Andreu Arenas (University of Barcelona & Princeton University), Alícia Adserà (Princeton University) and Carles Boix (Princeton University)
What is the value of democracy to its citizens? To what extent are they willing to sacrifice their liberties and voting rights for growth, equality, order or just partisan advantage? To answer these questions, we run three conjoint experiments among survey participants in Brazil, France and the United States to elicit their preferences about different societies. Respondents are asked to choose between pairs of hypothetical societies with randomly varying features of three kinds: private outcomes (absolute individual income and relative individual income), economic aggregate outcomes (level of economic development, income inequality, social mobility) and political outcomes (democracy, public health insurance). Their choice of different outcomes, which implies the existence of trade-offs (for ex. growth/inequality), allows us to obtain a measure of their willingness to give up individual income in exchange for living in a society with different features. We find that individuals have strong preferences for democracy and a strong welfare state: they would prefer a country without free democratic elections only if their individual income would more than quintuple and in a country without public health insurance only if their individual income would more than double. In addition, we identify significant differences across countries as well as within-country heterogeneous effects related to education, parental wealth, age, and some psychological attributes. Our paper speaks to the literature on both the social foundations of democracy and democratic backsliding. Contrary to a growing discussion about the crisis of democracy, our results show that liberal democratic values remain substantially robust in high and middle income democracies.