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Winning, Losing and Satisfaction with Democracy



Previous research has shown that those who won an election are more satisfied with the way democracy works than those who lost. What is not clear, however, is whether it is the fact of winning (losing), per se, that generates (dis)satisfaction with democracy. The current study explores this winner/loser gap with the use of the 1997 Canadian federal election panel study. It makes a theoretical and methodological contribution to our understanding of the factors that foster satisfaction with democracy. At the theoretical level, we argue that voters gain different utility from winning at the constituency and national levels in a parliamentary system, and that their expectations about whether they will win or lose affect their degree of satisfaction with democracy. On the methodological front, our analysis includes a control group (non-voters) and incorporates a control for the level of satisfaction prior to the election. The results indicate that the effect of winning and losing on voters' satisfaction with democracy is significant even when controlling for ex ante satisfaction before the election takes place, and that the outcome of the election in the local constituency matters as much as the outcome of the national election. They fail to show, however, that expectations about the outcome of the election play a significant role in shaping satisfaction with democracy.