Egalitarianism and the democratic deconsolidation: Is democracy compatible with socialism?


The unprecedented reduction in popular support for democracy represents a risk of democratic deconsolidation. The new situation echoes old debates on the compatibility of democracy with capitalism and socialism. This article provides empirical support for the incompatibility of socialism with democracy by providing evidence suggesting that when citizens adopt egalitarianism as a supreme value, they are ready to sacrifice democracy for the sake of equality. Using individual data, we observe that the decline in support for democracy over generations and over time is accompanied by rising support for egalitarian values in US and European democracies. Moreover, democracies with stronger preferences for egalitarianism also have less public support for democracy, suggesting a tradeoff between both values.

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  1. 1.

    However, the term of "deconsolidation" is contested by numerous political scientists because the backsliding of political freedom around the world is not observable with current (and different) democracy indices (Paldam 2019).

  2. 2.

    Forty-five percent of young Americans, aged 18–29, view capitalism positively while 51% of them are positive about socialism. See

  3. 3.

    The empirical literature has focused separately on the individual-level support for democracy (Piazza 2019; Borooah et al. 2013) and on individuals’ support for capitalism versus socialism (Bjørnskov and Paldam 2012; Pitlik and Kouba 2015), but has not yet investigated the relationship across both dimensions.

  4. 4.

    The EU member states included in the waves 5 and 6 of the World Values Surveys are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

  5. 5.

    Two potentially important variables, the number of people in the household and the size of the town in which the respondent lives are not provided systematically for every country-wave pair in the WVS. Thus, those variables are not included in our specification to retain as many countries as possible in our sample; we checked, however, that their inclusion does not modify our results.

  6. 6.

    In unreported tests, we checked the validity of our results by restricting our analysis to the countries that are considered to be free according to Freedom House measures.


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We thank Vivekananda Mukherjee, Martin Paldam and the other participants at the Silvaplana Workshop of Political Economy 2019 for very helpful comments. Any remaining errors are ours.

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Correspondence to Mickael Melki.

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I think that democratic communities have a natural taste for freedom; left to themselves, they will seek it, cherish it, and view any privation of it with regret. But for equality their passion is ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible; they call for equality in freedom; and if they cannot obtain that, they still call for equality in slavery. They will endure poverty, servitude, barbarism, but they will not endure aristocracy. Tocqueville (1835, second book, chapter 1).

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Facchini, F., Melki, M. Egalitarianism and the democratic deconsolidation: Is democracy compatible with socialism?. Public Choice 186, 447–465 (2021).

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  • Democracy
  • Deconsolidation
  • Egalitarianism
  • Millennials

JEL Classification

  • D31
  • D72
  • G38