Date of Award

December 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Brian D. Taylor


Autocratization, Bolivia, Emotions, Executive Aggrandizement, Political Polarization, Turkey

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


During the last two decades, executive aggrandizement has emerged as one of the chief threats to democratic regimes. In various countries, ranging from Turkey and Hungary to Venezuela, elected incumbents used their democratic mandates to gradually dismantle democratic institutions. Similar patterns of executive aggrandizement have been visible even in an advanced democracy, the United States of America. Executive aggrandizement is facilitated by the consistent electoral support that incumbents with authoritarian agendas enjoy. In order to understand this threat to the future of liberal democracies, we first need to explain why voters support leaders eroding democratic rights and freedoms in their countries.

This dissertation aims to bring a psychological perspective to the study of mass support for executive aggrandizement. To establish a broad theoretical framework, I offer the concept "affective political ties" as an umbrella term, including partisan identities, partisan emotions, and affective polarization. Building on this framework developed in the Introduction, I explore the conditions under which the strength of affective political ties leads to democratic backsliding. My dissertation reveals how interactions between various forms of affective political ties and political institutions condition the relationship between the strength of affective ties and democratic erosion.

This dissertation is formed of four empirical chapters, in addition to the introduction and conclusion chapters. The first two empirical chapters rely on online survey experiments conducted in Turkey and Bolivia. My studies in Turkey demonstrate that provoking partisan enthusiasm and anger increases support for executive aggrandizement among incumbent party voters. Importantly, however, this effect is not universal. I fail to provoke partisan emotions among incumbent supporters in Bolivia despite using the same experimental design. I argue that this difference is rooted in diverging levels of partisan identification across these two countries.

The last two chapters broaden the theoretical and geographical scope of this framework. In the third empirical chapter, I conduct a cross-national statistical analysis, using the CSES data. This study finds that affective polarization is detrimental to democratic institutions especially when voters polarize over their feelings towards the ruling party. In the final empirical chapter, I demonstrate how incumbent parties can use political narratives to build affective ties with their voters, relying on the study of utopian developmentalist narrative in Turkey.


Open Access