American University
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When Do Citizens Change Their Minds About Democracy? Three Essays Examining Support for Democracy Among the Mass Public

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posted on 2023-10-06, 01:04 authored by James Dylan Bryan
The 2023 report from the Varieties of Democracy Institute assessed that the state of global democracy had weakened to a level not seen since 1986, and yet scholars of global public opinion continue to find robust support for democracy among the mass public. This dissertation contains three articles that seek to further understand the "demand" side of democracy by further investigating when citizens may de-prioritize democracy in favor of other goals and how they may rationalize those decisions. More specifically, the first article uses spatially located survey data from the World Values Survey (WVS) and protest data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data to create a "proximity to protest" variable for each survey respondent in eight countries. The findings suggest that citizens who were more proximate to violent protest activity were more likely to prioritize maintaining order and were more comfortable with strongman politics. The second uses data from the WVS and European Values Study to conduct two studies—an observational analysis of 74 countries and a with-in country design that leverages multiple survey waves from 14 countries—and shows that supporting the party in power makes citizens more likely to understand democracy in terms of obeying authority, rather than civil rights for the minority—suggesting that citizens mold their understanding of democracy to fit their partisan self-interest. The third article builds on the second and questions some findings in the existing literature. Using data from World Values Survey, European Values Study, Afrobarometer, Americasbarometer, and Latinobarometer, the article argues that following significant democratic backsliding, meaningful bumps in support for democracy are rare and prior findings were likely driven by biased samples of countries and survey questions that relied on the term "democracy." Overall, the dissertation argues that prior literature was too quick to conceptualize support for democracy as long-term value that does not change over time. Instead, scholars need to conceptualize support for democracy as a complex and layered attitude that can change in response to events in a citizen's neighborhood or a change in their political interest.






Committee chair

Carl LeVan

Committee member(s)

Austin Hart; Agustina Giraudy

Degree discipline

International Relations

Degree grantor

American University. School of International Service

Degree level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

Ph.D. in International Relations

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187 pages

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