Accepting Controversial Measures in Times of COVID-19: The Democratic Delusion Paradox


  • Stefano Passini
  • Davide Morselli


The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic led most of the involved countries to take measures to contain the spread of the virus. Among these, the authorities banned gatherings and tough measures, involving also the use of force, were at times adopted to disperse people breaking this rule. The aim of this research was to investigate to what extent harsh measures are considered acceptable to prevent such gatherings. Specifically, in line with political orientation theory, we hypothesized that people with a low value-based orientation to authority would be more likely to accept such measures when implemented by countries perceived as democratic. This tendency to assume that a democratic state never adopts anti-democratic measures has been defined a democratic delusion paradox. As hypothesized, results on 359 Italian participants showed that respondents with low scores on value orientation were more likely to be affected by this paradox. They were more likely to consider harsh measures as acceptable if implemented by a country they perceived as democratic. Conversely, when the issuing country was judged to be authoritarian, the use of force was more frequently condemned. The implication of this research was to show the importance of monitoring established democracies and maintaining a sense of critical participation on the policies issued by the authorities. We provide support for the political orientation theory arguing that a political orientation based on values can help watching democratic systems from degenerating into autocracy.