Joep van Lit

I am doctoral researcher at the Department of Political Science, Radboud University Nijmegen. My research focusses on democratic defence and autocratization processes.

Doctoral Researcher

at the Department of Political Science, Radboud University, Nijmegen

Junior Lecturer

at the Department of Political Science, Radboud University, Nijmegen

Visiting Researcher

at the Varieties of Democracy Institute, University of Gothenburg, Sweden (2023)

Recent publications

Joep van Lit, Carolien van Ham and Maurits J. Meijers (Democratization). Countering Autocratization: A Roadmap for Democratic Defence

Many democracies around the world face the challenge of democratic recession and autocratization as democratically elected incumbents increasingly show autocratic tendencies. Existing research has mainly focused on the circumstances under which these autocratizing incumbents erode democracy and on the structural factors explaining the resilience of democratic institutions. Much less is known about the actors within those institutions and when they stand up against the autocratizing incumbent to defend democracy. In this paper, we present a novel theoretical framework of democratic defence that focuses on the interaction between the incumbent, institutional elites, and citizens. Developing a two-level model of democratic defence, we show how the democratic defender’s personal interests, repression by the incumbent, the perceived ambiguity of the autocratic action, and the perceived credibility of the democratic defender interact to affect the occurrence of democratic defence. The resulting framework can guide future research on the role of specific actors in defending democracy. We demonstrate the utility of our framework with illustrative case studies of (attempted) democratic defence in Senegal (2011-2012) and Poland (2017-2018). An actor-based approach of democratic defence is crucial to understand what actions domestic and international actors can take to prevent (further) democratic recession.

Read the paper (open access)PDF (Open Access)


The PhD project Turning the Tide examines under which circumstances elites and citizens stand up to defend democracy.

As a PhD candidate in Empirical Political Science, I am studying the role of democratic institutions and pro-democracy actors when democracy is threatened from the inside out (by democratically elected leaders). My research focuses on how democratic countries can effectively respond to challenges such as autocratization initiated by democratically elected leaders. Incumbent autocratizers do not always overtly manipulate elections. Instead, they covertly undermine the democratic process through small, incremental changes. Pro-democratic actors have a hard time to criticize this and defend democracy, when the challenges to democracy are so covert, ambiguous, incremental, and implementend by incumbents who have a democratic mandate.

Through a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, I aim to contribute to a deeper understanding of the factors that shape democratic resilience and the ways in which democratic societies can safeguard their security and stability.

Survey design

Case studies

Experimental design


Joep van Lit is researcher and PhD Candidate at the Department of Political Science, Radboud University Nijmegen. His PhD thesis, under the supervision of prof. dr. Carolien van Ham and dr. Maurits Meijers, investigates under which circumstances elites and citizens take up the defence of democracy – specifically when the erosion of democracy is being led by the democratically elected incumbent.

Next to his research, Joep is junior lecturer in the bachelor and the master Political Science at Radboud University. Currently, he teaches classes on academic skills and advanced research methods.

Joep was trained in Political Science (MSc and BSc), Public Administration (MSc), and African Studies (BA) at Leiden University, where he also worked as research and teaching assistant. In addition, he did internships at the International Institute of Social History and the Netherlands Commission for UNESCO .

Read my CV (pdf)


Roundtable on Resilient Democracy, 2023

With other experts on democracy and the Dutch political system, I informed the leaders of Dutch political parties about the threats to Dutch democracy, and how to make it more resilient, during a roundtable in parliament. Read more.


Grondfest, 2022

Grondfest is the Dutch festival for democracy, with lectures, workshops, and debates. I gave a lecture followed by a Q&A on autocratic backsliding and the challenges to democracy. Read more.

Shift Talks, 2022

Under the theme Krom! Wat is er mis met jouw rechtsstaat? we discussed the challenges to the Dutch rule of law: is backsliding like we see in Poland and Hungary possible in the Netherlands? What can we learn from the situation in Russia, the US, and elsewhere about the risks for the Dutch rule of law and democracy? Read more.

Shift Talks 2022

Photography: Super Formosa Photography