Emory Law Journal


In 2015, Poland began to gradually dismantle institutions of the rule of law that had been carefully put in place after its governmental transition. Moreover, this process has been underway largely with the electorate’s support. This is puzzling because only several years earlier, the rule of law seemed to be all but guaranteed by the country’s accession to the European Union. As Poland is still a member of the European Union, and the European Union is noticing erosion of the rule of law and sounding the alarm, why are “eroders” still being elected? We propose an explanation based on the dynamic model from a 2024 article by Caterina Chiopris, Monika Nalepa, and Georg Vanberg, which posited that voters were deeply uncertain as to whether the incumbent they were about to reelect was introducing policy change because of his genuine ideological commitments or because he is a closet autocrat, for whom policy change is instrumental to usurping power. What is more, the authors find that there is an interactive relationship between democratic commitments and uncertainty. We tested this theory with an experiment around the 2019 nationwide Polish elections and found that citizens with less exposure to democratic rule were more likely to reelect incumbents making sweeping policy changes when they were uncertain about the true intentions of the incumbent’s policy.