Alejandra Aldridge is a PhD candidate in the Political Science department at Stanford University. Her dissertation examines how citizens think about democratic norms and how presidents can influence those conceptions about democratic norms. Broadly, her research interests include executive politics, presidential elections, experimental methods, survey methodology, and gender and politics. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a BA in Political Science.
This project examines presidential influence on democratic norms in the United States, looking at how citizens think about democratic norms and how presidents can influence those democratic norms. I am particularly interested in what role partisanship plays in the perceptions about the acceptability of violating democratic norms. Understanding democratic norms is very important to understanding the longevity of a democracy, but study of these norms has been neglected in countries with “strong” democracies, because their strength been taken for granted (Levitsky and Ziblatt 2018). However, populism has recently swept through previously strong democracies and challenged the strength of democratic governance in these countries, including in the United States (Judis 2016). Politicians at all levels of U.S. government have pushed the bounds of acceptable behavior and rhetoric in a democracy over the past 30 years, and democratic norms are being challenged at a much higher rate now than at previous points in US history. Given this situation, my dissertation examines first how citizens think about democratic norms, and second, how U.S. presidents influence citizens’ evaluations of democratic norms. While we know very little about presidential influence on democratic norms, we know that U.S. presidents have strong influence on public opinion among partisans (Pope and Barber 2018; Lenz 2009). Presidents are often seen as the leaders of democracy, so it should follow that presidential influence extends to perceptions of democratic norms, though this theory has not been tested. If presidents have the power to negatively shift what citizens think is acceptable in a democracy, then American democracy could easily slip into an autocracy should it have a president who desires more autocratic rule and norms. My dissertation uses historical survey data and original surveys to fill this important gap in both the academic literature and popular discourse on the flexibility of democratic norms among the mass public and the role of the presidency in that flexibility.