The Tobin Project launched the Institutions of Democracy initiative as one of our earliest research inquiries to examine the formal and informal structures, practices, and values that shape American democracy. In June 2007, Tobin convened a working group on democracy and asked each participant to prepare a focused idea for improving election policy in the United States. Heather Gerken (Yale Law School), an early leader of the initiative, suggested a “democracy index,” which would rank states by the performance of their elections systems. Since that meeting, Heather’s proposal has expanded into a large research project, an award-winning book, and tangible policy reform.

This early working group continued to contribute important new research and helped the Tobin Project refine our model for conducting meetings and inquiries. From these discussions, a central research question emerged: how can current safeguards, intended to assure the integrity of the electoral process, evolve to meet the challenges posed by national developments such as changing demographics, economic inequality, and the growing scale of campaign funding?

To begin to address this question, the Tobin Project hosted a 2009 conference with the American Law Institute, convening an interdisciplinary group of leading scholars and policymakers, including senior state officials, state and federal judges, and the general counsels for both John McCain’s and Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaigns. The research generated by this conference culminated in a volume, Race, Reform, and Regulation of the Electoral Process: Recurring Puzzles in American Democracy, edited by Guy-Uriel Charles (Duke Law School), Heather Gerken, and Michael Kang (Emory Law School) and published by Cambridge University Press in 2011.

Inspired by this project on the election process, Tobin is currently pursuing a broader inquiry on the factors that have contributed to a thriving democracy. Our inquiry on the History of American Democracy strives to further understanding of the broad array of institutions that have influenced collective decision making throughout American history, with the ultimate aim of equipping policymakers and the public to more adequately address the challenges democracies face today. Tobin’s 2017 volume, Corporations and American Democracy, represents an important early step in this effort and charts the evolving role of corporations in American politics from the Founding Era to the multinational corporations of today.