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We thank H. Weyers, N. Taylor, R. Hilten, S. Dye, J. Coombs,
and K. Norris for their assistance in maintaining the
enrichments and associated data collection and analyses;
C. Tant and J. Greenwood for conducting the N+P litterbag
studies; and S. Eggert for assisting in data collection
and analysis and helping develop sampling protocols.
T. Mccallister illustrated Fig. 1 (photo credit: PMB). The
manuscript was improved by comments from R. Hall,
E. Rosi-Marshall, F. Ballantyne, S. Altizer, A. Helton, A. Huryn,
M. Paul, J. Davis, R. Sponseller, C. Song, and anonymous
reviewers. J. Maerz contributed ideas and logistical help
associated with the N×P experiment; S. Wenger, R. Hall, C. Song,
and D. Hall provided statistical advice; D. Leigh and J.
Hepinstall-Cymerman provided spatial data; and J. Webster
provided site information. We are grateful to A. Helton for
conducting the network-scale extrapolation. Data are available
in the supplementary materials in Science Online. This research
leveraged logistical support from the Coweeta Long Term
Ecological Research Program at the University of Georgia, which
is supported by the National Science Foundation Division
of Environmental Biology (NSF DEB grant 0823293). The
order of authors after the first author is alphabetical; funding
for these experiments was provided in NSF grants DEB-
9806610, 0318063, 0918894, 0918904, and 0919054
from the Ecosystem Studies Program to A.D.R., J.P.B.,
V.G., K.S., J.B. W., and others (J. Maerz, above; M. Black,
University of Georgia; and P. Mulholland, Oak Ridge National
Materials and Methods
Tables S1 to S7
7 November 2014; accepted 27 January 2015
On the endogeneity of political
preferences: Evidence from individual
experience with democracy
Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln*† and Matthias Schündeln*†
Democracies depend on the support of the general population, but little is known about the
determinants of this support. We investigated whether support for democracy increases
with the length of time spent under the system and whether preferences are thus affected by
the political system. Relying on 380,000 individual-level observations from 104 countries
over the years 1994 to 2013, and exploiting individual-level variation within a country and a
given year in the length of time spent under democracy, we find evidence that political
preferences are endogenous. For new democracies, our findings imply that popular support
needs time to develop. For example, the effect of around 8.5 more years of democratic
experience corresponds to the difference in support for democracy between primary and
Popular support for democracy is critical to the success of a democracy, especially an emerging democracy (1, 2). Will support increase over time when a democracy emerges and the population gains experience with democracy? If so, how quickly? Or
are democratic attitudes deeply ingrained in
individuals, such that they are hard to change?
The latest wave of democratizations in the world,
which started in December 2010 in a movement
often collectively referred to as the “Arab Spring,”
and the subsequent struggles of these countries
provide a recent illustration of the importance
of these questions. However, a study that uses a
clean identification strategy based on an experimental or quasi-experimental setup to identify
the causal effect of accumulating experience
with democracy on support for democracy in a
broad set of countries—or more generally, a study
that identifies endogenous preferences for political systems—is missing from the literature.
Indeed, recent research suggests that economic preferences are shaped by individual
experiences with markets (3). In particular,
preferences regarding fairness, preferences for
redistribution, and other types of preferences
related to economic behavior vary across societies in a way that correlates with market characteristics (4, 5). A causal interpretation of these
correlations and the view that economic preferences are endogenous is founded in theoretical
arguments (6–8) and is empirically supported
by research based on experimental or quasi-experimental settings, such as the end of communism in Eastern Europe or the stock market return
experiences accumulated over a lifetime (9–11).
Regarding the endogeneity of political prefer-
ences, research has so far shown a positive cor-
relation between experience with political systems
and political preferences at the country level (12),
a positive correlation between attitudes toward
democracy and currently living under a demo-
cratic system (13), and that a longer democratic
experience lowers the probability of exit from
democracy and increases the probability of exit
from autocracy (12). However, a causal influence
of experience with democracy on the support for
democracy, which would imply endogeneity of
preferences, cannot be established from these cor-
relations. The correlations could (partly) be due to
reverse causality (i.e., countries have a democratic
history precisely because the electorate supports
democratic values); or a third, possibly unobserved,
variable, such as historic events or economic con-
ditions, could determine both individuals’ sup-
port for democracy and the political system in place.
Here, we exploited within-country variation at
the individual level in experience with a democratic regime to establish a plausibly causal impact of experience with democracy on preferences
for democracy, and thereby contribute to a better
understanding of the endogeneity of political
preferences. Because we control for country-year fixed effects, the observed differences in
attitudes toward democracy do not simply reflect
a reaction to differences in the current quality
of institutions or political environments, but,
under the minimal and plausible identifying
assumption that we state below, constitute a
change in intrinsic preferences due to differences in the length of exposure to democracy.
For example, if democratic institutions or economic conditions improve with the length of
time spent under democracy, this might increase
the support for democracy directly and not
through intrinsic preferences, but it would be
captured in our specification by the country-year
fixed effects, which control for all country-level
unobservables that are specific to a country in a
given year. Any remaining correlation between
experience with democracy and support for
democracy can therefore confidently be attributed to a change in preferences.
Goethe University Frankfurt, 60320 Frankfurt, Germany.
*Both authors contributed equally to this work. †Corresponding
author. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (N.F.-S.);