Government of or for the people? Preferences for democratic decision-making in challenging times
Current societal challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic or climate change highlight the tension between individual freedom and collective good provision. Striking the right balance is particularly delicate for democratic governments whose authority hinges on citizen acceptance and legitimation. When and why do citizens accept far-reaching limitations of their individual rights for a greater societal good?
We test a set of pre-registered hypotheses in two survey experiments fielded among 9,000 respondents from diverse national contexts (Germany, Hungary, Japan, Poland, South Korea, and Spain) in November 2021. Experiment 1 uses a conjoint design to test whether restrictions of core democratic procedures (elections, freedom of assembly, media freedom) decrease citizen acceptance of governments’ pandemic policies. Experiment 2 primes respondents on the nature of the societal change (pandemic, climate change, generic challenges) and elicits their preferences for input- and output-oriented decision-making procedures (referenda, partisan consensus, and parliamentary support vs. international coordination, quick executive action, and expertise) with a best-worst scaling approach.
Initial results indicate that citizens in all six countries tend to care more about restrictions of their private life than about restrictions of their core democratic liberties. This is mirrored by majority preferences for expert- and executive-led decision-making in tackling diverse current challenges. Comparative and sub-group analyses will uncover to what extent these patterns differ across the six political systems and whether citizens’ variation in political and societal trust or their direct affectedness explain diverging preferences for the conduct of democratic decision-making.
Jan Paul Heisig is Head of the WZB Research Group Health and Social Inequality.
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