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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 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. 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 Events Series

Democracy in the Balance Series: New in 2022

Lady Justice holding scales

Join the Einaudi Center and experts around the country for three panels assessing the state of American democracy. What are the prospects for its reform and renewal, based on the latest evidence and insights from political and social science?

February 10: Democratic Vulnerability and Resilience in the United States (video)

Recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans believe that democracy in the United States is in crisis. What aspects of our democracy remain under threat? Are there areas where the drift toward democratic backsliding has halted, or even reversed?

"Democracy in the Balance: Vulnerability, Resilience, and Reform" is cosponsored by the American Academy of Political and Social Science and the American Democracy Collaborative.

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 available on video.

Follow Einaudi's Democratic Threats and Resilience YouTube playlist.

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A Conference in Honor of Prof. Muna Ndulo

Chris Barrett, IAD/SEAP


Faculty Leaders 

Kenneth Roberts (LACS), Mabel Berezin (IES), Thomas Pepinsky (SEAP)

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 two visiting critics: Pedro X. Molina (LACS) and Dmitry Bykov (IES).


American Democracy Collaborative

In the News