Comparing America: Reflections on Democracy across Subfields

Is America in a period of democratic decline? I argue that there is an urgent need to consider the United States in comparative perspective, and that doing so is necessary to contextualize and understand the quality of American democracy. I describe two approaches to comparing the United States: the first shows how the United States stacks up to other countries, while the second uses the theories and tools of comparative politics to examine relationships between institutions, actors, and democratic outcomes. I then draw on research in three literatures—clientelism and corruption, capitalism and redistribution, and race and ethnic politics and American Political Development—to lay out a research agenda for closing the gap between the subfields of American and comparative politics. In doing so, I also argue for richer engagement between academics and the public sphere, as opportunities for scholars to provide commentary and analysis about contemporary politics continue to expand.