Democracy at Risk

How Political Choices Undermine Citizen Participation, and What We Can Do About It

Voter turnout was unusually high in the 2004 U.S. presidential election. At first glance, that level of participation—largely spurred by war in Iraq and a burgeoning culture war at home—might look like vindication of democracy. If the recent past is any indication, however, too many Americans will soon return to apathy and inactivity. Clearly, all is not well in our civic life. Citizens are participating in public affairs too infrequently, too unequally, and in too few venues to develop and sustain a robust democracy. This important new book explores the problem of America's decreasing involvement in its own affairs.

Democracy at Risk reveals the dangers of civic disengagement for the future of representative democracy. The authors, all eminent scholars, undertake three main tasks: documenting recent trends in civic engagement, exploring the influence that the design of political institutions and public policies have had on those trends, and recommending steps that will increase the amount and quality of civic engagement in America. The authors focus their attention on three key areas: the electoral process, including elections and the way people get involved; the impact of location, including demographic shifts and changing development patterns; and the critical role of nonprofit organizations and voluntary associations, including the philanthropy that help keep them going.

This important project, initially sponsored by the American Political Science Association, tests the proposition that social science has useful insights on the state of our democratic life. Most importantly, it charts a course for reinvigorating civic participation in the world's oldest democracy.

The authors: Stephen Macedo (Princeton University), Yvette Alex-Assensoh (Indiana University), Jeffrey M. Berry (Tufts), Michael Brintnall (American Political Science Association), David E. Campbell (Notre Dame), Luis Ricardo Fraga (Stanford), Archon Fung (Harvard), William A. Galston (University of Maryland), Christopher F. Karpowitz (Princeton), Margaret Levi (University of Washington), Meira Levinson (Radcliffe Institute), Keena Lipsitz (California-Berkeley), Richard G. Niemi (University of Rochester), Robert D. Putnam (Harvard), Wendy M. Rahn (University of Minnesota), Rob Reich (Stanford), Robert R. Rodgers (Princeton), Todd Swanstrom (Saint Louis University), and Katherine Cramer Walsh (University of Wisconsin).