values, Democratic Backsliding, Partisanship, Descriptive Norms, Injunctive Norms,United States, Formal Model, Survey Experiment, Conjoint Analysis, Social Pressure, Behavioral Game, Empirical Implications of Formal Models

JEL Classification: P43, C90, D7, K42

Suggested Citation

Goldstein, Daniel A. N., The Social Foundations of Democratic Norms (October 26, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Daniel A. N. Goldstein (Contact Author)

Yale University ( email )

United States

University of Oslo ( email )

PO Box 6706 St Olavs plass
Oslo, N-0317

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