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In conversation with SSRC president Alondra Nelson and Anxieties of Democracy program Advisory Committee co-chairs John Ferejohn (New York University) and Deborah Yashar (Princeton University)

Watch the Roundtable

About the Roundtable

The stresses and strains on US democracy, building over decades, have reached an apex with the upcoming presidential election in ways that are unprecedented and daunting. Real fears of voter suppression, unfounded suspicions of voter fraud, and the effects of disinformation hover over November 3, 2020. Genuine uncertainty characterizes what may follow. Will the results be accepted? Will a transition be orderly if the incumbent loses?

In recent years, the SSRC Anxieties of Democracy program has been preoccupied with the long-term fracturing of the democratic status quo, and what can be done to both secure and deepen democracy in ways that serve the public good. This roundtable brings into conversation three experts who bring diverse historical, structural, and comparative perspectives on democratic anxieties in the United States and elsewhere, as well as keen insight into the moment we are now experiencing. Professors Han, Levitsky, and Pildes will give “lightning talks” on electoral and constitutional law, social mobilization and political participation, and how the current American electoral maelstrom looks in light of the fragility of democracies around the globe. Following initial questions to the panelists from AOD advisory committee co-chairs John Ferejohn and Deborah Yashar, SSRC President Alondra Nelson will then moderate a discussion on which anxieties most deserve our focus, and what might be done to strengthen American democracy in the immediate and long-term aftermath of November 3, 2020.


Hahrie Han
Professor of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
Hahrie Han is the inaugural director of the SNF Agora Institute, a professor of political science, and faculty director of the P3 Research Lab at Johns Hopkins University. She specializes in the study of organizing, movements, civic engagement, and democracy. Her newest book will be published by the University of Chicago Press in the fall of 2020, entitled Prisms of the People: Power and Organizing in 21st Century America. She has previously published three books: How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century, Groundbreakers: How Obama's 2.2 Million Volunteers Transformed Campaigning in America, and Moved to Action: Motivation, Participation, and Inequality in American Politics. Her award-winning work has been published in the American Political Science Review, American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, and numerous other outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and elsewhere.
Steven Levitsky
Professor of Government, Harvard University
Steven Levitsky is David Rockefeller Professor of Latin American Studies and professor of government at Harvard University. He currently serves as director of Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. His research focuses on democratization and authoritarianism, political parties, and weak and informal institutions, with a regional focus on in Latin America. He is coauthor (with Daniel Ziblatt) of How Democracies Die, which was a New York Times Best-Seller and has been published in 22 languages. He is also author of Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America: Argentine Peronism in Comparative Perspective and coauthor (with Lucan Way) of Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War and (with Daniel Brinks and María Victoria Murillo) Understanding Institutional Weakness: Power and Design in Latin American Institutions. He is coeditor of several volumes, including, most recently, The Politics of Institutional Weakness in Latin America and The Inclusionary Turn: Democracy and Citizenship in Latin America. Levitsky has also written for the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Vox, The New Republic, The Monkey Cage, La República (Peru), and Folha Do Sao Paulo (Brazil).
Richard Pildes
Sudler Family Professor of Constitutional Law, New York University
Richard H. Pildes is the Sudler Family Professor of Constitutional Law at NYU School of Law. He is one of the country’s leading experts on legal aspects of American democracy, elections, and government. An elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Law Institute, Professor Pildes also has been honored as a Guggenheim Fellow and a Carnegie Scholar. His two textbooks, The Law of Democracy and When Elections Go Bad, created the “the law of democracy” as a field of study in law schools around the world. He has published more than 70 academic articles and has successfully argued voting-rights cases before the Supreme Court. Professor Pildes has taught at Harvard, Yale, Chicago, and Michigan law schools, in addition to his current position. He graduated Harvard Law School magna cum laude and Princeton University summa cum laude, and was a law clerk at the Supreme Court to Justice Thurgood Marshall.