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Contemporary Views of Liberal Democracy and the 2016 Presidential Election

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 July 2020

William D. Hicks
Appalachian State University
Seth C. McKee
Oklahoma State University
Daniel A. Smith
University of Florida


What are Americans’ views on liberal democracy? Have their attitudes changed since the 1950s? How do their attitudes about liberal democracy shape political behavior, such as vote choice? We replicated McClosky’s (1964) seminal study on a module to the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study. Our exploration of 26 survey questions reveals both continuity and change in Americans’ attitudes toward liberal democracy. Whereas Americans have become more hostile toward some standard democratic procedural rules of the game, we also find that they harbor more tolerant attitudes toward racial and ethnic equality. We subjected respondents’ answers to an exploratory factor analysis, which reveals three distinct dimensions regarding democratic values: elitism, authoritarianism, and racial supremacy. We find that elitism and racial supremacy significantly influenced political behavior in the 2016 presidential election and note that these factors contributed to mass unrest in 2020, exposing fault lines deeply rooted in America’s contentious political history.

© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

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