Responses to the Democratic Backlash

Panel Code

Democratic ”backlash” is underway. Freedom House scores reflect this. These developments cast doubt on the intuition that repeated elections and government turnovers would lead to democratic consolidation and to greater elite compliance with the ”rules of the game.” Instead, ostensibly democratic states are increasingly adopting legal restrictions on key civil and political rights, including freedoms of association, speech, and information, and rule of law. Space for international influence and the spread of liberal norms raises questions about whether there still exists open arenas?

In this panel we invite contributions that focus on the strategies that social actors use to push back against political elites’ abuse of power and government attempts to shrink the political spaces available for contestation. So far, scholars of comparative democratization have primarily been concerned with documenting trends in the democratic backlash and in the role played by elite political actors in these developments. Less scholarly attention has been given to societal pushback in specific cases, where non-state actors have attempted – and occasionally succeeded – at halting attempts to manipulate the playing field. Some studies have hinted at urban spaces as the basis for successful social counter-mobilization, wherein civil society actors engage together with trade unions, lawyers, churches, academics and students to forcefully push back against backlash on democratic rule. These actors may actively resist the rollback of democratic freedoms through contentious politics, direct negotiations, and mobilization during elections.

This panel examines the politics of societal resistance to democratic erosion, focusing especially on explaining how and when societal actors are successful. We contend that a muscular civil society that is capable of constraining state power and organizing and articulating popular demands can reinforce and maintain robust democratic rule, but tactics and resources can differ substantially across cases.
The panel presents papers that discuss how civil society build coalitions, the historical legacies and other resources that shape which actors become powerful coalition partners, how campaigns can succeed in advocating for policy change, and, finally, the effects of counter-mobilization campaigns on political resistance. We extend the focus on elections and democracy beyond elite level politics to investigate the reproductive mechanisms that may make fledgling democracies more resilient over time.