Making the Case for Democracy

Wuttke, A., and Foos, F.: “Making the Case for Democracy”


Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

London School of Economics & Political Science


November 2020


Ordinary citizens are considered bulwarks against democratic backsliding. Yet, citizens’ commitment to democracy below the surface is sometimes fragile and crises exacerbate existing anxieties and discontent. We propose “democratic persuasion” as a theory-driven, actionable intervention to foster the resilience of citizens’ commitment to liberal democracy. “Democratic persuasion” requires that political elites actively make the case for democracy and discuss democracy’s inherent trade-offs while engaging existing doubts and misperceptions. During the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought these trade-offs to the fore, we invited citizens on facebook to attend one of sixteen Zoom town halls to discuss pandemic politics with a German member of parliament. Each MP conducted two town halls and we randomly assigned, when they employed “democratic persuasion”. The field-experiment demonstrates substantial effects on some, but not all, indicators of democratic commitment, showcasing the academic and practical value of this emerging line of research on strengthening the societal foundations of liberal democracies.