Image Credit: “2014 U.S. Capitol Scaffolding” by Farragutful, licensed under CC BY 4.0


The U.S. system, with its complex array of checks and balances, usually requires broad consensus to function. But this consensus rarely emerges in this era of ideological polarization, close two-party competition, public distrust, and hyperpartisanship. Meanwhile, policy challenges continue to mount, amidst growing economic, social, and political inequalities.

The working group on Institutions addresses concerns about the performance and legitimacy of representative political institutions. The group operates under two assumptions: first, polarized parties are a fact of life, given the long evolutionary processes that have ideologically sorted the parties and that have finally brought U.S. parties into alignment with those in other advanced democracies. Second, major constitutional reform altering the U.S. system will not be forthcoming. If these two assumptions are correct, what does this mean for policymaking, federalism, and the functioning of American governmental institutions? 

The working group on Institutions produced the first volume in the Anxieties of Democracy book series, published with Cambridge University Press. “Can America Govern Itself?” (release date June 2019) brings together a diverse group of distinguished scholars to analyze how rising party polarization and economic inequality have affected the performance of American governing institutions.

In collaboration with the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford University, this group also organized a January 2019 conference on “Political Institutions and Challenges to Democracy: America in Comparative Perspective“, which brought together political scientists from comparative politics and American politics to exchange perspectives regarding the role of institutions in times of challenges to democracy.

The group is chaired by Professor Frances Lee and Professor Nolan McCarty.

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Working Group Co-chairs

Frances Lee
Professor of Government and Politics, University of Maryland

Nolan McCarty
Susan Dod Brown Professor of Politics and Public Affairs, Princeton University

The following scholars contributed to the “The Anxieties of American Democracy” volume of the Anxieties of Democracy book series with Cambridge University Press

Kenneth Benoit (London School of Economics), Brandice Canes-Wrone (Princeton University), Anthony Chen (Northwestern University), James Curry (The University of Utah), Lee Drutman (New America Foundation), Nathan Gibson (Princeton University), Daniel Gillion (University of Pennsylvania), Matthew Grossman (Michigan State University), Peter Hanson (University of Denver), Timothy LaPira (James Madison University), Claire Leavitt (Cornell University), Suzanne Mettler (Cornell University), Kevin Munger (New York University), Gillian Metzger (Columbia University), Sam Rosenfeld (Colgate University), Daniel Scholzman (Johns Hopkins University), David Spence (University of Texas at Austin), and Arthur Spirling (New York University). 

The following contributors have also supported the mission of the working group:

Julia Azari (Marquette University), Daniel Carpenter (Harvard University), Julio Carrión (University of Delaware), Amanda Driscoll (Florida State University),  Elisabeth Gerber (University of Michigan), Noam Gidron (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Anna Grzymala-Busse (Stanford University), Sara Wallace Goodman (University of California, Irvine), Gretchen Helmke (University of Rochester), Alexander Hertel-Fernandez (Columbia University), Will Horne (Princeton University), Meg Jacobs (Princeton University), Katherine Krimmel (Barnard College), Didi Kuo (Stanford University), Jordan Kyle (Tony Blair Institute for Global Change), Noam Lupu (Venderbilt University), Jennifer McCoy (Georgia State University), Gillian Metzger (Columbia University), Robert Mickey (University of Michigan), Maria Victoria Murillo (Columbia University), Michael Nelson (Pennsylvania State University), Paul Pierson (University of California, Berkeley), David J. Samuels (University of Minnesota), Eric Schickler (University of California, Berkeley), Mark Schmitt (New America Foundation), Charles Stewart III (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Murat Somer (Koç University), Stephan Stohler (State University of New York, Albany), Lucan Ahmad Way (University of Toronto), Kurt Weyland (University of Texas, Austin).