Ideological Extremism, Perceived Party System Polarisation, and Support for Democracy
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Description: Does ideological polarisation undermine or strengthen people’s principled support for democracy? In this study, we suggest that different manifestations of ideological polarisation have different implications in this respect. Using data from eleven surveys conducted near representative samples of the adult populations of a group of liberal democratic countries, part of the Comparative National and Elections Project (CNEP), we look at how people’s level of ideological extremism and their perceptions of ideological polarisation in their countries’ party systems are related with their support for democracy. We show that citizens who hold more extreme ideological positions are indeed less supportive of democracy and that such a negative relationship is strengthened as citizens’ extremism increases. However, we also show that the citizens who display higher levels of principled support for democracy are those who perceive parties to be neither too distant nor too close to each other in ideological terms. In other words, while a very polarized partisan supply seems to undermine popular commitment with democracy, very low polarization may have similar consequences.