The nature, sources, and consequences of citizens’ anti-establishment sentiments: Evidence from two Latin American countries
Country: Colombia and Peru
Principal Investigators: Loreto Cox, Natalia Garbiras-Díaz
Priority Theme: Democracy, Conflict, & Polarization
The rise of anti-establishment sentiment among citizens is a feature of our times, often boosting outsider candidates around the globe. Recent works have examined the upsurge of populist and anti-establishment parties. Yet, fewer studies focus on anti-establishment citizens, the subject we delve into in this study with a twofold goal. First, to shed light on the different sources that breed an anti-establishment sentiment among citizens. Second, to connect those sources with electoral behavior. We propose to study these issues with a series of survey experiments fielded in Colombia and Peru. Specifically, we will randomize messages containing three types of appeals that scholarship has deemed conducive to anti-establishment sentiments: perceptions of high levels of political corruption, anti-elitism, and lack of political efficacy. We expect this study to inform the design of a large-scale Facebook campaign around the 2022 presidential elections in Colombia and Peru, aimed at curbing anti-establishment sentiments.
Around the world, 70% of citizens believe that “the main divide in our society is between ordinary citizens and the political and economic elite” (Ipsos, 2021). Much of the studies on this topic have focused on populism and the supply side. We seek to extend this literature by shifting the focus to the demand side and advancing our knowledge of anti-establishment sentiments, broadly understood as intense and often angry animosity toward elites and distrust of political parties. In this vein, this project seeks to provide causal evidence on the effects of rising anti-establishment sentiments and how citizens trade off their anti-establishment preferences with other preferences, such as ideology, political identities, and democratic values. More specifically, we are interested in the following research questions: 1) what kind of citizens are more likely to espouse anti-establishment sentiments? and 2) how does the anti-establishment sentiment map to political attitudes and electoral behavior? To do so, we conduct a series of survey experiments around the 2022 presidential elections in Colombia and Peru.
We pursue a dual empirical strategy to answer these research questions. First, we include a comprehensive battery of questions on individual political attitudes in a baseline survey aimed at better understanding citizens’ anti-establishment sentiments and characterizing those who possess them. Second, based on the survey results, we design and conduct an experiment in which anti-establishment sentiments are elicited to test the effects on individuals’ political preferences as measured by survey and behavioral outcomes. To further investigate how citizens trade off anti-establishment preferences for other preferences—in particular, for their preferred democratic values, ideology and political stances—we also embed a candidate-choice (conjoint) experiment. In the latter, citizens are asked to choose between candidates with different attributes, including how anti-establishment they are. By cross-randomizing these two survey experiments, we can account for differences in the way citizens trade off attributes when anti-establishment preferences are heightened versus when they are not. Taken together, these experiments aim to provide causal evidence on what are the main electoral consequences of anti-establishment sentiments.
Given the mixed evidence on the effects of anti-establishment sentiments on voting behavior and political attitudes, in general, we remain largely agnostic about the effects of the former. We therefore postulate the following set of exploratory hypotheses:
- We postulate that anti-establishment citizens may be more likely to stay home or cast a null or blank vote on election day. However, if there are candidates who offer a credible alternative against the establishment, from the citizens’ perspective, they will be more likely to support that option.
- In this same spirit, we posit that the salience of anti-establishment sentiments will determine how citizens trade off candidate attributes, including how anti-establishment citizens perceive the candidate to be. In concrete, we believe that citizens will be willing to sacrifice their preferred policy stances or democratic values for a candidate who runs against the establishment.
- Conflicting evidence prevents us from asserting how anti-establishment sentiments are related to individual attitudes toward democracy. Therefore, we remain agnostic about the effect of anti-establishment sentiments on democratic attitudes-which include satisfaction with democracy and support for democracy as a political system-and test this empirically.
- We expect that increased animosity toward those in power will also make citizens more likely to favor direct democracy over representative democracy.