Gretchen Helmke

Gretchen Helmke

  • Thomas H. Jackson Distinguished University Professor
  • Faculty Director of the Democracy Center

PhD, Chicago, 2000

Office Location
On leave
Web Address
Office Hours
by appointment


Fields: Helmke's research spans political institutions, judicial politics and the rule of law, informal institutions and norms, and democratic erosion in Latin America and the United States

Her research has been funded by the NSF, the SSRC, Democracy Fund, and the Hewlett Foundation. She is one of the co-founders of Bright Line Watch, a non-profit organization that brings together leading political scientists to monitor democratic practices in the United States from a comparative perspective. Her recent article, "Democracy by Deterrence: Norms, Constitutions, and Electoral Tilting" (co-authored with Mary Kroeger and Jack Paine, forthcoming, American Journal of Political Science) develops a game theoretic model that links the GOP's current advantage in playing constitutional hardball to the demographic sorting of social groups into the Democratic and Republican political parties.

Helmke's books include: Institutions on the Edge: The Origins and Consequences of Institutional Instability in Latin America (Cambridge University Press, 2017), Courts in Latin America, co-edited with Julio Rios-Figueroa (Cambridge University Press, 2011), Courts Under Constraints: Judges, Generals, and Presidents in Argentina (Cambridge University Press, 2005), and Informal Institutions and Democracy: Lessons from Latin America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), co-edited with Steven Levitsky. She has published articles in American Political Science Review, Journal of Politics, British Journal of Political Science, Journal of Law and Courts, Comparative Politics, Desarollo Economico, Annual Review of Political Science, Electoral Studies, Perspectives on Politics, American Journal of Political Science, and Quarterly Journal of Political Science.

She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago in 2000, and holds a B.A. (1993) and an M.A. (1994) in Political Science, both from the University of California at Berkeley. In the past, Helmke was a Visiting Fellow at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame, a Harvard Academy Scholar at the Weatherhead Center for International and Area Studies at Harvard University, and a Visiting Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She served as the Chair of the Political Science Department from 2011 to 2016.

Courses taught