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Democratic Threats and Resilience

“Comparative politics didn’t used to be a best-selling topic that got people booked on cable news. That was before Trump,” observed New York Times coverage of a conference the Einaudi Center cosponsored in 2019. 

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 governmental system’s checks and balances.

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. flag lowered at night

Global Threats to Democracy 

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’s Latin American Studies Program, Institute for European Studies, Institute for African Development, and Southeast Asia Program 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. 

Here are some key areas of inquiry:  

  • What socioeconomic inequalities and cultural conflicts empower populist challengers? 
  • Which institutional features and political strategies allow populist leaders to capture and subvert regime institutions? 
  • What strategies do their democratic rivals use to activate and defend checks and balances? 
  • Which “bottom-up” movements, civil society institutions, and individuals resist the rise of autocratic regimes?  

Democracy 20/20 Webinar Series

From June through the 2020 election, Democracy 20/20 brought together historical and comparative experts to promote deeper understanding of the challenges these unsettling times pose for American democracy. The stakes for American democracy have never been higher. These critical conversations are now available on video.

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