Research Unit
Main content

Democracy is under threat around the world. During the so-called “third wave” of democratization in the 1990s, and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many analysts and policymakers believed that authoritarianism was on the wane and that democracy had become, as the phrase commonly went in the 1990s, “the only game in town.” That era of self-confidence has passed. Not only is authoritarianism alive and well in China, Russia, Central Asia, and much of the Middle East, but democratic breakdown in Thailand and Venezuela and democratic backsliding in countries like Hungary, Brazil, Ecuador the Philippines, Poland and Turkey has triggered debates over whether we have entered a period of global democratic recession. Indeed, even established Western democracies themselves have fallen into varying degrees of crisis. With Donald Trump’s 2016 election in the United States and the rise of populist, Eurosceptic, and anti-immigrant forces in Europe, as well as signs of growing voter disaffection with democracy, some observers have begun to worry that even the world’s most established democracies may be at risk. We are faced, then, with one of the most pressing issues of our time: can liberal democracy around the world survive?

This research unit focuses on “transformations in democracy”—forward impulses of democratization, backward trends of de-democratization, and innovations in democratic institutions and practice to cope with the new pressures on democracy around the world. Three “buckets” of research together the different initiatives of the WZB “Transformations of Democracy” division.


Roxanne Bibra
Tel.: +49 30 25491-118
roxanne.bibra [at]

Reichpietschufer 50
D-10785 Berlin

Steven Levitsky, Daniel Ziblatt

How Democracies Die

Crown, 2018
ISBN 978-1-524-76293-3


Daniel Ziblatt

Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy

Cambridge University Press, 2017
ISBN 978-1-107-00162-6


Daniel Ziblatt

Structuring the State: The Formation of Italy and Germany and the Puzzle of Federalism

Princeton University Press, 2008
ISBN 978-0-691-13649-3