Divided We Stand? A Conjoint Choice Experiment Examining When Voters Will Protect Democratic Norms

Academic Session

Under what political conditions will citizens punish politicians who violate democratic norms? Although Americans routinely express support for democracy and a host of related principles, including free and fair elections, checks and balances, and the rule of law, when it comes to choosing candidates partisanship often trumps citizenship (Carey et al 2022; Svolik and Graham 2019). As well, the literature has argued that Americans frequently engage in so-called “democratic hypocrisy,” whereby voters’ willingness to discipline politicians who threaten democracy is also conditioned by whether their party is in or out of office (Simonovits, McCoy, and Littvay 2022). Building on this growing line of research, we explore the impact of beliefs about whether government will be divided on the choices citizens make about a slate of candidates in a general election. To study this problem, we experimentally assign participants to treatments with different hypothetical data about the likelihood of the general election outcomes for the House, Senate, and President, and leverage a choice-based conjoint analysis (Ben-Akiva, McFadden, Train 2019) that allows candidates to choose whether and who to vote for among hypothetical House, Senate, and Presidential candidates. These hypothetical candidates vary in party and willingness to break democratic norms. The analysis proceeds via Bayesian hierarchical analysis and conditions the preferences of individuals on their partisanship and previous voting behaviors.

Mitch Lovett & Gretchen Helmke, Rochester University