Home Moral guidelines Misconceptions about nonpartisan democratic values ​​can erode democracy

Misconceptions about nonpartisan democratic values ​​can erode democracy

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Democrats and Republicans value Democratic characteristics

Consistent with previous research5, in Study 1 and Study 2, members of both parties valued democratic characteristics, such as the importance of fraud-free elections. Notably, while Democrats (M= 90.24, SE= 0.54) rated Democratic characteristics, on average, slightly higher than Republicans (M= 88.59, SE= 0.56) in Study 1 (you[1221]= 2.12, p= 0.034, 95% CI[0.12, 3.17]ηp2= 0.004), no partisan difference between Democrats (M= 90.61, SE= 0.58) and Republicans (M= 89.29, SE= 0.57) emerged in Study 2 (you[976] = 1.63, p= 0.104, 95% CI[− 0.27, 2.92]ηp2= 0.003). The results are displayed in Fig. 1.

Figure 1

Density plots of respondents’ own ratings of the importance of democratic characteristics. Vertical bars show means and standard errors for Republicans (red) and Democrats (blue).

Democrats and Republicans grossly underestimated how much members of the outgroup valued Democratic characteristics

Consistent with our theory, Democrats and Republicans in both studies believed that members of their own party valued Democratic characteristics more than members of opposition parties. Democrats believed their ingroup would value features 31.86 points higher (on a 0-100 point scale) in Study 1 (you[1221]= 24.59, pp2= 0.326) and 39.00 points higher in study 2 (you[975]= 22.99, pp2= 0.352) than their outgroup. In relative terms, Democrats believed that their own party members valued Democratic characteristics 56% (in Study 1) and 77% (in Study 2) more than non-party members. Similarly, Republicans predicted that their ingroup (compared to their outgroup) would value characteristics 39.76 points higher in Study 1 (you[1221]= 28.33, pp2= 0.397) and 40.83 points higher in study 2 (you[975]= 24.21, pp2= 0.375). In relative terms, Republicans believed that members of their own party valued Democratic characteristics 82% (in Study 1) and 88% (in Study 2) more than members from outside the party. These results are shown in Figure 2, which demonstrates the minimal overlap between the perceptions of Democrats and Republicans.

Figure 2
Figure 2

Density plots of the importance of the norm perceived by supporters. Sign (A) (Study 1) and Panel (VS) (Study 2) demonstrates the predictions of Republicans (red) and Democrats (blue) about the value the average Democrat places on Democratic characteristics. Sign (B) (Study 1) and Panel (D) (Study 2) demonstrates the predictions of Republicans (red) and Democrats (blue) about the value the average Republican places on Democratic characteristics. Vertical bars show means and standard errors for Republican (red) and Democratic (blue) respondents.

Framed another way, the Democrats’ and Republicans’ predictions of which group valued the most divergent characteristics by 71.62 points in Study 1 (you[1221]= 36.20, pp2= 0.518) and 79.83 points in Study 2 (you[975]= 33.38, pp2= 0.533). In both studies, this gap was significantly larger among the strongest supporters (Study 1: b= 38.96, you[973]= 7.56, pp2= 0.056; Study 2: b= 41.11, you[973]= 8.06, pp2= 0.063). Among strong supporters, predictions made by Democrats and Republicans differed by 83.46 points in Study 1 (you[1219]= 36.56, pp2= 0.523) and 91.88 points in Study 2 (you[973]= 33.24, pp2= 0.532). Among the weakest supporters, predictions differed by 49.66 points in Study 1 (you[973]= 11.58, pp2= 0.121) and 50.78 points in Study 2 (you[973]= 11.85, pp2= 0.126).

In addition to our core questions, which concern ordinary citizens’ perceptions of values, we also asked participants in Study 1 (in an exploratory follow-up survey conducted two months later) to predict the extent to which the member of the The average Democratic and Republican Congress valued the same principles. The results closely mirrored predictions made about the average Democrat and Republican. Democrats predicted that the average Democratic congressman (M= 84.10, SE= 1.04) would rate characteristics 37.99 points higher than the average Republican congressman (M= 46.12, SE= 1.00; you[1024]= 24.76, pp2= 0.374). Conversely, Republicans predicted that the average Republican congressman (M= 81.77, SE= 0.98) would rate characteristics 40.03 points higher than the average Democratic congressman (M= 41.74, SE= 1.02; you[1024]= 26.57, pp2= 0.401). In relative terms, Democrats and Republicans respectively predicted that the average congressman from their own party would value Democratic characteristics 82% and 93% more than the average congressman from the opposing party’s member. The results are shown in Fig. 3. Similar to the perceptions of ordinary citizens, the 78-point difference between each party’s predictions (you[1024]= 36.28, pp2= 0.562) was significantly wider among strong supporters (as opposed to weak supporters) (b= 33.76, you[1022]= 7.18, pp2= 0.048). Although the overall results here mirror those reported above, the comparison of Figs. 2 and 3 show that supporters considered support for democratic characteristics to be slightly lower among elites (compared to average supporters). This was true even when evaluating their party members.

picture 3
picture 3

Density charts illustrating how Democratic supporters think (Panel A) and Republican (Group B) members of Congress value democratic features. Republican perceptions are plotted in red, as are means and standard errors. Perceptions of Democrats are plotted in blue, as are means and standard errors.

Americans (especially Republicans) with more biased cross-group perceptions were more supportive of undemocratic practices

We hypothesized that Americans with more biased intergroup perceptions would also be more supportive of antidemocratic practices. As expected, in both studies, people who believed more strongly that the average ingroup member placed more importance on democratic characteristics than the average outgroup member were also more willing to overthrow the democratic principles, in practice, to help their party (Study 1: b= 0.37, you[1221]= 3.49, p= 0.001, 95% CI[0.16, 0.59]ηp2= 0.010; Study 2: b= 0.79, you[975]= 6.85, pp2= 0.046). In Study 1, we found this relationship for Republicans (b= 0.58, you[1219]= 4.03, pp2= 0.013), but not for Democrats (b= − 0.01, you[1219]= − 0.08, p= 0.934, 95% CI[− 0.33, 0.30]ηp2b= − 0.59, you(1219) = − 2.73, p= 0.006, 95% CI[− 1.01, − 0.17]ηp2= 0.006). In Study 2, this relationship held for both parties, but was stronger for Republicans (b= 0.83, you[973]= 5.31, pp2= 0.028) than for Democrats (b= 0.37, you[973]= 2.16, p= 0.031, 95% CI[0.33, 0.70]ηp2= 0.005), interactions (b= − 0.46, you[973]= − 1.98, p= 0.048, 95% CI[− 0.91, − 0.00]ηp2= 0.004). The results are shown in Fig. 4. Notably, a mini meta-analysis shows that the cross-study effect for Democrats was also not significant, z = 1.46). As can also be seen in Figure 4, on average and across both studies, Republicans (MStudy 1= 3.07, SE= 0.05; MStudy 2= 3.35, SE= 0.06) were also more willing than Democrats (MStudy 1= 2.68, SE= 0.05; MStudy 2= 2.93, SE= 0.06) to subvert democratic norms in practice (Study 1: you[1221]= − 5.14, pp2= 0.021; Study 2: you[975]= − 4.81, pp2= 0.022).

Figure 4
number 4

Relationship between ingroup bias in the perceived importance of the norm and willingness to violate democratic norms, with 95% Cis. The scatterplot shows the underlying distribution for all respondent data.