Do some voters really want a personalist regime? Regime preferences in Turkey and their determinants


Melis Laebens


In many democracies - young ones with fragile democratic institutions, as well as established ones - there has been a trend of growing personalism in the exercise of power, meaning the personal authority of executive leaders becomes more decisive in shaping policy and politics, at the detriment of democratic political institutions.

Most studies either assume this personalization of power is an unintended consequence of individuals supporting their preferred leader in a polarized environment or argue that authoritarian leaders rise because they attract conservative or authoritarian voters, creating electoral re-alignments. Only few studies have asked whether some voters have a preference for a personalist regime, and what voters understand a "strong leader" regime to be like.

As a result, we have an incomplete understanding of regime preferences and how individuals form them. My project addresses this gap through a mixed method study of regime preferences in Turkey, where ongoing political conflict over the nature of the regime makes the issue particularly relevant.

I seek to answer three questions: 

  1. Do voters have consistent regime preferences and what are they,
  2. to what extent are these formed pragmatically, by reasoning about different regimes' efficacy for solving particular issues and
  3. can we shift regime preferences by changing perceptions of the important issues facing society.

I will use focus groups to observe how participants reason about major problems Turkey faces, and online surveys to describe regime preferences in detail using an original instrument and to test (with a survey experiment) whether priming different issues can shift regime preferences.

My research draws on the populism, right-wing mobilization and democratic backsliding literatures to understand whether some voters pragmatically prefer an authoritarian regime.