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Democratic Decline in the United States: What Can We Learn from Middle-Income Backsliding?

  • Robert R. Kaufman and Stephan Haggard
Abstract

We explore what can be learned from authoritarian backsliding in middle income countries about the threats to American democracy posed by the election of Donald Trump. We develop some causal hunches and an empirical baseline by considering the rise of elected autocrats in Venezuela, Turkey, and Hungary. Although American political institutions may forestall a reversion to electoral autocracy, we see some striking parallels in terms of democratic dysfunction, polarization, the nature of autocratic appeals, and the processes through which autocratic incumbents sought to exploit elected office. These processes could generate a diminished democratic system in which electoral competition survives, but within a political space that is narrowed by weakened horizontal checks on executive power and rule of law.

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