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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 recently argued 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?


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Democratic Threats in the Media

Election Alert: Polarization Research in Ecuador

Hannah Drexler ’24, Paolo Moncagatta and Kenneth Roberts prepare for a focus group session on the USFQ campus. June 2022

As U.S. voters prepare for contentious midterm elections, Kenneth Roberts sees some cause for concern. He teamed up with Paolo Moncagatta at Universidad San Francisco de Quito, the new Global Hub in Ecuador, to conduct focus groups with Ecuadorian citizens exploring how conflict and polarization are expressed in electoral competition.

Read about their findings and what they tell us about U.S. risks to democracy.


Government PhD Candidate Vincent Mauro

Vincent Mauro, Cornell Research Photo: Dave Burbank

Vincent Mauro is completing a dissertation on why some democracies redistribute income more effectively than others. His Einaudi-funded research took him to archival collections in Brazil and Colombia to study how Latin American party systems shape social reform and economic inequality.

In this international archives explainer, Mauro shares his strategies for making the most of limited research time in archival collections outside the U.S.


Related News

Daily Sun Reporting on Nov. 10 Lecture

"Turn smallness into strength"

Tom Pepinsky, SEAP/SAP


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 new 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 newest article in Why Democracies Develop and Decline, an edited volume published by Cambridge University Press in June 2022.


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 Dmitry Bykov (IES).

Partners

American Democracy Collaborative