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Democratic Threats and Resilience

“The case for democracy is simple: Democracy is the only political system that institutionalizes protections for minority voices while also protecting the rights of journalists, citizens, and opposition leaders to criticize their government,” Einaudi’s Thomas Pepinsky wrote in Brookings.

“The political criticism and meaningful dissent that democracies encourage is an existential threat to any authoritarian regime.”

Researchers across the Einaudi Center are monitoring evolving democratic norms and threats to democracy in the United States and around the world. This work is vital today, as our ability to address a range of global challenges—from pandemics and climate change to human rights—often hinges on the strength of representative institutions that provide voice and access to diverse societal interests and actors.


U.S. Capitol behind caution tape

Focus on Research: Global Threats to Democracy 

Military coups or social revolutions have not been the driving forces behind most contemporary democratic breakdowns. Unlike these decisive acts of regime change, recent frays in the democratic fabric have at first been easier to miss. They begin when leaders and parties use democratic institutions—courts, parliaments, the media—to concentrate power, marginalize opponents, and whittle away at a system’s checks and balances.

Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia have all experienced the rise of leaders, movements, and parties—often characterized as “populist”—that operate within democratic institutions while challenging their norms and conventions. Einaudi Center researchers are working together to identify the factors that make democratic institutions vulnerable to internal subversion and, more importantly, the conditions under which they are resilient. Read more below about our key research areas.

Warning: Autocracy

iStock police officers surround demonstrators (Brazil)

How can grassroots movements and civil society institutions resist the rise of autocratic regimes? 

Populism

Ecuador President Rafael Correa speaking in 2009

Which inequalities and cultural conflicts aid populist challengers and deepen polarization?

Regime Cleavage

October 2019: Kurdish protestors march in London, against the Turkish state’s invasion of Syria.

Under what conditions do citizens lose faith in political institutions—and even democracy itself?


Get Involved at Einaudi

Explore Global Public Voices in the Media

Our Global Public Voices advocacy initiative promotes Einaudi experts’ engagement on public policy questions, global current events, and more. Check out Global Public Voices in the Media to see selected media appearances and op-eds from Global Public Voices fellows and alumni.


Democratic Threats in the Media

Democratic Decline a Global Phenomenon, Even in Wealthy Nations

U.S voters. Adobestock 2/6/24

Democratic backsliding is occurring in an unprecedented number of wealthy countries once thought immune to such forces—the United States among them—finds a new analysis by Einaudi's democratic threats researchers. To inform debates about where backsliding is happening, the team identified episodes of decline in nearly 40 countries since 1990. Half exceeded the wealth threshold above which social scientists have previously believed advanced industrial democracies could not break down.

Read more about January 2024 findings.


More than Red and Blue: Political Parties and American Democracy

I Voted stickers Demo 20/20

As U.S. voters brace for a contentious campaign season, a July 2023 report from the American Political Science Association (APSA) and Protect Democracy confronts the serious risk of democratic backsliding in the United States. Einaudi Center director Rachel Beatty Riedl served on the APSA Presidential Task Force on Political Parties and wrote Chapter 10: Factions, Moderation, and Democratic Responsibility.

Read about the report and what it tells us about U.S. political parties, polarization, and the potential for change.


From DTR Faculty

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People

Ken Roberts headshot

Kenneth Roberts: Democratic Threats Faculty Fellow 

Kenneth Roberts leads Einaudi’s democratic threats and resilience research priority in academic years 2022–24. If you're a researcher interested in contributing, please reach out by email.

Read about his work with the Cornell Global Hub in Ecuador.


Paul Friesen DTR postdoc headshot blue shirt

Postdoctoral Fellow Paul Friesen

Paul Friesen graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a PhD in political science. He studies democratization, elections, political parties, and political behavior in sub-Saharan Africa. Check out his article, "Democratic Backsliding, Resilience, and Resistance," published by the journal World Politics in January 2024. 

Read a profile of Friesen in the Cornell Chronicle.


Scholars Under Threat

Global Cornell leads campus and community support for international scholars, students, and human-rights defenders whose work puts them at risk in their home countries. The Einaudi Center hosts the visitors during their time at Cornell, providing a welcoming intellectual community, collaborators and connections, and opportunities to build a sustainable career in the United States. Einaudi is currently hosting Sharif Hozoori (SAP).


Partners

American Democracy Collaborative