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Photo: “Wahlkampf in Nigeria 2015“, by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Hue modified from the original

Houle, Christian, and Michael K. Miller. “Social Mobility and Democratic Attitudes: Evidence From Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.” Comparative Political Studies 52, no. 11 (2019): 1610-1647.


How does intergenerational social mobility affect support for democracy? Although a large literature examines how personal income and inequality influence regime change and democratic attitudes, there has been little work on social mobility. We employ individual level data from the Afrobarometer and Latinobarometer, covering 33 democracies and nondemocracies, to provide the first analysis of how personal experiences of intergenerational mobility influence support for democracy. We find that mobility predicts democratic attitudes, even controlling for education and current economic situation. We also show that the effect does not run through preferences for redistribution. We instead propose two alternative mechanisms. First, individuals living in democracies credit (or blame) the regime when they experience mobility. Second, upward mobility transforms a range of values, such as personal autonomy and trust, that render individuals more supportive of democracy. Our results present a warning for democracies facing steadily declining social mobility, including the United States.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.