Praising the leader: personalist legitimation strategies and the deterioration of executive constraints

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  • Lennart Brunkert
  • Christian von Soest

In the face of current democratic backsliding and autocratization processes, research has rediscovered issues of autocratic legitimation. However, the question of whether rulers’ personalist rhetoric to bolster their legitimacy is followed by congruent political action remains underspecified. Using new expert-coded measures for 164 countries from the Varieties of Democracy project, we examine the political rhetoric–action link using using fixed effects models. The results confirm that shifts towards personalist legitimacy claims are no cheap talk but oftentimes important warning signals for a substantial deterioration of democratic quality, manifested in weaker judicial and legislative oversight of the executive branch. However, in contrast to much current concern, we show that liberal democracies seem to largely escape the negative repercussions of government discourses that increasingly stress the uniqueness of the ruler.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)419-439
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 01.03.2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Both authors contributed equally to this article. The paper was presented at the 2020 virtual American Political Science Association Annual Meeting and Exhibition (September 10-13, 2020). We very much thank the panel participants as well as Sebastian Hellmeier, Stefan Kruse, Chris Welzel, and Kurt Weyland for their valuable suggestions on prior versions of the article. We are also grateful for the two reviewers’ constructive comments and swift turnaround time.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

    Research areas

  • autocratization, charisma, judicial constraints, legislative constraints, Legitimacy, legitimation strategies, person of the leader, political rhetoric–action link
  • Politics