Evolution of Democratic Ideas


The main premise of this research pillar is that the rise of democracy over the last two centuries was an ideational as well as institutional paradigm shift. The concept of 'democracy' was historically a pejorative term – equated with mob rule – in mainstream political discourse in the early nineteenth century. Today, to call something democratic is to bestow upon it the highest form of political legitimacy. How, when and why did this shift in discourse occur? Research in this area uses a variety of methods including statistical text analysis trace the ideational development of democracy across a range of democracies (e.g. Britain, the United States, France, Germany). For example, we investigate how German and British Members of Parliament in the 19th century talk about democracy, showing how and when MPS became gradually more positive in their usage of 'democracy' over the course of the nineteenth century and how the idea transformed from a dangerous into a popular.  A second face of this research program will be investigate recent innovations and changes in how citizens and political elites conceive of—and justify—democracy.


"What is Democracy (To You)? Understanding Democratic Reasoning Across Partisan Divides"
Researchers: Sebastian Hellmeier, Vanessa Boese, Daniel Ziblatt

Project on Change of ‘Meaning’ of Democracy in historical German MP speeches (1871-Present)
Researchers: Aditya Dasgupta (University of California, Merced), Fabio Ellger 

Project on Change of Meaning of democracy in candidate manifestos in Britain (1832-Present)
Researchers: Aditya Dasgupta (University of California, Merced), Fabio Ellger 

Project Management
December 2021 - September 2025