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Chapman, Hannah S., Margaret C. Hanson, Valery Dzutsati, and Paul DeBell. “Under the Veil of Democracy: What Do People Mean When They Say They Support Democracy?.” Perspectives on Politics (2023): 1-19.


Scholars have expressed concern over waning support for democracy worldwide. But what do ordinary citizens mean by the term “democracy,” and how do their definitions of democracy influence their support for it? Using global cross-national survey data, this study demonstrates that individual variation in the understanding of democracy is substantively linked to democratic support across countries and regime contexts. Individuals who define democracy in terms of elections and the protection of civil liberties and those with greater conceptual complexity express higher support for democracy. This relationship between democratic conceptualization and support holds across diverse political contexts and alternative explanations. These results suggest that it is essential to consider divergent conceptualizations of democracy—and how they may vary systematically—when analyzing popular opinions of democracy.

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.