Losers’ Consent

Led by Ola Listhaug

Jan 2003 – Dec 2005

Political conflict and, in extreme cases, violence and civil war, is related to citizen support for the political system, and especially how political losers judge the system. In a comprehensive analysis reported in the book Losers’ Consent (Oxford University Press, 2005), Christopher J. Anderson, André Blais, Shaun Bowler, Todd Donovan, and Ola Listhaug analyze how winners and losers differ in political attitudes and behaviour. A critical part of the study aims to understand how support for the democratic system varies by winners and losers in new and old democracies. Using data from the 1999-2000 European Values Study, the authors compare 18 ‘old’ democracies and 15 post-Communist countries. Across all dimensions of political support, including beliefs in core principles of democracy, the results show that losers have lower support levels than winners.

The authors develop the idea that losing has stronger negative effects in new democracies than in mature democracies, since losers have not yet learned to lose in these systems. Voters for the hegemonic Communist parties of the past show weaker support for the democratic system than voters for other parties. This is not unexpected; the adherents to these parties are the big losers in the sense that democracy has replaced a system where winning was guaranteed. In a modification to these results, however, data show that voters for Communist parties are at least as confident in parliament as the supporters of non-Communist parties. This may be explained by the fact that Communist parties in some of the new democracies have been able to use parliament as a basis for a continued fight for their lost cause.

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