What’s Next for American Democracy?


Despite persisting through an attempted insurrection on January 6, 2021, and high-stakes 2022 elections, the future of honest elections and effective government responsive to the majority remains at grave risk. Enemies of democracy, win or lose, continue their efforts to restrict voter access, subvert honest election administration and tabulations, and use institutional levers to undo broadly supported policies. When anti-democratic forces mobilize, nothing can be taken for granted.

That is why I helped convene a group of scholars who study and comment on trends in U.S. politics to consider the ongoing challenges that American democracy faces. Together, we authored a statement, published in Democracy, on three possible threat scenarios and ways to address them proactively, as well as if the situation deteriorates. The scenarios range from a continuation of current incremental erosions to outright authoritarian takeovers. The efforts we urge are about dealing with democratic erosion persistently, not waiting until crises strike.

We do not all see the same possibilities and have not tried to arrive at a settled consensus about which threats or remedies are primary. No one can be sure how severe threats to U.S. democracy may prove to be in coming years, so we offer these scenarios to encourage further discussion not just about what will happen, but about how to push civic democracy in positive directions. The steps we suggest are very much first thoughts—and our purpose is to invite much broader conversations about what is being done, or could be done, to cope with each threat scenario.

This is where SSN members can play a role. I encourage SSN members to contribute to the discussion by writing an OpEd on these issues for local or national media, drafting an SSN brief for dissemination to civic leaders and elected officials, or hosting an event or group discussion through your local SSN chapter.

For help editing and pitching an OpEd, you can email dominik@scholars. For help with an SSN brief, reach out to lizzy@scholars. If you're interested in putting together an event or starting a local project, reach out to your chapter leaders, you can see who they are on your local SSN chapter page here. All of these contributions will be collected and shared on this webpage for further dissemination, so please be in touch.

Theda Skocpol
SSN Director
Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology
Harvard University

Capitol Hill

What’s Next for American Democracy?

Eighteen top experts lay out our ongoing challenges, emergent threats—and how we might come together to address them.