Welcome to a new website that provides a forum for political scientists to evaluate threats to American democracy. Our goal is to present non-ideological, expert perspectives on current events, informed by how democracy has eroded in similar countries.
Modern democratic decline is not as dramatic as it used to be. Military coups have declined globally and leaders rarely declare themselves dictators anymore. Instead, modern democracy declines through the slow, steady erosion of democratic norms by elected leaders. If done skillfully, leaders can consolidate power and extinguish democracy with most citizens unaware of what is happening in the moment.
Largely reacting to President Trump, a wave of news stories and commentaries have raised the alarm about threats to American democracy and declines in support for democracy among young Americans. This is echoed by concerns about the global spread of illiberal populism in Turkey, Hungary, Poland, France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere.
Yet how real is this threat in the U.S.? After all, no democracy nearly as wealthy or stable as the U.S. has ever broken down. Americans still overwhelmingly favor liberal democracy. Are these warnings a partisan reaction to the 2016 election or an appropriate note of caution?
We plan to provide two sources of information. The first is a monthly survey of democracy experts evaluating to what degree American political leaders are endangering critical facets of democracy. We break this down into six categories that comprised key warning signs of democratic decline elsewhere. We also ask about the predicted likelihood of democratic breakdown and the most significant recent events.
The second component of the site will be real-time reactions to current events by democracy scholars, focusing on political leaders' actions and statements. In particular, we will analyze specific events to answer the following questions: Does this meaningfully weaken or threaten democracy? Is this outside the norm for American politics? Does this fit a pattern seen in other cases of democratic decline?
Whether or not American democracy is really under threat, we hope we can provide sufficient perspective for readers to be aware of what is happening in the moment and able to judge for themselves.
In the picture above, the figure at left is Peitho, the Greek goddess of democracy. As usual, she's depicted as the handmaiden to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, alongside Eros, the god of desire. At first, this is puzzling: Why associate democracy with love and beauty and not wisdom or strength? Originally, Peitho was something different, the goddess of seduction and persuasion, hence the link to Aphrodite. So strongly did the Greeks associate democracy with persuasion and debate that Peitho became the natural symbol of democracy.
Clearly, seduction and manipulation have been at the heart of democracy from the beginning. Yet even when we believe democracy has misfired, more and better debate is its strongest defense.
This site's contributors are political scientists who study topics related to democracy, autocracy, or democratic decline.