Document Type


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Political Science


Elections are sometimes seen as legitimizing institutions, promoting system-level support among citizens by providing them with input into the political process. However, prior research has found that is less true among the supporters of losing candidates, who often exhibit lower levels of political trust and satisfaction with democracy. We analyze two statewide surveys in Florida (following the gubernatorial and senatorial elections of 1998, and the controversial presidential election of 2000), and find that (1) losers do exhibit lower levels of political trust, satisfaction with democracy, and beliefs that government is responsive to citizens; (2) losers also are more likely to endorse "sour grapes" rationalizations of the election outcome, and less likely to accept "mandate" interpretations; (3) the meanings that voters ascribe to the election mediate the relationship between winning/losing and political trust, but have limited effects on other system support variables; and (4) perceptions of procedural fairness moderate the relationships between candidate support and system support. These findings suggest that the so-called legitimizing function of elections is far from a universal phenomenon.

Original Publication Information

This paper was presented for delivery at the Annual Meetings of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, September 2-5, 2004. It was published in Political Research Quarterly 59(4): 579-592, in December 2006. DOI: 10.1177/106591290605900407.