All of the Cline Center's core research projects fall under a set of four common program areas:
Democracies draw both their legitimacy and effectiveness from a politically engaged electorate. This notwithstanding, skepticism about the capacity of most citizens to perform their democratic responsibilities has always been great. Particularly noteworthy have been concerns about the health of American democracy's popular base. Despite high levels of education, literacy, and income, the vast majority of U.S. citizens remain uninterested in and unknowledgeable about politics.
The wave of democratization that spread throughout Latin American and Southern and Eastern Europe in the past 25 years was one of the 20th century's most important developments. It improved the quality of life for tens of millions of people by providing them with new freedoms and liberties, and it laid the groundwork for economic reforms, a higher standard of living, and hope for a brighter future. Recent history, however, shows that this "third wave" of democratization has slowed and that many fledgling democracies failed after only a few years of existence. Thus, hundreds of millions of people in the Middle East, East Asia, and Africa were untouched by democracy's third wave; tens of millions of others live in fragile democracies..
Democracy in the United States and other industrialized nations faces daunting challenges. These problems are rooted in the rapid pace of technological and demographic change. Responding effectively to these challenges is complicated by the forces of globalization as well as by a radical transformation of the political milieu. Many mature democracies now function within a milieu that hampers rather than facilitates the ability of government to respond to contemporary problems decisively, coherently, and in a manner consistent with democratic values.
Government is a means to pursue, through collective action, a set of ends that are essential to societal welfare. To some people government is a "necessary evil." It prevents anarchy by providing the order essential to fruitful human intercourse. Government is objectionable because it constrains liberty, which is a vital wellspring of happiness. Basic human freedoms are essential in order for individuals to maximize their talents and to realize their desires, which form the bedrock of societal welfare.