We must strengthen
democracy and fight
autocracy—at home
and abroad.

The roles and relations of nations are undergoing a significant realignment. Democracy is confronting threats around the world, and even the most advanced democratic societies are facing new stresses—political gridlock, polarization, and a loss of faith in civic institutions. This increases the urgency to address the competition between democracy and autocracy and to demonstrate that the democratic system can still function in a much more complicated world.

RAND will help secure the future by finding new ways and better policies to bolster democracy’s strength, appeal, and success.

Key themes for this priority


In the last 20 years, China’s military and industrial strength has increased dramatically, as has its regional and global ambition. Managing a relationship with China that can support competition without catastrophe will be among the greatest challenges of this century. RAND needs to make a generational investment in understanding China, comparable to RAND’s historical investment in understanding the Soviet Union. We need the same level of technical depth now in order to understand China’s political, military, and economic plans and capabilities.


Political polarization within many democracies is at an all-time high, causing policy paralysis at national and international levels, and eroding the norms of trust and compromise that underlie democratic governance. Polarization has been attributed to a range of trends, but the magnitude of causes and effects is not well understood. RAND led the way in identifying Truth Decay—the diminishing role of facts and analysis in public life—as a threat to democratic governance. We should lead the way in studying political polarization, its long-term implications for global democracies, and approaches to counteract it.


A changing world order calls for reassessing and reimagining the foundations on which the United States’ posture toward other nations is built. We need a new strategy to address the global rise of authoritarian approaches and antidemocratic narratives, while also defending against national assaults on America’s political system, violent extremism, and efforts to discredit and subvert the democratic process.


Democracy is threatened by those who employ techniques of manipulation and deception to undermine faith in elections, institutions, and information. RAND has characterized Russia’s approach to propaganda as “the firehose of falsehood” because of two distinctive features: high numbers of channels and messages and a willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions. As a frequent target, the United States needs to defend against false narratives meant to confuse audiences in the U.S. and other free societies.