Steffen Selmer Andersen

When Policy Illegitimacy Provides Cause for Acceptance of Political Violence: Experimental Evidence from Denmark

Unfortunately, political violence is a recurring global phenomenon. Recent instances of political violence such as the escalation of the 2017 Yellow Vest demonstrations in France, the Hong Kong Protests of 2019-2020, and the U.S. Capitol riot in 2021 indicate that political violence is often the outcome when citizens perceive current policies to be fundamentally illegitimate. How might such perceptions lead to acceptance of political violence? This dissertation takes a primarily experimental approach using primary data to answer this question. It combines theoretical perspectives from political science, communication, terrorism studies, criminology, and psychology to develop and empirically test a theoretical model linking policy illegitimacy to acceptance of political violence. Specifically, it investigates what factors shape individuals’ perceptions of policy (il)legitimacy, whether policy illegitimacy affects acceptance of political violence, and how enclave deliberation may exacerbate politically aggrieved individuals’ tendency to accept political violence. The findings indicate that policy content seems more important for peoples’ legitimacy evaluations than the quality of the process, that peoples’ willingness to accept violence increases if they find current policies illegitimate, and that enclave deliberation – defined as communication among like-minded individuals in a closed setting – might amplify both existing perceptions of policy illegitimacy and acceptance of political violence. The dissertation delivers empirical evidence that policy illegitimacy is an important causal factor in accepting political violence and offers suggestions on how we might use this finding to reduce the risk of political violence.

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