DIGSSCORE Seminar: The Cost of Speaking Freely in a Liberal Democracy

Richard Traunmüller
Richard Traunmüller

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Richard Traunmüller, Professor at the School of Social Sciences at the University of Mannheim, will present for us today. The presentation is titled "The Cost of Speaking Freely in a Liberal Democracy".

The event is in a hybrid format, you are welcome to join us for lunch from the Corner room at DIGSSCORE. Food is provided on a first-come first-served basis. 

Zoom link for digital attendance.



A growing number of citizens say that they are no longer free to speak their mind. This raises an important question in the study of democracy. What sanctions of free expression exist in a liberal democracy, how probable are they and what costs do they entail? And how accurate are citizens' perceptions? We model the degree of free speech as the product of the probability of being sanctioned for speech and the associated costs of those sanctions. Using multiple original surveys from Germany, we relate this heuristic model to empirical data and present three studies on citizens’ perceptions of free speech. Study 1 shows that citizens distinguish regular discursive risks from manifest negative consequences. While the former are perceived as much more probable, both carry comparable costs for free speech. Study 2 evaluates which topics are sanctioned and by whom. Exploiting randomized issue primes we find few differences in reported sanction probabilities. However, citizens do not feel restricted by close social ties but by more distant democratic actors. Last, study 3 demonstrates that citizens’ expectations of being sanctioned for speaking freely are  rooted in actual experiences to a substantial degree. Taken together, these findings have significant implications for our understanding of liberal democracy and its vulnerabilities.