American Democracy and the Crisis of Majority Rule

What happens when a government begins to restrict voting, violent threats are made against election workers, and an incumbent tries to overturn an election result?

According to the international organization Freedom House, such efforts lower your country’s score on the global freedom index, which measures the strength of your democracy. A decade ago, the U.S. scored 94 out of 100 points on the freedom index. Today, that score has fallen to 83, putting it on par with Romania and Mongolia and two points below Argentina.

Harvard Professor Daniel Ziblatt uses the freedom index as a starting point for his talk at the UC Berkeley Jefferson Memorial Lecture on the current crisis of American democracy.

“Unique among a cluster of (rich, old) countries, only the U.S. is experiencing democratic backsliding in recent years,” according to Ziblatt, co-author of “How Democracies Die.”

Ziblatt states that the two core pillars of America’s liberal democracy are collective (i.e., majority) self-rule and civil liberties (i.e., minority rights).

However, the primary reason the U.S. is alone in experiencing a degradation of our democracy is “a growing misalignment of our political institutions that protect political majorities and minorities that make our democracy more vulnerable.”

Examples include the Electoral College, which allows the loser of the popular vote to win the presidency; a severely malapportioned Senate that provides equal representation to states regardless of population; a Senate filibuster that allows a minority to permanently block legislation supported by a majority; and a powerful Supreme Court with lifetime tenure.

Watch American Democracy and the Crisis of Majority Rule.