Access Type

Dissertation/Thesis

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Political Science

First Advisor

Brady Baybeck

Abstract

In the U.S., popular support is widespread for both the federal and state constitutional charters, although the former enjoys greater support than the latter. Such support is necessary for maintaining a constitution’s legitimacy; popular support for the laws ensures continued obedience to them. However, critics note that blind support, or excessive veneration, may have negative consequences, including saddling a political community with suboptimal institutions. Support must be balanced with the necessity of “periodic repairs,” allowing each generation to review the prior’s work. In modern parlance, critics advocate for periodic constitutional conventions, permitting constitutional revisions irrespective of tradition or presumed legal permanence.

This dissertation explores the relationship between constitutional loyalty and periodic conventions. Existing scholarship has focused heavily on a constitution’s specific support, or an individual’s current satisfaction (approval) with the charter’s outputs, provisions, and/or performance. Little research has explored the more fundamental feelings of constitutional loyalty, or diffuse support, that forms the bedrock of a charter’s institutional legitimacy. Individuals who are willing to countenance revisions and/or replace a constitution are expressing little loyalty towards it, permitting fundamental changes to the underlying constitutional and political system. Since periodic conventions represent an existential threat to constitutions, do primes about them influence an individual’s constitutional loyalty?

To test this question, I deploy a survey experiment that explores how a person’s underlying constitutional loyalty is influenced by knowledge about periodic conventions. Using Michigan’s 2010 periodic convention referendum, I expose subjects to various vignettes on the convention using different primes. I also control for various confounders that generate constitutional support, including demographic attributes, sociopolitical characteristics, institutional attitudes, and constitutional knowledge. I find that while a subject’s constitutional loyalty appears immune to the experimental treatment, her approval of the charter can be altered depending on how she is primed to think about periodic conventions (e.g. whether prior periodic conventions had been approved or not). My results also indicate that persons less familiar with their constitutional charters are more receptive to the primes than persons more knowledgeable, raising serious concerns about the effects of constitutional ignorance and our political system’s legitimacy.

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