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Political Science

Katherine Clayton

The Public's Response to Stealthy Democratic Backsliding
2023-24 American Democracy Fellowship

Stable, self-enforcing democracies require citizens to identify threats to democracy when they occur and punish those responsible by voting them out of office. However, democratic backsliding can proceed incrementally and stealthily, with elected officials gradually subverting democratic institutions under the guise of democratic values. My dissertation research explores the public opinion dynamics that underlie citizens’ support for politicians who engage in “stealthy” antidemocratic behavior. I specifically examine the conditions under which citizens can identify “groundwork” actions that pave the way for future antidemocratic power grabs as threats to democracy. Broadly, I seek to develop a new explanation for why and how elected officials can get away with undermining democracy.

I plan to extend my previous research on this topic in three key ways: by (1) studying the effects of counter-rhetoric about groundwork actions on democratic threat perceptions and public support for antidemocratic behavior, (2) incorporating a broader set of voting-focused outcome variables, and (3) testing a series of theoretical mechanisms that explain gaps in perceived threats and support across my key outcomes.

How Do Elites in Democracies Get away with Transgressing Democratic Norms?
2021 CSS Fellowship
How Conflicting Elite Cues Impact Partisan Public Opinion
2021 American Democracy Fellowship
Partisanship, Racial Attitudes, and Restrictive Voting Laws
2021 Research Data Grant
How Anti-Democratic Beliefs Spread: The Roles of Voter Representation and Elite Cues in the United States
2020 American Democracy Fellowship

Katie's current research project is a randomized panel survey experiment that examines whether voters have been progressively desensitized to violations of American democratic norms by President Trump.

Elite Cues and Intraparty Conflict
2020–21 Survey Lab Project

While most accounts of American politics highlight intense ideological and affective polarization between the two parties, conflict within each party is on the rise. How does intraparty conflict impact partisan political attitudes? I examine this question using survey experiments on intraparty conflict over issues related to voter fraud and economic reform, among other topics. Preliminary results indicate that conflict within a party could push some less committed partisans to defect.

Responsiveness to Political Norm Violations in a Democracy: Evidence from President Donald Trump
2019 American Democracy Fellowship