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A “true” American takes pride in the democratic processes that grant power to the people, right? Some literature has shown that “power to the people” is actually quite far from being uniformly endorsed by the American people, largely because of the inherent conflict and disagreement that comes with it (e.g., Hibbing & Theiss-Morse, 2002). So are people more positive toward democratic processes when they perceive consensus among citizens? I utilize survey data from a representative sample of the United States in order to show that perceptions of consensus are positively related to support for the political power of the American people, but only insofar as this power is filtered through elected representatives. As prior research has suggested, perceptions of consensus are largely a function of national identity (Theiss-Morse, 2009), which has both direct and indirect influences on attitudes regarding representative democracy. Generalized trust shows substantial independent relationships with both perceptions of consensus and attitudes for the political power of the public. Importantly, national identity, perceived consensus, and generalized trust exhibit different relationships with support for more direct involvement of the public in decision-making. All are related to increases in having faith in the public during elections, but national identity is unrelated to support for more direct involvement, and both trust and perceived consensus are negatively related to support for more direct involvement. Support for indirect democratic processes has the expected relationships with national identity and perceptions of consensus, but things are quite different with regard to support for more direct democracy.
Adviser: Elizabeth Theiss-Morse