Laboratories Against Democracy


Forthcoming 2022 from Princeton University Press

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.

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