When Do Citizens Consider Political Parties Legitimate?

Ann Kristin Kölln*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Research on negative partisanship and affective polarization shows that wholesale rejections of individual parties are a common and growing phenomenon. This article offers a novel perspective on assessments of parties by considering citizens' legitimacy perceptions of political parties as institutional players. Combining research on political parties and public opinion, I develop a theoretical framework that explains how parties' characteristics shape their perception as legitimate institutional players. I argue that governing experience, age, ideology, and democratic behaviour provide informational cues to citizens about how democratically dangerous a party is. To test my argument, I fielded a cross-sectional survey in seven West European countries and a large-scale survey experiment. The results consistently show that citizens use party-level cues such as ideological moderation and democratic behaviour to form party legitimacy perceptions. The findings have important public opinion implications for political parties and their institutional role in democracies.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Political Science
Pages (from-to)110-128
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


  • cross-sectional survey
  • perceived legitimacy
  • political parties
  • survey experiment
  • Western Europe


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