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Partisan bias or a climate of indifference?

Partisan bias or a climate of indifference?An investigation of actually-existing democratic values and their consequences in Poland

principal investigator / project leader
Ben Stanley
Ph.D. / Associate Professor

Sociologist and political scientist

Full bio
project value: PLN 783,228
funding source: National Science Center
discipline: political science and public administration, social sciences
location: Warsaw
duration: 2021 2022 2023 2024

The project will investigate the alignment of democratic values with political preferences in Poland, a country which, in the early 1990s has undergone a huge political and economic transformation from one of the countries in the Soviet block to a young democracy.

NCN Project No.: 2020/39/B/HS6/00853

Project objectives

The goal of this project is to reach a better understanding of the relationship between democratic values and political preferences in Poland, a country which has experienced a process of ‘democratic backsliding’ since 2015 according to standard measures of liberal democracy. The project will seek to establish:

  • whether Poles genuinely value the norms and institutions of liberal democracy
  • whether Poles view the post-2015 changes as a process of democratic backsliding or as the pursuit of a different model of democracy
  • whether the political polarization Poland has experienced in recent years adversely affects the capacity of voters to hold illiberal political elites responsible for their actions.

Research into democratic values faces the problem that declared attachment to democracy on the part of citizens is increasingly difficult to reconcile with tolerance of illiberal actions on the part of political actors. This project will contribute to an emerging body of research aiming to identify and measure “actually existing” democratic values.

Stanley, Ben Principal Investigator
Sociologist and political scientist
Permanent employee
First and last name
Ben Stanley
Academic degree or title
Ph.D. / Associate Professor
profesor uczelni
Role in the Faculty
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Role in the Department
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Role in the Institute
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Role in the Research Center
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Ph.D. / Associate Professor Ben StanleySociologist and political scientist

Research Methodology

The project will undertake a three-wave panel survey of a representative sample of the Polish population between the summer of 2022 and the winter of 2023. These surveys will have three key characteristics.

  1. They will contain an innovative new set of questions designed to measure democratic values in ways that overcome the “social desirability bias” (the tendency to want to be associated with something society considers positive when answering survey questions) that many researchers believe artificially inflates the level of approval for liberal democracy.
  2. The surveys will use “conjoint experiments” (a survey technique for identifying causal explanations for the choices respondents make), to test the extent to which Poles act in accordance with liberal-democratic principles when making political choices.
  3. The panel nature of the research design will measure the views and attitudes of voters over an 18-month period, allowing us to establish whether pro-democratic attitudes and behaviors remain stable or are prone to fluctuate.

Practical application of results

We expect to find that levels of “actually-existing” democratic values are lower than those typically declared in standard survey questions, but that they remain stable over time. However, in line with similar research conducted primarily in the United States, we expect to find that political polarization interferes with:

  • the extent to which Polish citizens view post-2015 changes as legitimate or illegitimate from the perspective of democratic values
  • their capacity to ‘punish’ political elites for taking illiberal and undemocratic actions.