The Effect of Accumulated Losses on Perceptions of Legitimacy

Lala Muradova (Dublin City University)
March 3, 2022 13:00
UAB – Aula 10 (B1/029)

How do citizens react to being repeatedly on the losing side of political decision-making? In this paper, we present a theoretical argument suggesting that the experience of accumulated losses creates a strong incentive for individuals to externalize responsibility for these losses to the decision-making procedure. As a result, accumulated losses adversely affect the perceived fairness of democratic procedures among individuals, and in turn erode their perceptions of legitimacy. Using a survey experiment simulating accumulated losses in a series of direct votes among Irish citizens (n=2,146), we find that decision acceptance and the perceived legitimacy of the decision-making procedure diminish with every additional loss. More than two accumulated losses also affect the perceived legitimacy of the political system. These effects are mediated by perceptions of procedural fairness. Our findings suggest that even when democratic procedures are used, accumulated losses can make citizens believe the political decision-making process and system are rigged.