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The Majoritarian Threat to Liberal Democracy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 January 2021

Guy Grossman*
Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA, Twitters: @guygrossman; @dkronick; @m_levendusky; @mieuque
Dorothy Kronick
Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA, Twitters: @guygrossman; @dkronick; @m_levendusky; @mieuque
Matthew Levendusky
Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA, Twitters: @guygrossman; @dkronick; @m_levendusky; @mieuque
Marc Meredith
Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA, Twitters: @guygrossman; @dkronick; @m_levendusky; @mieuque
*Corresponding author. Email:


Incumbents often seek to wield power in ways that are formally legal but informally proscribed. Why do voters endorse these power grabs? Prior literature focuses on polarization. We propose instead that many voters are majoritarian, in that they view popularly elected leaders’ actions as inherently democratic – even when those actions undermine liberal democracy. We find support for this claim in two original survey experiments, arguing that majoritarians’ desire to give wide latitude to elected officials is an important but understudied threat to liberal democracy in the United States.

Research Article
© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Experimental Research Section of the American Political Science Association

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The authors thank the Christopher H. Browne Center for International Politics for generous financial support of this project, as well as Dan Hopkins, Brendan Nyhan, Emily Thorson, the editors, and the anonymous referees for very helpful comments. The authors declare no conflict of interest related to this project. The University of Pennsylvania Institutional Review Board approved this research (Protocol #826580). All data and code needed to replicate these analyses are available at the Journal of Experimental Political Science Dataverse in the Harvard Dataverse Network at: doi:10.7910/DVN/X4ECFT.


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