Jason Brownlee Believes We Underestimate Democratic Resilience

Jason Brownlee

Jason Brownlee is a professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. Along with Kenny Miao, he is the author of “Why Democracies Survive” and “A Quiet Consensus” in the Journal of Democracy.

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71% of Americans are concerned about democracy. And apparently that number, roughly 71%, holds for both parties. So, if listeners are concerned about democracy, they can expect that there’s someone from the other party who’s also concerned about democracy from a different perspective.

Jason Brownlee

Key Highlights

  • Introduction – 0:41
  • Democratic Decline and Resiliency – 3:40
  • National Income or Wealth and Democracy – 13:49
  • Democratic Backsliding – 21:53
  • More than Minimal Democracy – 32:02

Podcast Transcript

Over the past few years books, podcasts, and articles have all warned about democratic decline and even breakdown. For some those fears were manifested when Donald Trump refused to concede the 2020 Presidential Election and rioters stormed the capitol on January 6th. Now in the upcoming midterm elections many Democrats including President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris warn about looming threats to American democracy. 

But Jason Brownlee disagrees with the widespread pessimism about democracy’s prospects. He recently wrote an article with Kenny Miao called “Why Democracies Survive” that sparked responses from a number of prominent scholars including Yascha Mounk, Tom Ginsburg, and Nancy Bermeo. You can read their responses alongside the original article and their rebuttal in the latest Journal of Democracy. 

Jason Brownlee is a professor of government at the University of Texas, Austin. Our conversation explores democratic resilience in the world and in the United States. It’s an important message as Americans go to the polls, because too much fear may leave some despondent and desperate. Democracy depends on hope. It’s what allows us to move past a disappointing election outcome. There’s always another opportunity a few years away.

Desperation, on the other hand, causes people to turn away from democracy and seize power through undemocratic means. For example, in Venezuela and Turkey, the political opposition tried to overthrow political leaders who threatened democracy. Both coups failed. Moreover, their actions, ironically, led to the democratic breakdowns they feared. So, let’s make sure to hold onto hope even when elections do not go our way. 

Now if you enjoy this podcast, you may want to check out another show called Entitled. It’s hosted by law professors Claudia Flores and Tom Ginsburg. That’s the same Tom Ginsburg who wrote a response to today’s guest Jason Brownlee. Tom was also a past guest on the show. The podcast Entitled focuses on human rights. It’s about why rights matter and what’s the matter with rights. It’s a fascinating show that’s incredibly well-produced. So, definitely check it out. But for now… Here is my conversation with Jason Brownlee…


Jason Brownlee, welcome to the Democracy Paradox.

Jason Brownlee

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you.


So, Jason I was really impressed with the two papers that you submitted to the Journal of Democracy, “Why Democracies Survive” and “A Quiet Consensus.” The first one sparked quite a bit of debate. It had quite a bit of response from some very profound scholars like Yascha Mounk, Tom Ginsburg, Nancy Bermeo and others. It’s a fascinating article that I think at its core, one of the big themes, was really about democratic resilience. You bring up a fascinating point in the paper where you write, “The 2010s began with 116 electoral democracies in the world according to Freedom House and ended with 115.” It’s a statistic that took me by surprise and runs against the grain of what many of us assume when we’re reading these reports on democracy. So, I’d like to start by asking, is the democratic recession, is that something that’s a real phenomenon?

Jason Brownlee

Well, I think if people are looking at the qualitative shifts within procedural democracies, they can find evidence of a coarsening or degradation in the institutional quality in democracies, although I think even that has been going on for a while. In terms of the number of cases that are still meeting the threshold or meeting the standard for procedural democracy, we are not seeing a recession. We are not seeing a democratic recession in that respect and we are not seeing a reverse wave in Huntington’s formula. Back in 1999 when Pakistan had a coup, Larry Diamond had an essay asking, ‘Is this the start of a third reverse wave?’ I think looking back it was not.

But as you say, with those statistics in any given decade, there is volatility. There is some fluctuation in part because people, including Freedom House, may be a little precipitous or a little too eager to call a country democratic. I mean, there were a couple of years around 2013, 2014 where Freedom House was coding Libya as an electoral democracy. So, you know, if you’re coding that sort of country, that kind of political situation as a democracy, then the number is not going to be as solid and robust and as constant as if you were really just focusing on countries that had at least three or five years under their belt where things had settled out a little bit. You’re going to get some false positives, in other words, but I don’t see evidence for a democratic recession.

Related to that, I do not see any evidence for an autocratic wave, a resurgence of authoritarianism in the sense of more governments like Vladimir Putin’s or Xi Jinping’s, or Fattah El-Sisi in Egypt. Something that we say in “A Quiet Consensus” is that we need to be careful, more careful than scholars have often been in the literature, about differentiating democracy in substantive terms from authoritarianism in substantive terms. Some data sets (I think the Variety of Democracy’s electoral democracy indicators is a prime example) basically have the two kind of conjoined or linked in which if you stop being a democracy, you become an autocracy.

V-Dem has a four-category typology of liberal democracy, electoral democracy, electoral autocracy, and then something like closed autocracy. So, if you stop being an electoral democracy and you just drop one tier, you’ve become an electoral autocracy. I think conceptually that doesn’t hold up. We know that there are countries that may no longer be electoral democracies, but there’s definitely not an autocrat in power in any serious way. Look at Haiti right now. Look at, I think, to a great extent Iraq.

These are countries that have substantial pluralism, maybe even violent expressions of pluralism and political instability. They don’t really belong in either category. But if you’re counting them as autocracies, if you count a place like Haiti or count a place like Iraq as an autocracy, then you’re going to have false positives in terms of autocracies. You’re going to see an autocratic wave where substantively the evidence doesn’t support it.


One of the problems with V-Dem’s approach that you just highlighted is it oftentimes describes some countries as autocracies that are highly debatable. A great example of that is India. They’ve described that as an electoral autocracy. I’m pretty confident that your model describes it still as an electoral democracy. I’m pretty confident Freedom House still describes it as an electoral democracy as well. What do you see as the line really between democracy and dictatorship and what is it that would fall in between the two?

Jason Brownlee

Yes, it’s a great question and I have a paper that I’m developing with Ashley Anderson from UNC Chapel Hill and Killian Clarke from Georgetown School of Foreign Service where we’re trying to look at this middle space systematically, not as just a general zone of hybrid regimes, but really substantively in terms of what it means. But let’s start with what’s on either end. In terms of substantive democracy, we have a pretty good definition of that from Schumpeter and Dahl.

In terms of substantive autocracy, I think what people have meant in the modern era is something like what Juan Linz wrote about. There is maybe some amount of pluralism, but it’s very constrained and in general there is a single faction that’s in charge, either a single faction or a single individual. That’s the operating premise of the current literature on authoritarianism from leading scholars like Barbara Geddes, Milan Svolik, Joe Wright, Erica Frantz, and others, Jennifer Gandhi. One could go on.

There’s a lot of people writing about authoritarianism and when you look at what authoritarianism means to them, these authoritarian regimes are characterized by two fundamental political problems. The first is elite factionalism, because there’s no kind of higher sovereign who will arbitrate among them when they have disputes. The second is control of the populace because there’s no meaningful, reliable mechanism for translating public preferences into government policy or state policy. So, if those are the cases that we’re interested in, and I think they are, I think those are the cases, the kinds of situations, that undergrads want to read and learn about when they take a course on dictatorship or a course on comparative authoritarianism, then we’re basically talking about single factional rule.

So, if one wants to separate the real autocracies out from the rest and think about where that line has crossed, to get back to your question, then look at where single factional rule has been established. In India, in Hungary, both of which are still considered as of the most recent Freedom House Report, as electoral democracies, we do not have single factional rule in the sense of a self-perpetuating single party regime. They’re dominant parties and they definitely work to manipulate political conditions in their favor. It’s not always a a level playing field for the opposition. They may also violate and infringe upon civil liberties. I mean, Modi in India has basically been working to sort of bump Muslims in India down to second class citizens. These are not single factional regimes, so I would not call them autocracies.

There remains a very serious prospect in the future that based on economic cycles, business cycles, or just the political winds changing that the opposition will have another opportunity to peacefully come to power and will replace the BJP and the Fidesz governments through elections. That’s quite different than the situation in Russia where I don’t think anyone reasonably expects Putin to lose an election or in Egypt as another example. So, that’s where I would draw the line. I think it’s confusing to start calling India an electoral autocracy when it’s really a procedural democracy with substantial problems in terms of civil liberties infringements.


Well, even a lot of its harshest critics like Ashutosh Varshney still says that India is going to continue to have competitive elections. It’s still democratic in that. What about competitive authoritarianism? It’s a popular term. It gets thrown around a lot. Would you say that those are effectively democracies because they still hold the prospect for electoral change?

Jason Brownlee

I think of competitive authoritarianism as a situation more than a regime type. It generally tends to be a situation where one party is enjoying a temporary political advantage over its opponents, so it has a resemblance to dominant party regimes but without the stability that Pempel and others observed in what they called uncommon democracies. Then sometimes, I guess Russia would be a case, Bangladesh right now under Sheikh Hasina would be another, you can have that dominance tip in the other direction where it really becomes a kind of lasting hegemony and you end up with authoritarianism.

So, I think of competitive authoritarianism mostly as electoral democracies with imperfect, but still quite vigorous competition. And really the tell there is in the adjective, competitive. Substantively, I’ve already said that I think of authoritarianism as single factional rule. If there’s real competition going on where the opposition can regularly get over 30% of the vote, then I don’t think it is authoritarian any longer.


One of the big claims within the paper was that wealthy democracies rarely collapse into dictatorship, autocracy, authoritarianism, or however you want to describe it. Why don’t you explain why wealthy democracies rarely have full blown democratic breakdowns?

Jason Brownlee

So, this is a pattern that’s been observed for decades. It was first reported by Seymour Martin Lipset and then later validated with some robust statistics by Adam Przeworski and his collaborators in the 1990s and in their 2000 book. The question of why wealth sustains democracy is one that leads to a number of different answers. But what we’ve seen across the world is that the processes that bring about high levels of productive industrial wealth, meaning not just oil rents. You don’t just stick a drill in the ground and then your country’s wealthy the next day. But you’ve developed industry. You’ve developed a capable workforce. There’s investment going on. These processes tend to undergird political parties that have substantial societal backing and that represent different interests in society that are then positioned to viably compete with each other in elections.

So, the wealth of a country like the United States or Great Britain or Japan, this wealth is strongly correlated with a number of other factors in this longer process of economic and social development that helps to sustain democracy. One thing that’s important to note here, the relationship is about sustaining democracy. It’s not about generating democracy. Singapore is the classic outlier here. If the case was the other way, countries that are authoritarian or already wealthy can maintain that authoritarianism. But if they manage to become democracies, if they start having multi-party competition, that’s likely to continue.


One of the thoughts in the back of my head whenever I think about this theory is that I wonder whether we really have enough data to know that this is actually true. Because when Lipset did his analysis back in 1959, I think he went back 40 some odd years and that’s quite a bit of cases, but at the same time, we’re still looking at maybe like one, depending on how you define democracy, maybe two centuries worth. I mean, it’s always possible that as we go through different historical conditions, as things change, as we see different scenarios that maybe there’s experiences and outcomes and outliers that we just don’t understand. Do you think that there’s really enough data yet to say that this is something that’s as close as we can come to a political law?

Jason Brownlee

I think that in the face of substantial concern about OECD states losing their democracies that we have the data to say how severe that threat is. There is the outlier in our article of Turkey a country that I would say at this point is authoritarian. Some could argue that it’s still somewhere in the lower bounds of electoral democracy, but we treat it as a case of democratic breakdown that’s above the historic line where democracy appeared to be self-reinforcing. Turkey, which is a member of the OECD, basically by 2016 or so, was a dominant party regime led by Erdoğan as a strong man. So, it’s not a deterministic relationship, but I think the data are quite strong. And what you pointed out in terms of data limitations… You know, a century, two centuries, that would hold for most social science claims.

So, yes. I mean, eventually the way the world operates may change. The causal relationship may change. Things may be different or maybe procedural democracy will be self-sustaining, but that’ll be moot because people might care about other things like the carbon footprint of countries or some other issue. So, I would remain pretty confident in this relationship especially again with respect to the ongoing debate about how much democracy is in crisis in the United States, in the European Union, and in peer countries.


Well, I’m definitely very interested in the idea of democracy in crisis particularly in the United States right now, because we have the midterm elections coming up and that’s become one of the themes. President Biden has spoken about it. It’s become one of the big concerns of many voters, typically who lean left, who support Democrats, but still a concern of many voters. In the paper, you tend to warn against over vigilance. I’m curious as to whether or not it’s possible that over vigilance is kind of baked into the model that democracies that are wealthy don’t break down. I mean, is it possible that it’s necessary to have some people who are overly vigilant in order for wealthy democracies not to break down?

Jason Brownlee

Well, that’s the argument that Tom Ginsberg puts forward in his reply to us. This idea that a little bit of tyrannophobia is a good thing so that people will remain on their toes. So, our response is, ‘Well, let’s be careful not to reply to hyperbole with more hyperbole. Let’s fight fire with water, not with more fire.’ I think one has to consider what the tradeoffs are, what the opportunity costs are, when we’re making these diagnoses of what the contemporary problems are in the United States and in peer countries.

If the problem is that we’re in a Weimar situation on the brink of dictatorship, that invites certain policy implications. If instead we are in the midst of an ongoing procedural democracy that’s not going to break down but has some tough economic problems that have left voters alienated and aggrieved, then that calls for a different set of remedies.

You know what you’ve pointed out about the concern that voters have regarding the state of democracy is borne out by the polling data. But the data are interesting. So, if we take the New York Times/Siena Poll from early October, I think something like 71% of the registered voters that they poll said that they thought democracy was under threat in the United States. But when they were asked what is the most important issue facing the United States, the number that said saving democracy was in the single digits. By contrast, some 43% pointed to economic issues such as inflation, jobs, unemployment, and those types of concerns.

So, I get a little bit concerned when Biden or former President Obama and then those who are kind of taking their cues from them, the Democratic party, focus on the saving democracy issue instead of the economic bread and butter issues. I’ve said in the article, I don’t think theoretically and empirically that it holds up very well. Then as a political strategy, I don’t think it’s been really moving the needle in Democrats favor either. So, I think there’s a lot of reasons to continue to be vigilant. But I mean, we’ve had plenty of articles about democracy being in crisis. We get like one every four weeks from the New York Times typically citing V-Dem data, by the way, which we’ve already problematized earlier in this interview.

So, I think it’s time for a correction in the other direction, to listen to what voters are saying, and think about why it appears in a couple weeks from now in early November, that they’re going to give Democrats such a shellacking after what in many respects could be looked at as a pretty decent year of performance for Biden given the structural constraints that he’s been under.


Now one of the concerns that many people have is not about democratic breakdown, but when they say that they’re concerned about the health of democracy, whether it’s in the United States or other countries, is really more about democratic backsliding. Many assume that the backsliding could lead to breakdown.

But one of the insights in the paper that you wrote that just caught me completely by surprise… Here, I’ll just read the quote. You write, “Stretching from just after the Second World War to the beginning of our current century, cases of democratic breakdown without democratic backsliding also outnumbered the handful of cases of breakdown and backsliding by nine to one.” It just blew my mind that most of the time, in fact the vast majority of times, democratic backsliding does not lead to breakdown. And not only that, but oftentimes democratic breakdown doesn’t involve any backsliding. Why is there so little connection between the two?

Jason Brownlee

So, the way to think about democratic backsliding that we recommend is political cycles in which institutions or institutional performance may decline and then recover. So, you can think of that like a sine wave going up and down over a period of years. Now, if you’re in the trough, it could definitely feel like things are headed in a bad direction. But just like with economic business cycles, there’s likely a recovery just around the corner.

We don’t gain say that or minimize the damage that could be done during such a period, but we do think that those ups and downs with respect to institutional decline and recovery are, as you’re pointing out with the data, distinct from the question of democratic breakdown where, generally speaking, you’re either going to have a military junta take power or a civilian executive engage in some type of slow motion or rapid autogolpe, self-coup. So, in that respect, they are different. They’ve been linked in our minds. We have this association that, ‘Oh, backsliding. Things are getting worse. If they just keep getting worse, then we’ll go off the edge and we’ll end up in autocracy.’ But when you look around at the cases, zoom out from the contemporary period, we see that no, actually recovery is much more likely than breakdown. That’s the modal path for backsliding.


You mentioned Turkey earlier. I want to come back to it because it’s a clear exception in your model. In fact, I think the number that you gave for the line that kind of allows democracies to consolidate just because of pure economic conditions is around $15,000 to $17,000 purchasing power parity. Turkey was at about $27,000. So, it was significantly above the line and when you graphed it out, it was a clear outlier. Why did Turkey collapse? What brought it about even though it was a wealthy democracy at the time?

Jason Brownlee

Well, in a way, Turkey is the case that people are treating as typical, as evidence of a trend. So, we hope the one thing our article can do is to show people that Turkey is Turkey. The evidence for this catching on in other countries either replicating it through the intentional acts of the incumbents or through some other processes is not there. We just don’t see other countries so far going in the way the Turkey did. Why did it happen in Turkey in particular? I would encourage listeners to look for great work that’s done by specialists on the country.

My own more casual observation would be that Erdoğan, unlike other leaders who were really kind of pushing the red lines of the Turkish system, managed to avoid a coup and really undermine the power of the military. Then beyond that was then able to consolidate power really around himself with the help of his party. He may have been helped by the 2010s. He may have substantially been helped by the regional instability that was brought about after the Arab uprisings and the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War. So, there is an exogenous international element there that allowed him at some points when he was facing close elections to play up a nationalist element, an anti-Kurdish element. I think that may have been one of the contributing factors.

But if we think about these variables that I’m listing off like a combination of luck, political savvy to out-maneuver the military and a regional environment that was conducive to authoritarianism, these basically allowed him to buck the trend to break away from the pack of other wealthy democracies and consolidate his own rule.


One of the things that stands out to me about Turkey was the fact that the opposition used undemocratic means to try to preserve democracy through trying to stage a coup against Erdoğan. Because that really feels like that was the turning point from being something that was just an unhealthy situation or severe democratic backsliding, into an outright democratic breakdown eventually. Another example that comes to mind that was very similar is Venezuela where the opposition, again, tried to stage a coup against Hugo Chávez that was unsuccessful. I was surprised Venezuela wasn’t on your list of countries that were above the threshold, because you have it listed as a breakdown in 2008 and according to the World Bank, the income that year was about $17,740. I would’ve thought it’d be above the threshold. Are you discounting it because it was heavily oil dependent?

Jason Brownlee

Yeah, it gets dropped from our graph on 137 because of oil wealth. I think also if we are going by the dataset we use for breakdown cases, Russia is removed as well for a similar reason. So, yeah, that’s why Venezuela doesn’t feature, because oil wealth has different properties. Now it is reasonable to include it when we’re talking about breakdown from backsliding because that’s based on a different analysis. Same thing for Russia, but Venezuela is a very important case like Turkey. Oil wealth has been associated with more top-heavy government, more state control. So, for that reason the prospect of consolidating power in one person or one party has always been greater. But it is true that for decades, Venezuela was this stable two-party democracy in Latin America despite its oil wealth. Then that ended under Chávez and Maduro.


The thing that was amazing about Venezuela is that it preserved its democracy throughout a period of democratic breakdown back in the 60s and early 70s before the third wave of democratization got started. I think it dates its democracy back to 1958 and really had what most people thought was a consolidated democracy in the midst of so many dictatorships in Latin America. But it’s also a great example of how extreme wealth inequality can disrupt economic growth within countries. How do you think that inequality, especially growing inequality, or even economic decline in the future could affect the model that Lipset provided for us that high income, wealthy democracies rarely collapse?

Jason Brownlee

Well, I think inequality, which has been with us for decades now is definitely having an effect on partisanship and on the alignment of voters with the different parties. I think inequality goes a long way toward explaining the rise of the right-wing populists like Orbán or Meloni in Italy. However, I would say in the current era, we tend to see rotation of power going on between mainstream centrists and then these extremist populists, especially on the right-wing. That’s where I really see inequality playing out – not so much in bringing about a shift to authoritarianism, but shifting the space of debate rightward. Like for example what we saw a month or so ago in Sweden with the Sweden Democrats becoming a partner in the ruling coalition and displacing a coalition led by the Social Democrats. It’s similar to what we’ve seen in Hungary, Serbia, and other cases.

So, that’s what I see happening with inequality. You have low income voters who have experienced since the 1970s, a sharp decline in their real income and a divergence between the levels of productivity and economic growth as you’re pointing out and then their living conditions and their opportunities for social mobility. So, historically and just logically you would think, ‘Okay, well they’re going to vote for kind of the center, maybe center-left.’ But instead they get alienated and they see the center left and the center right as the architects of their predicament of heavy debt that they’re having to bear and having difficulty repaying because of the stagnation in their income.

So, instead, they’ll turn to figures like Trump or Bolsonaro or Orbán who can promise them first off just kind of an anti-establishment jolt of dopamine to go after the people in the system that they can blame for their woes. But then also in many of these cases you see a welfare chauvinism where state benefits and services that can help out low income citizens are targeted along some type of descriptive identity lines, so that while basically having still a pro-business policy platform, these right wing populists can deliver some material benefits, material goods and services to their constituents in particular without offering some universal benefits to everyone in general.


So, perhaps the most forceful critique of the papers from any of the writers or really any of the listeners, is probably going to be that just because democracies don’t completely break down doesn’t mean that there’s not a real concern. Stephan Haggard and Robert Kaufman are some of the most prolific scholars on this subject and they didn’t write one of the articles that critiqued your piece, but in their recent book on backsliding they write, “Barely surviving as a liberal democracy should not be considered an accomplishment, but rather a reminder of the risks that face both liberal and electoral democracies.” What’s your response to the idea that maybe you’re setting the bar too low?

Jason Brownlee

Well, I think this is great that people are having these discussions. I think the bar has been set low in political science with a procedural minimal definition. I think we should be clear about what is happening. The way that bar has been set the 2020s are not a repeat of the interwar period and that the basic stability of electoral democracies in the advanced economies remains very sound and remains very strong. What I think people are noticing, and again, I would come back to work by Paul Cammack, Thomas Ferguson, and others who have been skeptical of the procedural definition, is that minimal democracy may no longer be enough or we should be aiming higher. We should be thinking about these other issues such as economic inequality.

Then related to the question of political inequality or government non-responsiveness to ordinary citizens that’s been highlighted in books by Larry Bartels, Marty Gilens, and others. So, that’s kind of what I would say in response to Haggard and Kaufman and others. Yes. Let’s talk about the failings of democracy in the United States and similar countries. But in order to do that, we really need to approach it from a question of government responsiveness and policy performance rather than through the paradigm of comparative regime studies where we’re thinking in terms of democracy moving into dictatorship.

I don’t think the 71% of the Times/Siena poll respondents who said that democracy is under threat were necessarily thinking about dictatorship. I think they’re thinking about, ‘Hey, I vote and I vote, but my living conditions seem to get worse election cycle after election cycle. It doesn’t change. There doesn’t seem to be much material improvement for me no matter who’s president.’ So, there’s a frustration with government failing to perform and that’s definitely a conversation that political scientists should be having. It’s one that I look forward to addressing in future work.

One of the things we say right at the end of “A Quiet Consensus” is if we set aside the language about authoritarianism or calling these right-wing populists crypto-autocrats, then we can really get into thinking about why the mainstream, why the centrist candidates are losing competitive elections Why are there voters going elsewhere? So, I think that’s the challenge. To really start explaining why centrists are struggling in democracies that are otherwise continuing.


Coming up in a few days is the American midterm elections and a lot of the listeners are American. I’m sure that they’ve got a lot of concerns about democracy in the United States. And like we’ve said on the podcast already, one of the themes of the election, particularly from Democrats, is that democracy is on the ballot. I’m not going to ask you how people should vote or whether people should vote one way or the other, but how concerned should Americans be about threats to democracy in these midterms? Should they actually be concerned about voting for particular candidates? Should they be concerned that if certain parties or certain candidates get elected that democracy would be at a greater threat? How should Americans be thinking about this as they go to vote?

Jason Brownlee

I think one important number to keep in mind here on this question of how concerned they should be, as we said earlier, is 71% of Americans are concerned about democracy. And apparently that number, roughly 71%, holds for both parties. So, if listeners are concerned about democracy, they can expect that there’s someone from the other party who’s also concerned about democracy from a different perspective. So, in that regard, I would say just be aware that there’s a generalized concern. It’s not that one party has a monopoly on this issue. I think electorally, it’s not great politics to emphasize this because Republicans can turn out thinking about saving democracy just as easily as Democrats can turn out.

So, when Biden gives a speech on democracy that’s not necessarily pulling independent voters over to vote for Democratic candidates. With respect to the granular level, which is, I think, something that your question is getting at, in terms of election irregularities or problems with vote counts or voter suppression, those kinds of issues is going to vary tremendously by locality. We really just have to wait and see what happens. I’ve heard stories about some areas where it looks like it’s very politicized, but I’m cautious about generalizing from anecdotes and hypotheticals. But I would say the United States has had decades of elections. In many cases, there have been irregularities. There’s been uncertainty. There’s been accusations of manipulation.

I think generally speaking, this year’s elections will be somewhere in the middle of the bell curve distribution of the quality of our elections. I’m not expecting a dramatic outlier and generally with respect to voting including voting choices and all that, I think that’s a very individual decision and I would again refer back to what the public opinion data are telling us. Democracy is not really on the ballot in the sense that I think most people are approaching the ballot thinking about gas prices, grocery prices, how they’re going to pay off their debt, whether they can afford to put their kids through college, that kind of thing. So, bread and butter or kitchen table issues. I think those are on the ballot much more prominently than democracy.


Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Jason. I think that this is a really important conversation as Americans are about to go to elections. I want to emphasize the two articles that we mentioned before. They’re by yourself and co-written with Kenny Miao. It’s “Why Democracies Survive” and “A Quiet Consensus.” They’re part of what the Journal of Democracy describes as a debate with a lot of very prominent scholars of democracy that weigh in on the conversation. So go check that out. Thank you once again Jason, thanks for writing those pieces, and thanks for joining me today.

Jason Brownlee

Yeah, thanks Justin. I enjoyed it.

Key Links

Why Democracies Survive” by Jason Brownlee and Kenny Miao in the recent Journal of Democracy

A Quiet Consensus” by Jason Brownlee and Kenny Miao in the recent Journal of Democracy

Learn more about Jason Brownlee

Democracy Paradox Podcast

Michael Coppedge on Why Democracies Emerge, Why They Decline, and Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem)

Sarah Repucci from Freedom House with an Update on Freedom in the World

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