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The Democratic Blind Spot: How authoritarian legacies structure contemporary ideological competition

PhD Student: Sjifra de Leeuw MSc

The process of democratization has always been a two-edged sword. On the one hand, democracy freed citizens to pursue their own demands. On the other hand, alongside the process of democratization also came the freedom to express hostility toward certain societal groups or toward the democratic system at large. In the last few decades, the unprecedented successes of radical political parties in, e.g., Hungary and Poland but also in stable democracies like the Netherlands and Germany have contributed substantially to this contention over democratic government. Some scholars go even as far as to saythat these developments are indicative of a ‘democratic backsliding’, or the process through which the rules of democracy are increasingly being contested and replaced by authoritarian alternatives.

Although radical parties are increasingly gaining electoral visibility, evidence of a democratic backsliding among citizens is less clear-cut. That is, over time declines in popular support for democracy are not systematic and even less so are the trends across different countries. Instead, popular support for democracy has remained high and largely stable in most countries. But if citizens themselves are not necessarily opposed to democratic government, how come they elect parties with illiberal or sometimes even antidemocratic views into parliament?  In this dissertation, I develop an argument that radical parties’ ability to afford some level of authoritarianism is a combination of (1) an opportunity structure that allows to package issue-positions of citizens with higher levels of tolerance toward authoritarianism (2) citizens’ willingness to accept some level of authoritarianism, providing they are substantively represented by these parties and (3) parties’ ability to disassociate themselves from the authoritarian past. Each chapter in my dissertation touches upon these topics.

Ms S.E. (Sjifra) de Leeuw MSc

PhD student

Dr. mr. J.H.P. (Joost) van Spanje


Dr. R. (Rachid) Azrout