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How Constitutional Arrangements Generate Legitimacy Beliefs: Evidence from a Controlled Field Experiment on Democratic Decision-Making

Conference paper
Authors Mikael J Persson
Peter Esaiasson
Mikael Gilljam
Published in the ECPR General Conference, Potsdam, September 2009
Publication year 2009
Published at Department of Political Science
Language en
Keywords Democratic decision-making, legitimacy beliefs, procedural acceptance, procedural fairness, field experiments
Subject categories Social Sciences


This article reports results from a controlled field experiment designed to evaluate three ideas on how to generate legitimacy for constitutional arrangements regulating democratic decision-making: a) involving citizens in the participatory constitution making process, b) increasing the level of participation in the decision-making process, and c) the fair application of decision-making rules. In the experiment, twenty-one high school classes (484 individuals) were asked to make a collectively binding decision on whether to give a substantial sum of money to charity or to keep it for a festivity. Each school class was randomly assigned to one of seven experimental conditions: various forms of direct democracy, representative democracy, participatory constitution making, expert decision-making or unfair application of direct democracy. The main finding is that participation in the decision-making processes stands out as more important for legitimacy beliefs than participatory constitution making and the fair application of constitutional arrangements. Results provide support for the view that high levels of participation in the decision-making process, as manifested by majoritarian direct democracy and consensual decision-making, have a special legitimacy appeal.

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