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Cathie Marsh Institute for Social Research

Economic Outcomes and Political Support: Learning from Procedural Fairness Theories in Social Psychology

26 January 2016

Speaker: Dr Pedro Magalhães, Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon

Positive economic outcomes increase political support. That much we know on the basis of research on government approval, economic voting, or satisfaction with democracy. In fact, we know from many studies in social and organisational psychology that satisfaction with authorities in all sorts of organisations is driven by the favourability of outcomes. However, those same studies have also found that outcomes are not the only thing that matters. Process, particularly the level of fairness in procedures, also matters. And it matters not only directly — with support and satisfaction increasing the fairer the procedures — but also indirectly, by moderating the effect of outcomes. In other words, the greater the level of procedural fairness, the less important should outcome favourability be, a phenomenon that social psychologists explain on the basis of referent cognitions, fairness, and relational theories.


As far as I know, this insight has never been pursued in the study of political support. If these findings travel from the meso-level of organisations to the macro-level of political regimes and institutions, we should find that the effect of economic outcomes on political support becomes smaller as fairness in procedures increases. In this presentation, I illustrated this phenomenon by examining satisfaction with the way democracies works in Europe. Using the European Social Survey, I showed that both individual perceptions and expert judgments of procedural fairness at the level of regimes serve as a moderator of the effects of economic outcomes on satisfaction with democracy. In this way, these and other studies may contribute to align the findings in the social psychology and the political science literatures about support of and satisfaction with authorities.