Election losers or society’s losers?

How election result ambiguity can impact the relationship between feelings of control and perceptions of election fairness


  • Nicholas Sorak
  • Stephen Dawson


Democratic elections around the world are increasingly marred by citizen skepticism regarding the fairness of their conduct. A growing body of research has established that the perceptions of elections are often influenced by the outcome of the election and partisanship. However, little attention has been paid to individual psychological factors such as feelings of low control, which have previously been linked to a greater inclination to endorse conspiracy theories. We investigate the impact of individual feelings of control and their interaction with election results using post-election surveys from the British ‘Brexit’ referendum of 2016 and the Swedish general election of 2018. Results suggest a robust relationship between feelings of low control and perceptions of electoral unfairness. While election victory can in some cases mitigate this effect, it appears only to be the case when election results – and the winners and losers – are clear.