This spring, the New York Times ran an article by David Adler with the provocative title “Centrists are Most Hostile to Democracy, Not Extremists.” It draws from a larger working paper that analyzes data from a US-based and European-based survey in which respondents were asked about their level of support for things like “free and fair elections,” civil rights, authoritarian leaders, democracy as a system of government, and more.
Adler found that those who were more politically moderate expressed far more doubt about the value of the features of democracy, like free and fair elections and civil rights, and more support for authoritarian alternatives. He calls this the “centrist paradox.” It’s interesting, but it probably wouldn’t surprise people like Martin Luther King, Jr., who was always knew that the biggest threat to democracy white moderates rather than of honest bigots.
Hare are some of the cook graphs that illustrate Adler’s piece in the NYT.
Adler’s NYT story is about how centrists are supporting of anti-democratic measures, but this hides, I think, another story: that, in every single case, those on the left (the light gray bar that is to the left of the center orange one) is more supportive of democracy than are those on the right (the darker gray bar to the right of the center orange one). Left and right show similar levels of support for free and fair elections (though, even here, left-leaning people show somewhat more support). On every other issue, though, left-leaning people are far more supportive of democratic measures. In some cases, those on the right are closer to the center than they are to those on the left. Even more worrisome, less than 50% of right-leaning voters think that democracy is a “very good” system and that civil rights are an important protection from state oppression; a significant minority of them think that it would be okay if we had a leader who dismissed the legislature.
You can be a political conservative who loves democracy, but that likely means you are traveling with people who don’t.