The Past that Binds: Authoritarian Nostalgia, Group Sentiment, and Voter Behavior (Under Review)

More than three decades has passed since the Third Wave of democratization at the end of the twentieth century. While the statues and statutes of former dictators have long been destroyed, nostalgia for the former dictatorship still drives individual political attitudes and related behavior in many democracies. Among sixty-five Third Wave democracies, former authoritarian ruling parties are still active in democratic elections across forty-seven countries, with twenty-eight of them winning more than 20% of vote share. Authoritarian successors have returned to power from Eastern Europe and Latin America to East and Southeast Asia, as exemplified by Park Geun-Hye in South Korea and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the Philippines, among others. This lingering political legacy of former dictatorships begs the following questions: Why do voters support politicians who frequently reference back to a former dictatorship? And why is the nostalgic rhetoric effective in some countries but not in others?

The Past that Binds provides theoretical and empirical foundations for nostalgic behavior and democratic development, systemically reporting and analyzing the impacts of the sentimental longing for an authoritarian past. I argue that authoritarian nostalgia is an important source of group sentiment in post-authoritarian democracies, which produces large and surprising effects on voter attitudes and behaviors. Voters who share favorable views of the past may construct heightened social identity connected to the past, exhibit strong group sentiment based on historical perception, and express attachment towards authoritarian successors. As a form of social identity, such stronger political attachment can exert greater impacts on political behavior more than ideological or programmatic appeals do.

My book further explains why such nostalgic voter behavior is more pronounced in some countries but not in others. In South Korea and the Philippines, politicians often play the nostalgia card and successfully mobilize voters, but such nostalgic rhetoric has proven ineffective in other post-authoritarian democracies, such as Indonesia. I argue that histories of state-sponsored elitist nationalism under dictatorship generate stronger nostalgic voter behavior, while nostalgic rhetoric proves less effective in countries with popular nationalism that emphasizes civic and popular features. The legacies of how dictators have consolidated symbolic power through nationalism and national identity can shape the mobilizing effectiveness of nostalgic rhetoric among voters in democratic elections.

This research is funded by the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, the Taiwan Fellowship from the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange, CEAPS Graduate Student Dissertation Travel Grant, Nelle M. Signor Graduate Scholarship in International Relations, and Ferber & Sudman Dissertation Awards for Survey Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Sanghoon Kim-Leffingwell
Sanghoon Kim-Leffingwell
Senior Lecturer and Assistant Director