The American public’s trust in government, and especially in Congress, the central institution of representative democracy in the U.S., stands near all-time lows. In this mistrust of democratic institutions, Americans are not alone in the world. Yet they are right to worry. 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, and hyperpartisanship. Meanwhile, policy challenges continue to mount, amidst growing economic, social, and political inequalities. The Anxieties of Democracy program’s Working Group on Institutions was created to address contemporary concerns about the performance and legitimacy of representative political institutions.

Co-chaired by Professors Frances Lee (University of Maryland) and Nolan McCarty (Princeton University), this 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 institutions of government?  

Products will aim to stimulate and reorient social scientific work on government institutions, linked to the study of social movements and institutions in the United States and elsewhere.

For news and announcements about this working group and other Anxieties of Democracy program activities, please click here: @SSRCdemocracy.



Frances Lee

Professor of Government and Politics, University of Maryland

Nolan McCarty

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



Brandice Canes-Wrone

Donald E. Stokes Professor of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

Daniel Carpenter

Allie S. Freed Professor of Government, Harvard University

Anthony Chen

Associate Professor of Sociology and Political Science, Northwestern University

Elisabeth Gerber

Jack L. Walker, Jr. Professor of Public Policy, University of Michigan

Daniel Gillion

Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

Matthew Grossmann

Associate Professor of Political Science, Michigan State University

Meg Jacobs

Research Scholar, Princeton University

Suzanne Mettler

Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions, Cornell University

Gillian Metzger

Stanley H. Fuld Professor of Law, Columbia University

David J. Samuels

Distinguished McKnight University Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota

Eric Schickler

Jeffrey and Ashley McDermott Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley

Mark Schmitt

Director, Political Reform Program, New America Foundation

Arthur Spirling

Associate Professor of Politics and Data Science, New York University

Charles Stewart III

Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Image credit: “2014 United States Capitol scaffolding 03” by Farragutful [CC BY-SA 4.0]