“Sounding the Alarm: Transgressing Democratic Norms and the Effects of Political Pushback Under Trump,” Gretchen Helmke, U Rochester

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Wednesday, April 27, 2022 - 12:00pm to 1:15pm
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Abstract: In modern democracies any norm transgression by a leader is always interpreted and mediated for the public by other political elites. Yet, basic empirical questions about whether, and under what conditions, elite pushback against such norm erosion makes a difference among the broader public remain wide open. Drawing on a novel survey experiment conducted during the final months of the Trump administration, this study fills an important gap by identifying the conditions under which congressional opposition proves effective. In line with the literature on presidential unilateralism, we find that bi-partisan congressional pushback does lower public support for the president’s actions, particularly among the president’s base of supporters. By contrast, we find no evidence that either parties’ reputation suffers from pushback, nor that purely partisan pushback moves the needle for the public.

Gretchen Helmke is the Thomas H. Jackson University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Rochester. Helmke received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago in 2000. Helmke’s research spans political institutions, judicial politics and the rule of law, informal institutions and norms, and democratic erosion in Latin America and the United States. Helmke’s books include: Institutions on the Edge: The Origins and Consequences of Institutional Instability in Latin America (Cambridge University Press, 2017), Courts in Latin America, co-edited with Julio Rios-Figueroa (Cambridge University Press, 2011), Courts Under Constraints: Judges, Generals, and Presidents in Argentina (Cambridge University Press 2005), and Informal Institutions and Democracy: Lessons from Latin America (Johns Hopkins University Press 2006), co-edited with Steven Levitsky. She is a founding member of Bright Line Watch, a non-partisan group of scholars that monitors threats to democracy in the United States.

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