February 28, 2023

Democracy under Threat: How the Personalization of Political Parties Undermines Democracy

Washington, February 28, 2023—Today, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) released a new report, "Democracy under Threat: How the Personalization of Political Parties Undermines Democracy," from authors Erica Frantz, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Joseph Wright, Jia Li, Carisa Nietsche, Nicholas Lokker, and Nikolai Rice.

The report draws from new research by Erica Frantz, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, and Joseph Wright (Oxford University Press, forthcoming) showing that the personalization of political parties is fueling democracy’s decline. These personalist parties, the report explains, lack the incentive and capacity to meaningfully check a leader’s efforts to expand executive power, facilitating the steady degradation of democracy we see today.

To measure personalism in democracies, Frantz, Kendall-Taylor, and Wright gathered original data on features of the political parties of democratically elected leaders around the globe in the 30 years since the end of the Cold War (amounting to 106 democracies from 1991 to 2020). These data capture the relative power balance between a political leader and his or her political party based on several indicators.

Ultimately, the authors conclude that the following actions will better position policymakers to turn the tide of democratic erosion:

  • View the elections of personalist parties, especially those parties that a leader creates, as an early indicator of democratic decline that can inform a surge of support to those countries;
  • Strengthen political parties;
  • Educate and support civil society, democracy watchdogs, and media on personalism and how to counter it;
  • Push for greater transparency in campaign financing.

Read the report for a full summary of the original research and corresponding policy recommendations.

For more information or to schedule an interview with the report authors, please contact Cameron Edinburgh at cedinburgh@cnas.org

Read the Report:

Transatlantic Security

Democracy under Threat

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