“Laboratories of Democratic Backsliding”

Looking forward to reading Jake M. Grumbach‘s (Department of Political Science, University of Washington) new book, Laboratories Against Democracy: How National Parties Transformed State Politics, which was profiled a few weeks ago on NPR. In the meanwhile, I have been reading the earlier article, Laboratories of Democratic Backsliding. The article uses “a new comprehensive measure of electoral performance”–one that considers a range of factors such as “average polling place wait times, same-day and automatic voter registration policies, and felon disenfranchisement” and then uses “Bayesian modeling to estimate a latent measure of democratic performance.” The conclusion is that between 2000-2018 states have witnessed “democratic backsliding.” What explains this? Here is where the article offers an analysis that supports what many observers have already concluded: “Republican control of state government reduces democratic performance.” And that this not party competition, polarization, demographic change or a range of other factors is the significant driver of the backsliding that is occurring.

There is obviously lots of nuance to the findings, but what I think is most interesting is that this approach potentially offers a starting point for scholars to begin to think about where democracy is working best (including by more ambitious measures such as policy responsiveness) in the United States–and from there to think about what we can do to nudge the rest of the country in that direction.

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