Imagine a candidate you like. This politician has everything: the right positions on taxes, abortion, foreign policy, immigration; sound judgment; enough personal probity to be trusted with your wallet, house keys, or email password. Now imagine that that candidate does or says something antidemocratic. For no particular reason, she shuts down polling stations. Or at a rally, she tells supporters that a particular journalist—standing over there, in the Men’s Wearhouse sport coat—is asking too many questions and might deserve to get rabbit-punched on the way to his car. Care to change your vote?
This purely theoretical scenario, which of course bears no relationship to anything that has happened or is happening in American politics, is the subject of an article in the American Political Science Review by Matthew H. Graham and Milan W. Svolik of Yale University. How much do voters really care about democracy? Nearly all Americans say democracy matters. But how many will actually punish their preferred candidate and withhold a vote when that candidate does something undemocratic?
Graham and Svolik’s answer: About 3.5 percent of voters will defect from a candidate whom they otherwise support, but who does something destructive of democratic norms. Those 3.5 percent come from the right and the left in equal proportions, but they tend to be moderates. (Self-described “independents”—those mysterious, yeti-like creatures who profess to have no political preference at all—vote slightly more like extremists.) If you value democracy, hug a moderate.