2021 Volume 72 Issue 1 Pages 1_81-1_104
What drives the current wave of democratic backsliding? Previous, mainly case-study-based research has illustrated how political polarization hinders collective actions to prevent illiberal outsiders from subverting democratic norm and institutions. However, there have been few systematic attempts to explore why people support such illiberal leaders and how political polarization erodes people’s trust in representative democracy. This study fills this gap by analyzing cross-national panel data (140 countries from 1975 to 2019) and cross-regional survey data (74 countries from 2010 to 2020). Findings of this paper demonstrate that political polarization erodes the legitimacy of elections and representative democracy by magnifying the winner-loser gap of perceived electoral integrity, by undermining people’s trust in (even substantially free and fair) elections, and by discouraging people from rejecting non-electoral measures of conflict resolution (e.g., political violence) and illiberal leaders. This paper also examines the origins of political polarization and the influence of institutions on political polarization and democratic backsliding.