MMM Workshop September 2023

Democratic backsliding, attitudes towards democracy and affective polarization

Natasha Wunsch
Department of European Studies, University of Fribourg

15 Sep 2023, 11:00–11:25


Affective polarization and partisanship have been posited as a key explanation for citizens’tolerance towards democratic backsliding, with voters more likely to overlook democratic violations conducted by in-party candidates. Our study adopts a novel perspective on this relationship: focusing on the role of the opposition, we contend that backsliding may crystallize anaffective dislike among opposition supporters towards the governing party and its supporters that stems from a regime divide over democracy itself. To explore this argument, we leverage original survey data collected in Hungary and Poland. Our results point to a government-opposition divide in partisan affect and show how liberal democratic attitudes, especially among opposition party supporters, play into this dynamic. We submit that where backsliding persists over a longer period, this process can shift even multi-party systems towards increasing bipolarity along what we term a ‘democratic divide.’ Ultimately, our findings suggest that affective polarization may play a positive role in backsliding contexts by uniting the opposition around the defense of democracy.

Relevant publications

Democratic backsliding, attitudes towards democracy and affective polarization