CLS: Preserving Democracy: By the People
Free and fair elections are the foundation of representative democracy. Explore ways we can ensure that elections continue to be free and fair in a polarized American political landscape. Please note there will be no lectures on Thursday, July 4.
Monday, July 1, 10:30 a.m. | Orchestra Hall
“Current Threats to Democracy”
Democracy is often under threat, no more so than in recent years. Anti-democratic authoritarians govern in China, Russia and formerly democratic countries such as Hungary and Venezuela. The specter of authoritarianism haunts the upcoming 2024 election in the U.S. as well.
This lecture will examine the most prominent threats to democracy. They include challenges to free and fair elections, to an independent media and to the rule of law; from militarization of the political system; and through the threat or even reality of violence from opposite partisan sides in the contest for political power.
At the core of current threats to democracy lies a high degree of political polarization in many societies, including the United States, that reduces partisan politics to a zero-sum struggle between friends and enemies.
Tuesday, July 2, 10:30 a.m. | Orchestra Hall
“Partisan Polarization in the U.S.”
In recent years, the U.S. has been mired in partisan polarization, with political party leaders and loyalists probably more adversarial than since the Civil War era.
This lecture will examine political polarization among both voters and leaders and how it has grown since the early 1990s.
Its sources will be located in the increasingly partisan echo chambers of the mass media and interpersonal discussion networks, the role of money (especially “dark” money), “selection effects” that promote extremist leaders and drive moderates out of politics, legislative districting that secures one-party dominance, deep societal divisions over ethnicity and religion, and the extremist rhetoric of campaigns and political leaders.
The effects of polarization are exacerbated by close elections and the filtering of popular votes through antimajoritarian features of the American polity such as the Electoral College, a Senate representing states rather than people, and the life-time tenure of a powerful Supreme Court.
Wednesday, July 3, 10:30 a.m. | Orchestra Hall
“Partisan Polarization Across the World”
The U.S. is not the only country that has experienced high levels of polarization in recent decades.
Drawing upon surveys conducted in more than four dozen country elections by the Comparative National Election Project (CNEP), voters in Brazil, Mozambique, South Africa and Hungary will be shown to have comparable levels of polarization to Americans.
Other countries (e.g., Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Germany), by contrast, have not regularly experienced deep polarization among voters even if their leading legislative parties are highly adversarial.
This talk will view polarization cross-nationally based on the CNEP voter surveys. It will explore its sources through, e.g., protective echo chambers of interpersonal discussants and media; leadership influence; divisions along religious, ethnic and ideological lines; and convergent party and ideological loyalties.
By comparing over two dozen countries, it also will examine whether unique features of particular elections and electoral systems (e.g., presidential vs. parliamentary, majoritarian vs. proportional) can affect polarization.
Preserving Democracy: By the People
Friday, July 5, 10:30 a.m. | Orchestra Hall