DEMOCRATIC NORMS:
WHAT THEY ARE AND HOW THEY MATTER

Democracies are facing challenges from within: the US Capitol was stormed by a violent mob, the rule of law has come into question in some democracies (e.g. Poland), and authoritarian candidates are on the rise (e.g. Hungary's Viktor Orbán). As a result many journalists and academics argue that "democratic norms" among the public and political elites are eroding. But what do we mean conceptually when referring to norms in the context of democracy and democratic values? Which role do they play for democratic stability? And which factors affect the rise and fall of democratic norms? Via four working packages this innovative project seeks to provide pioneering conceptual and empirical answers to these research questions. Answers to these questions are absent from current research on attitudes to democracy and its institutions, even though the scholarly and public debate has identified these questions as key to understand when and how anti-democratic challenges have succeeded and will succeed in the future.

Funded by: Young Research Fellowship of the Carlsberg Foundation (2022-2025, 595,358 Euro) & Aarhus University Research Foundation Starting Grant (2022-2025, 380,000 Euro)

Work Package 1:
concept & theory

Existing research in political science struggles to define norms in relation to democratic institutions; some link them to actions taken by the political elite (e.g. acceptance of election results), others to citizens support for democracy. Building on the idea of social norms -- one may think that most people in advanced democracies support democratic institutions (descriptive) and that most people also believe that one ought to support it (injunctive) -- WP1 will seek to develop a conceptual and theoretical framework for the project.

Work Package 2:
measurement & description

WP2 will seek to measure democratic norms on the citizens-level as social norms in comparative perspective across twelve countries using surveys and survey exmperimental approaches. The survey results will also be used to map democratic norms across the twelve countries and domestic regions.

Work Package 3:
citizens' reference points for democratic norms

Using survey experiments WP3 seeks to analyze whether our everyday experiences with democracy can be a reference point for democratic norms: friends and local surroundings should play a key role in guiding not only our daily behavior but also our perception of norms.

Work Package 4:
elite communication and feedback to citizens

WP4 will analyze texts and speeches by political elites to study when and how elites actively break with social norms. Subsequently it will develop experiments to study the effect thereof on citizens perception of democratic norms.

Project Team

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  • Daniel Bischof

    Principal Investigator
    Associate Professor, Aarhus University
    Ambizione Grant Holder, University of Zurich

  • Postdoc 1

    soon: call for applications (3-year position)

  • Postdoc 2

    soon: call for applications (3-year position)

  • PhD student

    soon: call for applications (3 years fully funded by Carlsberg Foundation)

  • Research Assistant

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  • Research Assistant

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