American democracy is in trouble. Since the 2016 election, a sizable literature has developed that focuses on diagnosing and assessing the state of American democracy, most of which concludes that our system of government is in decline. These authors point to the rise in party polarization, the increasingly bipartisan abandonment of the norms of the democratic process, the rise of populism, the degradation of the public sphere, and the proliferation of gerrymandered districts and voting restrictions to illustrate the breakdown.
“Populism” has claimed enormous amounts of popular and press attention, with the Brexit vote of 2016, the election of President Donald J. Trump, and the rise of self-proclaimed populists in Europe and elsewhere. But what exactly is populism? And is populism in Poland the same phenomenon as in the United States? Does populism have the same set of universal causes, or are there many paths to populist resurgence?
“Global Populisms and Their Challenges” finds that established mainstream political parties are the key enablers of populist challenges—and the key solution.
The 2016 election brought into sharp relief the anomalies and imperfections of our democratic institutions. Trump, beating out a crowded field of primary candidates, won the election having lost the popular vote. Despite intense media coverage, the party primaries were still low-turnout events, and party infighting undermined the legitimacy of the final candidates. Third-party candidates who stood no chance of winning nonetheless drew significant votes in swing states.
Is America in a period of democratic decline? I argue that there is an urgent need to consider the United States in comparative perspective, and that doing so is necessary to contextualize and understand the quality of American democracy. I describe two approaches to comparing the United States: the first shows how the United States stacks up to other countries, while the second uses the theories and tools of comparative politics to examine relationships between institutions, actors, and democratic outcomes.
Political parties in the United States and Britain used clientelism and patronage to govern throughout the nineteenth century. By the twentieth century, however, parties in both countries shifted to programmatic competition. This book argues that capitalists were critical to this shift. Businesses developed new forms of corporate management and capitalist organization, and found clientelism inimical to economic development.
In an article in the American Interest, Didi Kuo argues that understanding the causes of polarization -- whether rooted in a polarized electorate, or rooted in the ideological extremism of campaign donors and candidates -- has different implications on political reforms. If polarization is an elite phenomenon, institutional and legal reforms have a much greater chance of success.
On November 14-15, the Program on American Democracy in Comparative Perspective hosted a conference on Lobbying and Campaign Finance. The conference brought together academics, practitioners, and lawyers to understand the impact of money in politics on a variety of outcomes, including special interest capture, democratic distortion, and inequality.
The motivation for the workshop stems from the observation that the United States government routinely fails in one of its foremost tasks: to create, and to pass, budgets. Congress often fails to devise a budget—in many years, it passes Continuing Resolutions to extend the previous year’s budget, punting difficult decisions about which federal programs to cut, maintain, or grow. Even worse, the failure of the President and Congress to reach agreement on the budget has led to 18 government shutdowns since 1978, while shutdowns have remained rare in other advanced democracies.
In 2013, budget negotiations in Congress stalled multiple times as Republicans and Democrats failed to agree on a host of political issues, including the debt ceiling, funding of the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, and tax rates. These negotiations resulted in budget sequestration of many federal programs, and threatened to reduce the United States credit rating. As the fiscal year deadline of October 1 approached, both chambers of Congress tried to pass budget legislation to fund the government. Economists and experts predicted that failing to meet the deadline would have significant consequences, including a potential default on government debt. Despite these dire warnings, however, the parties failed to reach agreement, culminating in a 16- day shutdown of the federal government from October 1-16, 2014.
The objective of this workshop was to think through the causes of, and solutions to, ineffective budgetary politics and policy-making. This report begins by describing the politics of budgeting in the United States, and situates our procedural and political anomalies in the comparative context of budgetary politics around the world. The next section examines a range of suggestions to improve budgeting, from technical and procedural changes to broader institutional reforms. The report concludes by discussing the limitations of proposed reforms, and by thinking realistically about how to mobilize support for improved budgeting outcomes.