The DEMOTRADEOFF project (“Reconciling Citizens with the Trade-offs of Democracy: Attitudes Toward Democracy Under Rising Politicization”) is funded through an ERC Starting Grant.

The project will launch in October 2022 and will last for 5 years.

DEMOTRADEOFF will study democratic trade-offs and how these might fuel political discontent in 15 European countries.

Project description

Democracies involve trade-offs since all their desirable qualities cannot be simultaneously maximized. Hard choices must be made in order to balance democratic principles such as popular sovereignty and the rule of law, or freedom and political equality.

These trade-offs would not be problematic as long as citizens and political leaders were open to compromise and accept that democracy requires a delicate balancing of virtues. The politicization of these trade-offs in recent events such as Brexit or Poland’s judicial reform suggests that this is likely not the case. However, we still know very little about the positions of citizens and parties regarding democratic trade-offs; how these contribute to citizens’ increasing discontent with democracy; how the rising politicization of the trade-offs of democracy might exacerbate these dynamics; and whether it is possible to curb this process.

To investigate these questions this project: (1) elaborates a conceptual map of democratic trade-offs and empirically examines citizens’ preferences and parties’ positions on them; (2) analyzes the determinants of citizens’ democratic trade-off preferences, and how the interplay between these preferences and parties’ politicization of these trade-offs affects individuals’ support and satisfaction with democracy; (3) examines how citizens can be reconciled with the idea that some democratic qualities cannot be simultaneously maximized. The empirical analysis focuses on 15 European countries and implements an integrative multi-method approach combining cross-sectional and panel surveys, content analysis, and experiments.

The proposed project breaks new theoretical and methodological ground in the study of political culture. It brings the inherent tensions of democracy to the forefront and develops new tools for the measurement of trade-off preferences and their consequences.

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