Searching for a Bright Line: The First Year of the Trump Presidency

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SSRN Electronic Journal

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John M. Carey; Gretchen Helmke; Brendan Nyhan; Mitchell Sanders; Susan C. Stokes
Elsevier BV
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Is American democracy under threat? The question is more prominent in political debate now than at any time in recent memory. Yet there is also widespread recognition that democracy is multifaceted and that backsliding, when it occurs, tends to be piecemeal. We provide original data from surveys of political science experts and of the general public, conducted during the first year of the Trump presidency, on democratic priorities and on assessments of democratic performance. We draw on a theory of how politicians may transgress limits on their authority, and under what conditions constraints are self-enforcing. We connect the theory to our survey data in an effort to identify potential areas of agreement on democratic principles and whether they have been violated. We find that there is substantial agreement about democratic priorities, but that polarization between Trump supporters and opponents presents a serious obstacle to any social consensus regarding violations.