The SSRC’s Media & Democracy program has launched a series of workshops that put current controversies and debates into historical and cross-disciplinary perspectives. Here, Mike Miller and James Kirwan provide the key takeaways from a recent event on “A Modern History of the Disinformation Age.” Scholars at the workshop engaged the roots of our “epistemic crisis” regarding what counts as facts and as “reality.” Participants focused on actors who benefit from the questioning of truth claims, and how institutions that once served as gatekeepers for such claims have been weakened and unable to adjust to new media ecosystems.
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. Throughout the SSRC’s history, it has organized and sponsored committees and conferences on democracy, both in the United States and abroad. Most recently, before the Anxieties of Democracy program, the SSRC convened the National Research Commission on Elections and Voting in 2004, culminating in the publication of the report, Challenges Facing the American Electoral System: Research Priorities for the Social Sciences.
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 a new submission to Democracy Papers, Tracy Sulkin looks at the professional consequences of legislators’ bad behavior. Using a unique dataset on professional scandals and instances of incivility committed by members of the US House of Representatives, she shows that scandals and incivility are linked to stalling professional career trajectories of members of Congress. In an era of polarization and gridlock, these results indicate that Congress does retain ability to police and sanction bad behavior among its members.
In an essay that continues the Democracy Papers’ current focus on welfare states, Lea Elsässer explores unequal representation in the context of welfare state reforms. Focusing on Germany since the 1980s, she shows that welfare state reforms are more responsive to the preferences of citizens in the upper socioeconomic classes, compared to those in lower socioeconomic classes. These findings contribute to the recent literature on problems of representation in modern democracies.
In the latest contribution to the Democracy Papers, Marius R. Busemeyer explores which coalitions of citizens support various welfare state reforms in European countries. Recent years have seen the social safety net in these countries increasingly move toward a social investment model, whereby states help individuals invest in education and training. Busemeyer shows that, compared to other models of the welfare state, social investment policies enjoy broad-based support among many European publics, concerns about the potentially regressive effects of these policies notwithstanding.
Jaime Settle, a member of the SSRC Media & Democracy program’s advisory board, discusses her new book in the latest contribution to Democracy Papers. In Frenemies: How Social Media Polarizes America, she takes a deep look at how political information spreads on social media, emphasizing the importance of seemingly unpolitical posts and of exposure to the political opinions of people with whom we share only weak social ties.
Concluding our “Democratic Erosion” miniseries, Victoria Potts uses a prolonged political dispute over the fate of Confederate monuments in Memphis city parks to examine political accountability in democratic institutions. She examines the conflict between Memphis City Council, the Tennessee state legislature, and an appointed historical commission to ask whom appointed commissions should be accountable to, and when indirect or unelected power is justified in a democratic system.
Continuing our “Democratic Erosion” miniseries of essays, Rachel Risoleo takes a look at the concept of incumbency advantage, arguing that this concept can help us explain the successful political candidacies of nonincumbent popular icons like Donald Trump in the United States and Jimmy Morales in Guatemala. She argues that celebrities who run for office are able to draw on advantages that are similar to those enjoyed by incumbent politicians, including name recognition, high levels of media exposure, and voters’ preference to identify with individual politicians.
Continuing our “Democratic Erosion” miniseries, Danielle Trujillo examines democratic erosion through the lens of felon disenfranchisement in the United States and finds this issue is insufficiently incorporated into measures of electoral integrity. Comparing Louisiana and Mississippi, she notes what she argues is an incongruity: both share strict policies regarding incarceration and voting rights for former felons, but they differ dramatically in expert assessments of the integrity of the electoral process.
A June 2018 US Supreme Court decision upheld Ohio’s process for purging eligible voters from the voting rolls under certain conditions. Kicking off our “Democratic Erosion” miniseries, Sarah Stradling analyzes the background and potential implications of Ohio’s planned implementation of the National Voter Registration Act, and what it signals about the health of democracy when voting rights are restricted.