⚖ Committed Democrats?

Democratic stability depends on citizens’ willingness to support the application of liberal democratic principles. Yet, recent research leaves doubt whether the high levels of abstract support for liberal democratic norms found in the literature really translate to individuals defending these norms even against their own interests. We argue that support for liberal democratic principles in real-life settings where people can determine the costs and benefits of these principles for their own policy agenda involves trade-offs and thus differs from abstract support for the same principles. Using data from two surveys on German citizens’ attitudes towards climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, we show that people adapt their democratic support to suit their policy agenda. Individuals who show more concern about either crisis are less willing to support norms that may impede the implementation of their preferred policies. As support for the application of democratic norms significantly diverges from expressed levels of abstract support, the informative value of the latter regarding the stability of democratic regimes may be limited.