As senior vice president of democracy at GMF, Laura Thornton leads teams whose programs defend and promote democracy. She oversees the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD), through which GMF tracks and analyzes malign internal and external influence operations that target democracies worldwide and builds strategies to thwart them. Thornton also oversees GMF’s transatlantic trusts, which support civil society organizations and actors in Central and Eastern Europe, the Western Balkans, the Black Sea and Eurasia regions, Belarus, and Ukraine. The trusts bolster democratic resilience through civic education, media literacy, election monitoring, public awareness campaigns, and media and watchdog activities.

Thornton guides GMF’s global democracy initiatives to build communities of practices, share lessons, and forge transnational alliances on democratic innovation. Her research and analysis focus on authoritarianism, far-right illiberal movements, and democratic decline. She participates in numerous democracy networks and working groups as a leader and expert.


Prior to joining GMF, Thornton was director of global programs at International IDEA, a Stockholm-based intergovernmental think-and-do tank that advances democracy. She led multiple teams across Europe focused on constitution-building, parliamentary processes, elections, gender and inclusion, political parties, and democracy assessment and analysis. She managed the development of global comparative knowledge and applied research products aimed at supporting and advancing democracy worldwide, including the Global State of Democracy report and the Global Monitor on COVID-19’s impact on human rights and democracy.

Thornton served for more than 20 years in leadership positions overseas at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), working throughout Asia and the former Soviet Union. She has written extensively about political party development, political finance and corruption, elections, and disinformation, and has led multiple election observation missions worldwide. At NDI, Thornton designed public opinion research efforts, including national polls, focus groups, and experimental research designs to explore disinformation, security, geopolitics, democracy and human rights, and political developments. She is the co-author of Political Parties in Asia: Promoting Reform and Combating Corruption in Eight Countries (NDI, 2003). Thornton has a master’s degree from Princeton University and a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University.

Media Mentions

This isn't really about the law. The law is a symptom of a much greater illness. (...) This is a complete reversal of what I would say, a flip of the script, of who are our friends and who are our foes.
The Georgian Dream government’s messages, as well as actions, have revealed a move away from both the West and democracy. GD leadership knows well that embracing the democratic reforms required to join the EU family forces them to compete on a more level playing field — thus threatening their power – and therefore is drifting the country into so-called 'non-aligned' territory.
It's both a pull and a push: democracy needs to be better, but citizens also need to understand why they need to participate in democracy.
No matter where a person is in the world, I believe that in the end they want to decide their own ruler, to speak freely and not to fear for their safety.
The war in Ukraine is a good example of growing authoritarianism. Ukraine was a functioning democracy, albeit a flawed one. When Putin couldn't get the country under control otherwise, he decided to invade it. The war should serve as a reminder: if we don't defend democracy, what will happen next?
Russia uses direct lies to justify its behavior. So, if they can draw false parallels between Georgia and Ukraine and present themselves as victims, as if Georgia and Ukraine are the aggressors towards them, they will do so.
Why are people so surprised that this kind of widespread disinformation can be so effective in Russia when it was so effective here?
That is exactly why the Summit for Democracy is so important. We need to keep in mind that autocrats are having their own summits. They're exchanging lessons learned along with surveillance technology and other methods of coercion. So we really have a job ahead of us to defend our democracies.
If this occurred in any of the countries where the United States provides aid, it would immediately be called out as a threat to democracy. U.S. diplomats would be writing furious cables, and decision makers would be threatening to cut off the flow of assistance.