Committed Democrats? How Trade-off Specific Cues Affect Expressions of Support for Liberal and Democratic Principles

Politische Vierteljahresschrift


Democratic stability depends on citizens’ willingness to support the appli- cation of liberal and democratic principles. Yet recent experimental research leaves doubt whether the high levels of abstract support for liberal democratic norms found in the literature translate to individuals defending these norms, even against their own interests. We argue that support for liberal and democratic principles involves trade-offs when people can determine the costs and benefits of these principles for their own political agendas. In consequence, their support for the application of these norms differs from their abstract support for the same principles. Using data from two surveys on German citizens’ attitudes toward climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, we show that trade-off specific cues affect people’s expressions of sup- port for liberal and democratic norms in line with their interests. Individuals who are more concerned about a crisis are less willing to support norms that impede the implementation of their preferred policies. As support for the application of liberal and democratic norms significantly diverges from expressed levels of abstract support, the informative value of the latter regarding the stability of liberal democratic regimes is called into question.