Working Paper Series

Launched in summer 2022, the Faculty Affiliate Working Group meets monthly to share and discuss their research on democracy.  Browse the features below to read their work in progress.

When Strong Institutions Undermine Strong Democracies

Gretchen Helmke and Jack Paine

This brief essay describes a new type of regime change in which strong institutions undermine strong democracies. Although scholars and pundits have begun to recognize the variety of ways in which constitutions can be weaponized to hollow out democracy, the process has not been adequately conceptualized, nor well theorized. In our view, constitutions may not only permit backsliding, they can incite it. Strong institutions can unravel seemingly strong democracies. When institutions are designed to solve one problem but persist even after circumstances change, new actors who benefit from specific provisions can weaponize the old rules. Democratic erosion occurs not in spite of institutional strength, but because of it. Read the paper here.

The Effect of Local News on Political Knowledge

Scott Abramson and Sergio Montero

The quality of democratic representation is often thought to be predicated upon a robust fourth estate. In many models, this operates through political knowledge: the news media provides voters information about the identity and performance of elected officials, which voters use to hold them accountable. Under weak monotonicity assumptions, we nonparametrically identify sharp bounds for the effect of local news availability on voters' general political knowledge, accounting for knowledge spillovers due to social interactions. We show that increasing the number of local news sources unambiguously improves voters' factual knowledge about incumbent politicians. Furthermore, we show this is not specific to a media type, finding qualitatively and quantitatively similar results concerning the competitiveness of local television and local print news markets.