Princeton University Press, 2022

Over the past generation, the Democratic and Republican parties have become nationally coordinated political teams. American political institutions, on the other hand, remain highly decentralized. Laboratories Against Democracy shows how national political conflicts are increasingly flowing through the subnational institutions of state level politics—with profound consequences for public policy and American democracy.

Jacob Grumbach argues that as Congress became more gridlocked, national partisan and activist groups shifted their sights to the state level, nationalizing state politics in the process. State governments, once ‘backwaters’ with little legislative capacity, became the engine of American policymaking. The nationalization of state politics had the ironic consequence of making policy more varied across states, as red states and blue states implemented increasingly distinct agendas in areas like health care, reproductive rights, and climate change. But the consequences of the nationalization of state politics don’t stop there. National groups have used state governmental authority to suppress the vote, gerrymander districts, and erode democracy. Using expansive data on state policy, public opinion, money in politics, and democratic performance, Grumbach explores whether today’s state governments are mitigating the political crises of our time—or accelerating them.

A fresh look into a profound transformation of American politics, Laboratories Against Democracy uncovers how the shift to the state level has intensified the challenges facing American democracy.

Reviews of Laboratories Against Democracy:

Lisa Miller, "Up from Federalism," Boston Review.

Jamila Michener, "How the States Went Wrong," Democracy Journal.

Timothy Callaghan, "Review of Laboratories Against Democracy: How National Parties Transformed State Politics, by Jacob M. Grumbach," Publius: The Journal of Federalism.

Coverage of Laboratories Against Democracy:

Louis Menand, "American Democracy Was Never Designed to Be Democratic," The New Yorker.

David Gutman, "UW professor outlines how states went from the laboratories of democracy to working against it," The Seattle Times.

David A. Graham, "Lessons From a Lonely, Trump-Defiant Republican," The Atlantic.

Paul Rosenberg, "How the states went nuts: Democratic backsliding in state capitals — and how to defeat it," Salon.

Media Appearances on Laboratories Against Democracy:

Majority Report with Sam Seder, August 8, 2022

NPR "All Things Considered," September 3, 2022


For papers related to this book project, see my publications and working papers.