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Democratic Renewal

Overview and Background

Columbia World Projects’ (CWP) research and engagement work on democratic renewal explores what sustains and ails liberal democracies around the world and how to revitalize democratic institutions that appear fragile and fraying.

By developing a comparative understanding of the trends and factors that sustain the institutions that undergird democracies, our work identifies new choices that encourage effective problem-solving and civic participation. We work in partnership with government, civic organizations, nonprofits and academic researchers in order to produce reports and develop communities of practice that advocate for and, in some cases, implement recommendations that emerge from our work. To that end, we organize working groups and initiatives (clusters of several working groups focused on a single theme). These groups meet regularly and bring together researchers, policymakers and practitioners to address pressing issues facing liberal democracies. On occasion, we organize standalone working groups to explore issues of immediate concern. Details on work underway, and plans for future activity, are below. 

Election Infrastructure 

This initiative – which gathers law faculty, political scientists, leaders from grassroots organizations and election officials – focuses on democracy in the United States, and analyzes current barriers to voting, what constitutes a healthy electoral system and how to broadly adopt good practices in service of designing a bipartisan, independent election architecture that increases voter participation and safeguards election integrity. An initial working group within this initiative seeks to assess the high variation of local practices and standards in order to identify fragilities and understand why the election system was able to withstand withering assault by elected officials who possessed enormous power and influence. The group seeks to understand what legislative, infrastructure, training and personnel moves made that possible. The initiative builds upon previous CWP explorations of grassroots voter mobilization efforts and was launched in November 2019, with a convening on models and approaches that could improve voter access and impel mobilization to foster effective change.

  • Participants’ listed affiliations are current as of June 14, 2020

    Adam Ambrogi, Democracy Fund 
    Indra Arriaga, Alaska Institute for Justice 
    Tom Asher, Columbia World Projects 
    Lonna Atkeson, University of New Mexico 
    Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Department of State
    Derek Bowens, Durham County Board of Elections 
    Richard Briffault, Columbia University 
    Alexandra Chandler, Protect Democracy 
    Brian Corley, Pasco County, Florida 
    June Cross, Columbia University
    Jared Dearing, Kentucky State Board of Elections
    Veronica Degraffenreid, Pennsylvania Department of State
    Tiana Epps-Johnson, Center for Tech and Civic Life
    Mindy Finn, Citizen Data
    Sara Gifford, ActiVote
    Joseph Gloria, Clark County, Nevada
    Jamal Greene, Columbia University
    Paul Gronke, Reed College
    Hillary Hall, National Vote at Home Institute
    Charlotte Hill, University of California, Berkeley 
    Dale Ho, ACLU
    Olatunde Johnson, Columbia University 
    Ira Katznelson, Columbia University
    Neal Kelley, Orange County, California 
    Matt Masterson, Stanford Internet Observatory
    Casey Mattox, Charles Koch Institute 
    Amber McReynolds, National Vote at Home Institute
    Gillian Metzger, Columbia University 
    Michael Miller, Barnard College
    Jennifer Morrell, Elections Group
    Brandon Newell, Democracy Works 
    Omar Parbhoo, Ideas42
    Nathanial Persily, Stanford University
    Whitney Quesenbery, Center for Civic Design 
    Brad Raffensperger, Georgia Department of State 
    Hollie Russon Gilman, Columbia World Projects
    Robert Shapiro, Columbia University 
    Melissa Smiley, Michigan Department of State
    David Stafford, Escambia County, Florida
    George Stern, Jefferson County, Colorado
    Charles Stewart III, MIT
    Michael Ting, Columbia University
    Vanessa Tucker, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
    Kim Wyman, Washington Department of State

  • Participants’ listed affiliations are current as of November 1, 2019

    Elias Alcantara, Macquarie Group
    Antonio Arellano, Jolt Action
    Emily Baum, Reboot Democracy
    Gina Belafonte,
    Donny Bridges, Center for Technology and Civic Life
    Brianna Cea, Generation Vote
    Jamie Engel, Democracy Entrepreneurs
    Bernard Fraga, Indiana University
    Archon Fung, Harvard University
    Kate Gage, Movement Cooperative
    Bernard E. Harcourt, Columbia University<
    Tequila Johnson, The Equity Alliance
    Jeremy Kessler, Columbia University
    María Teresa Kumar, Voto Latino
    Adam Seth Levine, Cornell University
    Denise Lieberman, Advancement Project
    Debra Minkoff, Columbia University  
    Lorraine Minnite, Rutgers University<
    Hollie Russon Gilman, Columbia World Projects 
    Garrett Shor, Generation Vote
    Nsé Ufot, New Georgia Project
    Clarissa Unger, Young Invincibles
    Kathleen Unger, Vote Riders
    Mike Ward, Democracy Works
    Joey Wozniak, Mile 22

Renewing Parties

This initiative, launched in December 2019, brings together political scientists, historians, legal scholars and political sociologists in working groups, each examining particular features of the party system, which  aim to map what ails political parties and offer concrete ideas for overcoming this failure of contemporary politics. 

No successful democracy can thrive without a vibrant, legitimate and effective party system. Successful political parties usually attract support from broad coalitions. Such backing helps parties in office govern effectively by addressing both fundamental long-term challenges and more immediate issues voters view as urgent priorities. Increasingly, parties can be seen to have fallen short both in building sufficiently broad coalitions and in addressing the big questions of the day. These circumstances have produced two distinct trajectories: in some countries, notably including the United States, an ever-deeper and more narrow partisanship; in others, once-dominant parties come to resemble each other more and more, opening the field to formerly peripheral and intensely populist alternatives. Each condition brings with it vexing challenges to policy formulation that require descriptive explanation and solution-minded thinking.

  • Participants’ listed affiliations are current as of December 6, 2019

    John Aldrich, Duke University
    Ruth Bloch Rubin, University of Chicago
    Jean Cohen, Columbia University
    Diana Dwyre, California State University, Chico
    Paolo Gerbaudo, King's College London
    John Huber, Columbia University
    Piero Ignazi, University of Bologna
    Robin Kolodny, Temple University
    Anne Kornhauser, The City College of New York
    Kate Krimmel, Columbia University
    Didi Kuo, Stanford University
    Matthew Lacombe,Columbia University
    Frances Lee, Princeton University
    Noam Lupu, Vanderbilt University
    Russell Muirhead, Dartmouth College
    Eric Schickler, University of California, Berkeley
    Susan Stokes, University of Chicago
    Nadia Urbinati, Columbia University
    Jonathan White, London School of Economics
    Kristin Wylie, James Madison University

Fault Lines in Indian Politics 

This working group brings together researchers and journalists to explore federalism in the world’s largest democracy. Cooperation between India’s states and its federal government will be crucial to mounting an effective response to rising challenges to Indian democratic institutions, and to addressing core concerns about the country’s governance. This working group seeks to identify and propose to policymakers and legislators means of strengthening institutional mechanisms and platforms for resolving disputes between state and federal government while also exploring the stakes of these disputes.

The group’s launch meeting was in December 2020 and built on a previous meeting in October 2019, which considered the fate of India’s constitutional democracy. 

Strategic Foresight and Collaboration Between the U.S. and Europe

This initiative emerged from a joint commitment by Klaus Welle, Secretary General of the European Parliament, and Columbia University President Emeritus Lee C. Bollinger to deepen ties between Columbia University and the European Union, and seeks to assess how these challenges are shaping the agenda for policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic over the coming decade. 

An initial meeting was held in February 2019. A second meeting, held in January 2021, brought Columbia faculty together with senior EU officials to explore pathways to a sustainable recovery from the current pandemic, with a focus on public health, democratic renewal, climate change and economic inequality. Future gatherings will explore transatlantic priorities, such as digital platform governance and how to protect both individual data and the integrity of elections.