In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Thomas Zittel explores when and how polarization becomes a cause for democratic anxiety. He argues that polarization over traditional policy issues is not in itself harmful, and can even be beneficial for democracies. However, he warns that polarization in which parties become divided over the acceptable rules of the game is a problem for democracies. Unfortunately, this latter type of division is increasingly common on both sides of the Atlantic today.
Can representative democracies be strengthened to govern more effectively? The SSRC’s Anxieties of Democracy program is motivated by a concern about whether the core institutions of established democracies can capably address large problems in the public interest. The Democracy Papers highlight and summarize new research presented at conferences and workshops related to the Anxieties of Democracy program.
If you enjoy the Democracy Papers, you may also like our collection of reflection essays on the anxieties of democracy, The Inaugural Democracy Papers. These pieces were collected for the launch of the Anxieties of Democracy program in 2014-15.
In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Jörg Tremmel argues that the interests of future generations are not sufficiently taken into account within democratic regimes as currently constituted. He advocates for the creation of a fourth, future-oriented branch of government. This branch of government, to be composed of independent appointees with the power to introduce legislation in parliament, will have the mandate to represent the likely interests of future people.
In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Sarah E. Anderson, Daniel Butler, and Laurel Harbridge-Yong discuss the importance of closed-door negotiations for successful legislative compromise. Using experimental data collected from state legislators, the authors demonstrate that lawmakers expect private negotiations to result in successful compromises more often than public negotiations. These results are part of a project funded through the Anxieties of Democracy “Negotiating Agreement in Congress” grants program.
In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Deborah Coen explores how human beings make sense of large-scale natural phenomena like climate change. What does it mean to “understand” climate change? Does it mean the same thing to concerned citizens as it does to natural scientists, or humanities scholars, or policymakers? Coen uses a brief history of climate science since the nineteenth century to explore these questions and to challenge the traditional dichotomy between scientific explanation and humanistic understanding.
The Anxieties of Democracy (AoD) program’s Working Group on Climate Change has released three substantive reports on the ways in which social science, particularly political science, can and should engage with climate change. Here, AoD’s Kris-Stella Trump and Cole Edick provide an overview of the reports, which address the political demand for addressing climate change, the politics of choosing climate change policies, and the ethical and normative concerns that underscore the need for political action. Each report provides a concise overview of current research and outlines suggestions for future work.
In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Christopher Karpowitz and Tali Mendelberg analyze the gender dynamics of small groups that discuss political issues. Based on experimental research they conducted, in which they varied the gender composition and decision rules of the groups, the authors found that women’s views and the kinds of issues most pertinent to them were typically ignored when women were in the minority, and when group decisions were majoritarian rather than consensus-based. Karpowitz and Mendelberg consider how the microdynamics of small groups might relate to the large-scale inequalities that research has shown regarding political influence among different social groups.
In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Jan-Werner Müller argues that attention to right-wing populist movements gaining attention in Europe and the United States can both over- and underestimate their political importance and impact. For Müller, such movements are best understood not by their “anti-elitist” tendencies, but rather by their antipluralist claims to represent the “real people.” He also emphasizes how the rise of right-wing populism is inseparable from the degree to which they are enabled by more mainstream conservative parties, and refers to Austria as a counterexample in which the mainstream right rejected populist extremism.
In this new contribution to the Democracy Papers, Elisabeth Clemens discusses what she calls the “(mis)alignment of social and political geography” in the United States as an unrecognized source of democratic anxiety. Taking an historical perspective, Clemens traces the increasing distancing of citizens and lived communities from infrastructures and geographies of governance. “Antistatism, federalism, and repeated redistricting,” she argues, render opaque the identification of “effective channels of influences or … responsibility for good or bad governing.”
Armin Schäfer reflects on what populism’s rise in Europe and the United States implies for how we view social class as a basis for voting and political partisanship. Drawing on recent studies, Schäfer shows growing disaffection among the working classes in established democracies concerning their sense of their ability to influence the policy decisions that affect them. Other research provides some evidence that the working class perceives their lack of political efficacy correctly—governing institutions respond far more to the preferences of the wealthy. In such a context, populist anger points to genuine democratic deficits.
Rarely do we get a sense of how conservative white working class Americans view the civic competence of urban-based liberals. Katherine Cramer provides such a perspective in this Democracy Paper, building on the extensive research for her book on rural Wisconsites with follow-up visits during the 2016 election campaign and the early days of the Trump administration. Cramer finds a very deep and mutual lack of faith, a chasm that makes the possibility for building alliances, or even dialogue, across polarized groups a difficult one.