American Democracy

Current Projects

How Americans Explain Inequality
CCPS Fellow Elizabeth Suhay’s book project, funded by a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation, examines Americans’ explanations for why economic inequality exists and connects those explanations to their political attitudes. She argues that causal attributions for inequality are closely associated with Americans’ political preferences. The book project uses original survey data to map the contours of these associations, both confirming and challenging conventional wisdom. For example, she finds that conservatives and Republicans are indeed more likely to emphasize individual responsibility and liberals and Democrats to emphasize the importance of discrimination. However, both the right and left agree that unequal access to education and jobs drives inequality. A second goal of the book is to draw on quasi-experimental data to understand why causal attributions and political attitudes are correlated. Do citizens’ hold consistent beliefs about the causes of inequality that then shape their political attitudes, or could real-world politics drive people’s beliefs about the causes of inequality? In an era of high and sustained economic inequality, understanding the political implications of Americans’ beliefs about inequality is of the utmost importance. The book closes with a look at the accuracy of citizens’ causal attributions and an assessment of how we might improve public understanding of the social science of inequality.

How to Keep the Republic (Before It's Too Late): Why a New Constitution Is Necessary to Strengthen Liberal Democracy in the United States
Assistant Professor of Government and CCPS Fellow Chris Edelson’s current project focuses on tension between authoritarianism and constitutional democracy in the context of the U.S. presidency. Current scholarly discussion of the authoritarian threat Donald Trump’s presidency poses to constitutional democracy in the United States either underestimates the danger or fails to consider whether the current system has failed and fundamental change is needed to strengthen democracy. This working paper proposes a test to determine whether constitutional failure has occurred and evaluates possible authoritarian action Trump has taken in several areas. The paper concludes that Trump’s presidency has revealed the failure of the current system and proposes a new constitution to strengthen liberal democracy in the United States.

Understanding Political Compromise
In this large project, for which we are seeking funding from the Hewlett Foundation, CCPS Director David Barker with Shaun Bowler (University of California-Riverside) and Christopher Jan Carman (Glasgow University) seeks to understand the psychological and institutional causes of compromise—by citizens as well as lawmakers—in the US and Europe.

Representation in an Era of Political and Economic Inequality: How and When Citizen Engagement Matters
Do members of Congress give citizens what they want? And do they respond more to wealthier citizens than they respond to poorer citizens? In a recent paper, Professor Jan Leighley and co-author Jennifer Oser examine whether citizens who are active in politics by voting or engaging in other political activities are represented better than those who do not participate. They find that those who participate were better represented by members of Congress on the 2012 vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act—and that participating closed the gap in representation between poorer and wealthier citizens. She is currently working on a project to extend this study over a wider set of issues over the past several decades.

Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute

Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute

The Institute features a two-week intensive course in major aspects of lobbying and political influence.

More about PAAI