Top Influential Think Tanks
Whether you’re aware of it or not, think tanks have influenced your life and worldview by advancing policy measures in government, by shaping the media you consume, and even by inventing language that you use. Our list covers 50 highly influential think tanks in the world today. As active global citizens, it’s important to better understand who these organizations are, and how they’re influencing the world around us.
Often opinionated and even contentious, think tanks are a fixture of modern politics and public policy around the globe. Though focused intellectual groups have played an influential role in governance for centuries (royal courts, elite societies, and business clubs, for example), think tanks are a distinctly 20th century invention. The word itself comes from WWII military jargon, and, after being adopted and redefined over the years, has been retroactively applied to numerous pre-WWII institutions.
What is a think tank?
Think tanks are interest groups that pursue research and analysis to advance a set of values or ideas, often through political action and policy change, as well as through cultural and social influence. Some are truly non-partisan, while others self-identify as non-partisan (despite evidence to the contrary), and others still are proudly liberal, conservative, socialist, and even sometimes fascist. A number of prominent think tanks have been designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, though this designation makes them no less influential. Some focus on domestic policy and some on foreign policy; some pursue free market capitalism and small-government while others argue for increased taxes and social welfare; others too debate evolution, or monitor the growth of liberation movements in foreign countries. They wield influence by publishing reports and books, developing research tools, running media campaigns, holding events and conferences, direct lobbying action, and enlisting high-ranking and well-connected members. Some are broadly transparent about their sources of funding and support, while others are quite guarded about this information.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, think tanks have influenced your life and worldview. They do this through policy measures they help enact in government, through the media they shape and you consume, and perhaps most insidiously through the language they invent and you use. While you might know the names of a few think tanks, many of them are unfamiliar to the general public, and have bland names that do little to describe their goals or focus for the uninitiated.
This list covers the 50 most influential think tanks in the world today. As an active citizen, it’s important to better understand who these organizations are and how they’re influencing the world around you. You may even want to get involved working with, or against, one of them!
Our innovative ranking technology delivers a better way for important individuals and institutions to shine by capturing an essential metric: true influence, the level of attention and penetration an idea and/or entity achieves worldwide.
To do this, we:
- aggregate scholarly and academic citations,
- track the attention they receive, and
- weigh their merits against other information sources such as newspapers, magazines, and global media outlets.
Importantly, our machine learning technology doesn’t simply scrape the web for mentions. The artificial intelligence (AI) behind it digs deeply, by
- identifying entities and institutions,
- finding mentions of the institution across the web,
- mapping the people that make up an institution, including independent work done by those people and their affiliations with other institutions, and
- mapping institutional output by identifying ideas as entities for further tracking.
As this mapping develops and signals strengthen between these entities, we collect essential data for comparing the influence of organizations (in this case, think tanks). For added corroboration and results assurance, we employ web traffic analysis from third parties (including SEMrush and Ahrefs) to track the organic search traffic leading to the think tanks’ domains, each domain’s keyword footprints, the number of referring domains, and the authority of those referring domains.
In summary, our team of data scientists is confident this combination of web data aggregation, AI-driven data analysis, and independent web search monitoring yields an accurate, reliable measure of a think tank’s global influence.
The Most Influential Think Tanks in the World Today
1. Brookings Institution
Among the oldest on this list, the Brookings Institution (often referred to simply as Brookings) is a non-profit American think tank dating back to 1916 and headquartered in Washington, D.C. Though itself identifying as non-partisan, Brookings is often cited as being centrist, or slightly left-of-center. Despite its D.C. station, Brookings has a handful of centers around the globe.
The Brookings Institution traces its name to philanthropist Robert S. Brookings, who originally founded it as the Institute for Government Research with the purpose of researching public policy issues. Brookings landed its first major gig after being commissioned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to research the causes of (and potential solutions to) the Great Depression. This arrangement led to a close relationship with the White House until the Nixon administration; after the Brookings Institution expanded its work to cover foreign policy, the relationship between the two groups was so contentious that Nixon aide Charles Colson actually proposed bombing the Brookings Institution headquarters.
Throughout its history, the Brookings Institution has had influence on policy choices and developments at home and abroad, playing a role in the development of things like the Congressional Budget Office, the Marshall Plan, and the creation of the United nations. It has pushed for platform topics such as tax reform, welfare reform, and deregulation. Brookings’ centers remain politically influential, particularly the Center for Middle East Policy.
Brookings publishes an annual report, assessing research and policy for the previous year. It also publishes a variety of research reports, articles, and policy briefs through its programs and centers, and books through its Brookings Institution Press.
2. The Heritage Foundation
Often cited as one of the most influential conservative think tanks in the world, The Heritage Foundation has had a pull on U.S. public policy since coming to influence during the Reagan administration. Its founding dates back to 1973, amid the collaboration of public policy figure Edwin Feulner, religious conservative political activist and commentator Paul Weyrich, and heir to the Coors brewing empire Joseph Coors. The Heritage Foundation is a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Given the involvement of Joseph Coors, it should be no surprise that The Heritage Foundation was established on an ostensibly pro-business platform (not to mention anti-communist and neo-conservative ideologies). Through the years, it has developed a major foothold in the development of conservative public policy platforms, starting with its 1981 Mandate for Leadership publication, which caught the eye of Ronald Reagan. In fact, it is credited with playing a key role in the development of Reaganomics, the Reagan Doctrine of foreign policy, and the Christian conservative block gaining a significant political voice (and it is also notably against choice in reproductive health). Through the next few decades, it would also support Operation Desert Storm, as well as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and be a vocal critic of the Clinton and Obama administration health care policies, actions which continue to influence the development of U.S. policies today.
In recent years, The Heritage Foundation has played a major role in the Trump administration, particularly in regards to its staffing, helping install figures such as Betsy DeVos, Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, and Jeff Sessions.
Outside of such direct political influence, The Heritage Foundation exerts influence through publications, particularly the Index of Economic Freedom, which measures perceived freedom in a country in relation to government regulation and economic conditions. It has also been a vocal critic and denier of climate change.
PEOPLE: Heritage’s leaders and experts.
3. Council on Foreign Relations
Established in 1921, the nonprofit think tank Council on Foreign Relations has nearly a century of experience to its name influencing U.S. foreign policy and participating in international affairs. Though it has a secondary office in Washington, D.C., CFR is headquartered in New York City.
The Council on Foreign Relations traces its origins to Elihu Root, who had previously held the role of Secretary of State to President Theodore Roosevelt. Root had been holding meetings with government officials and academics to discuss the effects of the war on international business. This group formalized in 1921, and in 1922 began publishing the bimonthly Foreign Affairs journal, which it still publishes. In the 1930s, the CFR received a major influx of funds from the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation, which allowed it to increase its operations and spread influence.
Over the following decades, CFR gained major political influence, in no small part due to the fact that it had members in high-ranking U.S. policy-making positions. It has been instrumental in forming pillars of U.S. defense policy, including nuclear non-proliferation, mutual deterrence, and our global military presence, and was very present in every presidential administration from the 1940s through the 1970s. Today it remains influential through high-ranking U.S. officials, as well as work with global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
4. Cato Institute
Currently among the wealthiest think tanks in the world, the Cato institute was originally established in 1974 as the Charles Koch Foundation. If that name rings a bell, it’s because Charles Koch is one half of the American industrialist fraternal duo, the Koch brothers, and currently CEO of Koch Industries, and is himself one of the richest people in the world. Koch co-founded the institute alongside American libertarian figures Ed Crane and Murray Rothbard.
Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Cato institute is best described as a libertarian think tank. It is a non-profit organization that works to popularize and push libertarian causes through publications, research, and conferences. It’s platform is built on fundamental libertarian points of arguments, spanning everything from civil rights, law enforcement, taxation, corporate welfare, and climate change. In particular, Cato identifies itself as promoting a Jeffersonian philosophy.
As a libertarian organization, Cato claims that it is most committed to the protection of civil liberties, which in turn demands minimizing the role of government in essentially all aspects of daily life. Cato supports the privatization of government services (including the U.S. Postal Service, NASA, and Social Security), liberal drug policies, repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military (since repealed in 2011), and demilitarizing police forces. It is also in opposition to the federal reserve and “corporate welfare,” the act of bailing out corporations in times of economic downturn. Cato flexed a great deal of influence during the George W. Bush administration, and in the Republican party in general during the Obama administration.
Cato has also funded and published a significant amount of research on the topic of climate change. The institute argues that, while climate change may be somewhat related to human activity, measures to reduce climate change (like the Kyoto Protocol), won’t have any effect. This research has been publicly scrutinized by numerous prominent scientific groups, including Scientific American.
Among studies, books, and reports, the Cato Institute publishes peer-reviewed journals including Cato Journal, and Regulation. It formerly published Inquiry Magazine.
PEOPLE: Cato’s policy scholars.
5. Center for Strategic and International Studies
The Center for Strategic and International Studies is an officially bipartisan non-profit think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. Its work spans issues of public policy, economics, and security, and it primarily focuses on international issues. It is especially well known for its work in defense and national security topics.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies was founded at Georgetown University in 1962 between Admiral Arleigh Burke and (later U.S. ambassador to NATO) David Manker Abshire. Through the years, CSIS has had more or less direct influence at the White House and on foreign policy and defense, with numerous figures from the center finding their way to high-ranking roles. On the converse, Henry Kissinger began work at CSIS following his position as U.S. Secretary of State, and other White House officials have followed suit over time.
Through the years, CSIS has played influential roles in shaping Cold War defense policy, post-Soviet foreign policy and international relations, and issues of NAFTA, global health, the World Bank, climate change, and the International Monetary Fund. Today, it operates programs such as the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group and the Global Health Policy Center, and maintains influence through events and talks, webcasts, and publications such as The Washington Quarterly and New Perspectives in Foreign Policy, with scholars publishing in a wide range of mainstream media outlets.
PEOPLE: CSIS’s 100 experts in residence.
6. American Enterprise Institute
Established in 1938, the American AEI Institute is an independent, non-profit think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. Although officially declared as non-partisan, AEI is well-recognized as an influential neo-conservative think tank. In line with this perception is the Institute’s mission statement, which includes values such as capitalism and private enterprise, limited government and individual liberties, and defensive foreign policies. It is sometimes seen as the converse of the liberal Brookings Institution, though they do periodically collaborate.
The AEI was founded by Lewis H. Brown, an American industrialist (manufacturing asbestos) who led a group of other executives of major American companies (including General Mills and Bristol-Myers) with the goal of promoting capitalism and free enterprise. Its stance and early team of founders put it in direct opposition to the New Deal. Through the years, AEI established significant political influence, especially during the Reagan administration as well as the George W. Bush administration, through its research and publications.
AEI has a policy against engaging in political advocacy as an institution; this policy has been the source of controversy and clashes over time, as individual AEI members have themselves engaged in political advocacy, such as during the 1964 Goldwater Presidential Campaign. Other controversy has arisen over AEI funding and influence. AEI has been especially critical in recent years of research and reports about the human role in climate change; a 2007 report by The Guardian suggested AEI could have a conflict of interest, as it (at the time) had received $1.6 million from oil company ExxonMobil, and had the company’s CEO Lee R. Raymond on its board of directors.
Notably, AEI’s current board of directors includes former vice president Dick Cheney, as well as Dick DeVos, husband to current U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
PEOPLE: AEI’s scholars for expanding freedom.
7. RAND Corporation
The RAND Corporation is a non-profit American think tank headquartered in Santa Monica, California. The “RAND” in its name stands for “Research and Development.” It is primarily focused on research and defense and global policy.
The RAND corporation traces its origins to 1945, when Project RAND was created via a special contract with the Douglas Aircraft Company after discussions with the War Department and the Office of Scientific Research and Development. In 1948, it was established as a separate organization when Douglas Aircraft Company expressed concern over a potential conflict of interest.
The initial push for the Rand Corporation was to handle research and development for the U.S. military, and it soon began to play a key role in Cold War policies, starting with the “space race” of the 1950s, as well as the nuclear arms race. RAND promoted the doctrine of nuclear deterrence and coined the idea of mutually assured destruction that was at the foundation of Cold War defense policy. In fact, systems theorist and Chief Strategist of the RAND Corporation Herman Kahn was the basis for the character Dr. Strangelove in the Stanley Kubrick film of the same name.
Today, the RAND Corporation remains influential through close connections with the U.S. Department of Defense, through research and reports, its scholarly journal the RAND Journal of Economics, through publication in various media outlets, and through the Pardee RAND Graduate School.
PEOPLE: Rand’s policy experts.
8. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is an American nonprofit think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. Focused on global policy matters, the CEIP accordingly has centers around the world, including in Beijing, New Delhi, and Moscow.
Among the oldest institutions on this list, CEIP was established in 1910. It traces its origins to the famed industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who founded the organization out of a commitment to his internationalist ideals. Notably, the first president appointed to the CEIP endowment was former Secretary of State and later founder of the Council on Foreign Relations Elihu Root. Upon its founding the declared mission of the CEIP was to “hasten the abolition of international war, the foulest blot upon our civilization”.
Accordingly, the CEIP was heavily involved with the WWI peace talks in France. Over the years, the CEIP was involved in the formation of the Hague Academy of International Law, as well as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights; in fact, in reference to the Holocaust, the CEIP is regarded as responsible for popularizing the term genocide.
In recent history, the CEIP is cited as being the first global think tank, and expanded its global presence rapidly in the last two decades. CEIP exerts influence through its centers, publications, events, reports, and direct involvement in forming policy. Previously, it published the magazine Foreign Policy.
PEOPLE: Carnegie’s experts.
9. Atlantic Council
Non-partisan and non-profit Atlanticist think tank the Atlantic Council was established in 1961. As an Atlanticist group, its activities focus primarily on encouraging economic relations between North America and Europe. The Atlantic Council is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
The Atlantic Council formed during the Cold War, with the goal of fostering cooperation between America and Western European countries. It largely owes its influence to policy-making members active in presidential administrations, including former Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, and Jon Huntsman Jr. (who is now the chairman of the Board of Directors). Additionally, it has held numerous high-profile events, offers a variety of awards and fellowships, and publishes policy studies. It has established numerous programs and centers, including the Program on Transatlantic Relations, the Young Atlanticist Network, Global Business and Economics Program. Over the years its focus has grown to include global issues, particularly in Asia.
Of recent notability is Tom Bossert, a Nonresident Zurich Cyber Risk Fellow of the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Security Initiative, was appointed as Homeland Security Advisor by the Trump administration in 2017. Bossert headed a global health security team that developed defensive strategies against pandemics as well as biological warfare, but resigned in 2018 after the team was dissolved.
PEOPLE: Atlantic Council’s experts.
10. Hoover Institution
Headquartered at Stanford University in Stanford, California, the Hoover Institution is an American think tank. Focused on issues of public policy, the Hoover institution is committed to standard pillars of American conservatism, including private enterprise, personal freedoms, and representative government, though it identifies itself as non-partisan.
The Hoover Institution traces its origins to 1919, when Stanford alumnus (and later U.S. President) Herbert Hoover established the Hoover Institution Library and Archives. The initial objective of the institution was to collect materials for open research pertaining to war, international relations, and peace. In the 1940s it transitioned more into performing its own research, and in the 1950s became the think tank we recognize today. Through the years, the Hoover Institution has wielded influence in American public policy, both regionally and federally. Its first honorary fellow, in fact, was then-Governor of California Ronald Reagan. Following Reagan’s presidential victory, numerous Hoover Institution staffers gained roles at the White House. As of September 1, 2020, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is the director of the Hoover Institution.
Beyond its political affiliations, the Hoover Institution has been influential through research, publications through the Hoover Institution press, events, and awards. It is also quite famous for its library and archives. Notably, though the Hoover Institution acknowledges the reality of climate change as a dangerous phenomenon, it has generally expressed resistance to mandates and measures proposed to curb the environmental impact of human activities, particularly of corporations.
PEOPLE: Hoover’s fellows.
11. Aspen Institute
Headquartered in Washington, D.C. the Aspen Institute is an international non-profit and non-partisan think tank. It also has campuses around the globe, in cities including Kiev, Paris, and Tokyo. It is focused on promoting equality and justice in society through a non-ideological setting.
The Aspen Institute was founded in 1949 by American industrialist and philanthropist Walter Paepcke. It draws its name from the fact that it was founded in Aspen Colorado, and it is connected to the Aspen Music Festival and the annual International Design Conference. Through the institute and these events, Paepcke sought to foster the “flourishing of the human spirit.” Through the years, the Aspen Institute opened a variety of centers and created other major events, including the Aspen Center for Physics, the Aspen Strategy Group, and the Aspen Ideas Festival, which has featured speakers such as President Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Madeleine Albright.
Beyond its centers and events, the Aspen Institute has been influential through research, reports, and publications such as its Ideas magazine. Its activities cover a wide range of subjects, including energy and environment, business and economics, social enterprise, global affairs, and equity and social justice.
12. Economic Policy Institute
Founded in 1986, the Economic Policy Institute is an American non-profit and non-partisan think tank dedicated to economic policy. The EPI’s principal founder is Jeff Faux (also its first president), Lester Thurow (political economist and former dean at MIT), Ray Marshall (former U.S. Secretary of Labor to President Jimmy Carter), Northeastern University Professor Barry Bluestone, and journalist Robert Kuttner.
The EPI presents itself as an advocate for low- and middle-class working families in the U.S., and it generally supports left-leaning, pro-union policies. The EPI conducts and publishes research in areas such as minimum wage, the wage gap, inequality, the state of jobs and unemployment, and our economic future. It publishes reports, journals, books, and even budget plans. Through its website, the EPI offers useful tools, including a budget calculator, a policy watch program focused on the Trump administration, and the State of Working America Data Library.
In recent years, the EPI has suggested that to secure economic prosperity we need to invest in public services and works, like infrastructure, and raise taxes on the wealthy. It has also been a vocal support of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan.
13. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is a think tank and United States Presidential Memorial headquartered in Washington, D.C. The Center was established by the Smithsonian Institution in 1968 through an act of Congress.
The mission of the WWICS is to promote the democratic and liberal ideals of former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. As a refresher, Wilson’s “New Freedom” platform was built on three types of reforms: tariff reform, business reform, and banking reform. It resulted in the Underwood Tariff Act of 1913, the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, and the creation of the Federal Reserve System, as well as the creation of the federal estate tax, and a top income tax rate of 77 percent. WWICS incorporates these economic ideals, as well as Wilson’s global policy, funding and promoting research that furthers its mission.
The Center is influential through its annual Woodrow Wilson Awards, its research and publications, and its many programs, such as the Environmental Change and Security Program, the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, and the North Korea International Documentation Project.
PEOPLE: Wilson Center’s experts.
14. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Established in 1981, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a progressive, non-profit think tank headquartered in Washington D.C. As the name suggests, the CBPP is mostly focused on public policy issues, especially in regards to budget and tax proposals.
The CBPP was established by Robert Greenstein, who previously was the Administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Carter presidency, and who also occupied important policy roles in the Clinton and Obama administrations. Greenstein remains the CBPP president.
Though self-identifying as non-partisan, the CBPP was established in response to economic changes being implemented by the newly-installed Reagan administration, offering alternative approaches to issues such as taxation, welfare services, and housing programs. Today, it continues to focus on how federal economic policy decisions affect low-income citizens and families, often advocating for measures such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and SNAP.
Toward its mission, CBPP performs and publishes research, and works with state and federal government agencies to influence policy, as well as non-profits and other think tanks (particularly the Economic Policy Institute and the Brookings Institution), and manages a number of projects, such as Policy Futures, State Priorities Partnership, and the EITC Outreach Campaign. It also established the International Budget Partnership (in 1997), which advocates for transparency in government budget processes and economic policy.
PEOPLE: CBPP’s experts.
15. Peterson Institute for International Economics
Non-partisan think tank the Peterson Institute for International Economics is headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1981 by American economist, author, and political adviser C. Fred Bergsten.
Bergsten previously held high roles in the National Security Council and U.S. Department of the Treasury. Bergsten established the institute after being asked to create a research institution focused on international economics by Frank Loy, the president of the German Marshall Fund at the time. Toward this goal, the GMF offered up an initial $4 million to get started. Initially opened as the Institute of International Economics, the name was changed to its current version in 2006 in 2006 in tribute to its founding chairman, Peter G. Peterson. Through the 1980s and ’90s PIIE gained significant influence, with grants coming from the likes of the Ford Foundation, and high profile members like Reginald Jones (former CEO of General Electric) and Dennis Weatherstone (former CEO of JP Morgan).
PIIE performs and publishes research in areas including global debt, the effects of globalization, U.S. economic policy, international trade, and international finance. It has been particularly influential in regards to reforms made in the International Monetary Fund, reforms made in U.S. sanctions policy, and implementing U.S. free trade agreements, NAFTA being the most notable among them.
PEOPLE: Peterson Institute’s experts.
16. European Council on Foreign Relations
Headquartered in Berlin, the European Council on Foreign Relations is a Pan-European think tank with offices around the continent. It was founded in 2007 by British political scientist Mark Leonard, and focuses on foreign policy and security matters in the European Union. It is currently chaired by Carl Bildt (former Prime Minister of Sweden), Lykke Friis (Prorector of the University of Copenhagen), and Norbert Röttgen (German politician).
The ECFR splits its activities across four areas of focus: Asian and China, Middle East and North Africa, European Power, and Wider Europe. Through research, publications, and events, the ECFR encourages debate and dialogue about Europe’s role in the world as a whole, as well as how countries in the EU should relate to each other. Every year, the ECFR holds a full-body council meeting in rotating European capitals, bringing together European heads of state, business people, intellectuals, and journalists.
PEOPLE: ECFR’s experts.
17. International Institute for Strategic Studies
Our first British think tank to make the list, the International Institute for Strategic Studies has been influencing British foreign policy since 1958. The IISS is headquartered in London and was founded by British military historian and Oxford professor Sir Michael Eliot Howard. Beyond its headquarters, the IISS has branches in Washington, D.C., Singapore, and Manama, Bahrain.
As the Cold War was ramping up, IISS emerged with a focus on nuclear arms, particularly in regards to control and deterrence. Through the years, the Institute’s focus has expanded to include an array of issues, all falling into the umbrella category of global security. The IISS now operates research programs in 11 categories; among those, five are thematic and seven are regionally-focused. Current topics include issues like emerging military technology, cybersecurity, energy security, economic issues, and COVID-19. From these, the IISS established influence through holding events and publishing blogs, podcasts, mainstream media articles, academic publications, reports, and pamphlets. Its annual assessment The Military Balance is particularly notable, as well as its Armed Conflict Database.
Notably, former U.S. National Security Advisor HR McMaster previously worked at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, as well as current Deputy Secretary General of NATO Rose Gottemoeller.
PEOPLE: IISS’s experts.
18. The Heartland Institute
Established in 1984, The Heartland Institute is a libertarian American think tank. It is headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. It is primarily focused on issues of public and economic policy, advocating for limited corporate restrictions, hydraulic fracking, repealing or preventing environmental protections, and denying the dangers of smoking and climate change.
The Heartland Institute was established by David H. Padden, an investor and former director of the Cato Institute. In the 1990s, The Heartland Institute lobbied against smoking bans and worked to discredit scientific reports that showed the health risks of secondhand smoke. In fact, one of its first campaigns was in opposition to such scientific reports. The Heartland Institute was hired by tobacco company Philip Morris to research and publish materials arguing against the link between secondhand smoke and health damages, and to lobby against restrictions.
In the last two decades, The Heartland Institute has established itself as a leading voice in climate change denial. It regularly publishes reports, engages in lobbying activities, and utilizes a variety of media outlets to question climate change science and related legislation. Notably, in 2012, THI launched a media campaign in Chicago linking Ted Kaczynski, the “Unabomber”, to climate change science, with further plans to include figures such as Charles Manson and Fidel Castro; the campaign was quickly halted after major backlash. The Heartland Institute Is a member of the Cooler Heads Coalition, an organization which promotes climate change skepticism. The Heartland Institute is also closely associated with the Tea Party Movement.
PEOPLE: Heartland’s policy experts.
19. Center for a New American Security
The Center for a New American Security is an American think tank established in 2007. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and its activities focus mostly on national security issues.
CNAS quickly rose to influence during the Obama Administration. Its founders Michèle Flournoy and Kurt M. Campbell held positions in the administration, with Flournoy serving as the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, and Campbell as the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. It regularly conducts research and publishes extensive reports on issues including defense, security in the Middle East, security in Pacific Asia, Russia, cybersecurity and cyberterrorism, counter-insurgency, and military activity.
PEOPLE: CNAS’s resident and adjunct experts.
Among the younger entries on this list, Demos is a non-profit liberal think tank established in 2000. It is headquartered in New York City. Demos was founded by lawyer and activist Charles Halpern in an effort to provide balance against what he saw as the rising influence of right-wing think tanks.
Demos is varied in its topical focus, but is generally dedicated to the ideal of a multiracial democracy. Its early activity mainly focused on economic inequality, democratic inclusion, and civic policy. Demos creates influence through research and publications, awareness campaigns and fundraisers, and even litigation in civil rights cases; lately much of its activity has been focused on voter suppression, in cases such as League of Women Voters of Ohio v. LaRose and Williams v. DeSantis.
Also of late Demos has devoted a lot of attention to the intersection of COVID-19 and racial justice issues. On the policy and project front, it has pushed for the Frontlines Climate Justice Executive Action Platform, and partnered with the The Inclusive Democracy Project and the The Race-Class Narrative Project.
Notably, President Barack Obama is a founding member of Demos.
PEOPLE: Demos’s staff and policy experts.
21. Freedom House
Established in 1941, Freedom House is a non-profit, non-governmental think tank focused on issues of democracy and human rights. Its founders include Eleanor Roosevelt and Republican Presidential nominee Wendell Willkie. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Initially, Freedom House gave vocal support to U.S. involvement in WWII. Toward that goal one of its primary outlets was sponsoring radio programs. Following the war, it supported the Marshall Plan and the establishment of NATO, and was critical of McCarthyism. Though it claims to have been supportive of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, it did not support Martin Luther King, Jr., because of his anti-war views. Over the years, Freedom House has been supportive of liberation movements in countries around the world; however, it has been criticized as only being supportive in situations that further U.S. global interests.
Freedom House funds and publishes research and reports on tropics including global internet freedom, election security, governmental activities around the world, corruption, resistance, and the state of democracy. Its Freedom in the World annual report addresses democratic freedoms around the world, particularly in disputed areas, and its Freedom of the Press report surveys global media independence. Notably (and not without controversy) it classifies Russia as “not free.” It has also come under criticism for the level of impartiality and objectivity of its rankings, and has been accused of unethical use of funds.
PEOPLE: Freedom House’s experts.
22. Hudson Institute
Conservative American non-profit think tank the Hudson Institute was established in 1961. The institute traces its origins to members of the RAND Corporation, specifically Herman Kahn. Whereas the RAND Corporation is primarily focused on defense and research, the Hudson Institute is more focused on public and global policy, positioning America as a leader of thought, innovation, and security. Hudson is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Kahn was a military strategist and systems theorist, responsible for notions such as mutually assured destruction and nuclear deterrence. In keeping with this, early Hudson Institute projects reflected his interests and expertise. Their early research and publications Thinking About the Unthinkable (1962) and On Escalation: Metaphors and Scenarios (1965) promoted these ideas, and were influential in shaping Cold War defense policy for the next few decades. Before long, the Hudson Institute turned to other issues, such as global economics, and was even able to predict the rise of Japan as a major international player in industry and economics through The Emerging Japanese Superstate in 1970. Over the following decades, the Hudson Institute was an influential force in shaping both domestic and global policies, including labor and social welfare programs supported by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
The Hudson Institute operates 10 policy centers covering topics including economics, religious freedom, innovation, Islam, philanthropy, obesity, and substance abuse. Every year it publishes new research, holds events, and gives out awards (with past recipients including Dick Cheney, Paul Ryan, Benjamin Netanyahu, David Petraeus, and Ronald Reagan).
PEOPLE: Hudson Institute’s experts.
23. Chatham House
Established in 1920, Chatham house is a non-profit and non-governmental U.K. think tank headquartered in London. Initially founded as the British Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House traces its origins to British diplomat Lionel Curtis, who proposed the idea of an organization focused on fostering mutual understanding between nations.
Chatham House is the originator of the Chatham House Rule, used internationally in debate and discussion. Intended to foster openness of discussion, the rule states that attendees of a given meeting are free to use information presented there, but cannot reveal who presented the information.
Chatham House as an organization is focused on international issues, public policy, and current affairs. It funds and publishes research in areas including Brexit, cybersecurity, immigration and refugees, and gender and inequality. Well known publications from Chatham House include International Affairs, The World Today, the Journal of Cyber Policy, and the Insights book series. It also hosts events, lectures, and gives the annual Chatham House Prize to individuals active in improving international relations.
24. International Crisis Group
As its name suggests, the International Crisis Group is a non-profit, non-governmental think tank dedicated to researching and analyzing global crises. Though headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, the International Crisis Group is a transnational organization. The ICG was established in 1995 in response to the genocide in Rwanda and the Bosnian War, and received initial funding from billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
Per its website, the organization’s stated goal is
to prevent wars and shape policies that will build a more peaceful world. Toward this goal, the ICG funds and publishes research on potential crises and concerning developments in the various regions of the world. It is particularly well-known for its CrisisWatch bulletin. Additionally, ICG works directly with government figures and policy makers toward shaping effective policy in mitigating crises, as well as with the media to report and focus on developing issues. It also issues an annual “In Pursuit of Peace Award.”
PEOPLE: ICG’s staff and consultants.
25. Competitive Enterprise Institute
Libertarian non-profit think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute is headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1984 by political writer Fred L. Smith Jr.
CEI is mostly focused on advancing libertarian ideals of free enterprise, personal liberties (specifically property rights), and limited government. In particular, CEI has been a prominent voice of denial in the climate change debate, essentially since it was founded. It stands in constant opposition to all policies designed to protect the environment or reduce harm, and that which affects the rights of property owners or the operations of businesses. This includes proposals by the Environmental Protection Agency to limit greenhouse emissions, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Instead, it argues in favor of “free-market environmentalism,” the idea that corporations are more effective at protecting the environment than the government. In opposition to climate change science, CEI has created ad campaigns suggesting that rising carbon dioxide levels are a positive factor in the environment.
Beyond environmental topics, the CEI has taken issue with government regulations of various industries, publishing the annual survey Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State. It has also supported repealing net neutrality, and challenged the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank Act.
26. Fraser Institute
Canadian think tank the Fraser Institute was established in 1974. It is connected to the global Economic Freedom Network and holds charitable status.
The Fraser Institute was established by Canadian economist Michael Walker and businessman T. Patrick Boyle with the goal of researching and promoting economic policy measures. Though identifying itself as independent, the Fraser Institute is often cited as a conservative and libertarian organization. It supports free market capitalism, minimal government interventions, and personal freedoms.
The Fraser Institute has a variety of centers to its name, performing research and publishing reports and journals on a regular basis, such as the Economic Freedom of the World index, the Human Freedom Index, and Waiting Your Turn, its annual report on Canada’s healthcare system.
In the late 1990s, the Fraser Institute established the Social Affairs Centre, with funding from tobacco companies Rothmans International and Philip Morris. The Fraser Institute came under scrutiny for this funding after publishing a report Passive Smoke: The EPA’s Betrayal of Science and Policy in 1999, which claimed there was no scientific evidence linking cancer and secondhand smoke. It has also received a significant amount of funding from the Koch Brothers, and ExxonMobil.
27. Center for Immigration Studies
The Center for Immigration Studies is a Designated Hate Group recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Center for Immigration Studies is an anti-immigration think tank that was established in 1986. It is headquartered in Washington D.C. and was co-founded by Otis L. Graham (a notable historian and eugenicist) and John Tanton (an ophthalmologist and prominent white nationalist).
Tanton was also the founder of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (another SPLC-designated hate group). The CIS began as the research arm of FAIR, before branching off as its own organization. The goal of CIS is to reduce and prevent immigration to the U.S. in all forms. Toward this goal it performs and publishes research through reports, pamphlets, and other outlets. These publications have come under wide scrutiny for expressing thinly-veiled (though sometimes explicit) bigotry against immigrants and people of color. Additionally, the validity and accuracy of the research has often been debunked by reputable media organizations including the Associated Press and Politifact, and it has been accused of spreading anti-immigrant propaganda and falsities.
Nevertheless, CIS is an influential think tank, especially since the beginning of the Trump Administration. CIS analyst Jon Feere was hired as the adviser to Thomas D. Homan, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2017. President Trump himself nominated Ronald Mortensen, a CIS fellow, as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (though he was ultimately not appointed). Additionally, CIS reports have been cited in decisions and statements by the administration (despite the claims in the reports being debunked).
PEOPLE: CIS’s staff and fellows.
28. Adam Smith Institute
Established in 1977, the Adam Smith Institute is a neoliberal think tank headquartered in London. Its name is a reference to the Enlightenment thinker Adam Smith, who is often considered the Father of Capitalism. Accordingly, the Adam Smith Institute is strongly committed to neoliberal values, particularly free market capitalism with limited government intervention. Until 2016, the Institute identified itself as Libertarian.
The Adam Smith Institute was founded by research and author Madsen Pirie, and brothers Eamonn and Stuart Butler (both of whom are economists). The trio formed the think tank after meeting while working at Hillsdale College in Michigan. Alongside the Center for Policy Studies and the Institute of Economic Affairs, the ASI became highly influential during the Margaret Thatcher era of the U.K. government. Some of its proposed measures were later adopted by Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair.
ASI argues for policies such as privatizing public services like trash collection, replacing social welfare programs with private insurance, privatizing public sector industries like energy and mass transportation, and privatizing the police force. It also pushes for easing restrictions across the board, so things like businesses may expand more rapidly, construction projects may begin without so many zoning limitations, and hospitals and research facilities may pursue projects that have otherwise been banned. It has enjoyed a great deal of success, evident in developments such as the Education Reform Act 1988, and the privatization of British Rail and the National Bus Company.
In accordance with its values, the Adam Smith Institute does not hold charitable status. ASI maintains influence through events and lectures, prominent members with influence in the U.K. government, promoting information about Tax Freedom Day, research and reports, and book publications.
PEOPLE: ASI’s fellows and senior fellows.
29. Center for Economic and Policy Research
Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Center for Economic and Policy Research is a progressive think tank focused on economic issues, policy decisions, and public awareness. It was established in 1999 by American macroeconomist Dean Baker and American economist and columnist Mark Weisbrot.
CEPR’s stated mission is to,
Promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people’s lives. Toward that end, CEPR produces research and publications on topics like economic growth within the U.S., the labor market, international trade, and workers rights. It also maintains projects and resources such as the Blue Collar Jobs Tracker, the Revolving Door Project, and the Independent Federal Agency Monitor.
30. Institute of Economic Affairs
The Institute for Economic Affairs is a right-wing, neoliberal think tank established in 1955. It is first and foremost dedicated to promoting free-market capitalism through publications in a variety of media, as well as through events and lectures. A British think tank, IEA is headquartered in London.
IEA was founded by Sir Antony George Anson Fisher, a British business executive, who also founded the Atlas Network (itself connected to a global network of think tanks). In the early half of its history, IEA focused almost exclusively on economic affairs. In 1980, IEA expanded its activity to include social policy with the Social Affairs Unit, bringing the IEA in close association with Thatcherism (the policies of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, comparable to Reaganomics in America).
As part of its core values, the IEA is against government funding for groups involved in political action (such as charities), and it does not receive any kind of government funding. In recent years, IEA has been active in lobbying for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union via Brexit (specifically what has been called the “hard” Brexit solution). Besides books and papers, IEA is best known for its magazine, Economic Affairs. It has also published a significant amount of media arguing against governmental mandates on junk food and processed food ingredients, as well as the legitimacy of climate change science and climate change mandates.
In recent years, the IEA has come under scrutiny regarding its lobbying activities, the sources of its funding, and potential conflicts of interest.
PEOPLE: IEA’s staff and researchers.
Brussels-based Belgian think tank Bruegel was established in 2005. It is primarily focused on economic policy in the European Union, and is often cited among the best economic think tanks in the world.
Bruegel was established by French economists Jean Pisani-Ferry and Nicolas Véron with the goal of promoting quality economic policy and providing independent and objective economic research. Notably, no one named “Bruegel” is affiliated with the think tank. Its name is a reference to 16th-century painter Pieter Bruegel. The institution spreads its activities over five research programs, in European Macroeconomics & Governance, Global Economics & Governance, Finance & Financial Regulation, Innovation & Competition, and Energy & Climate.
Bruegel is best known for its research and scholarly publications. It also holds events, lectures, and livestreams. A great deal of its work focuses on the European economic crisis, although climate change (and how it relates to the economy) is also very much on its radar.
PEOPLE: Bruegel’s research team.
32. Gatestone Institute
Non-profit, far-right, and anti-Muslim think tank the Gatestone Institute was established in 2008. It is headquartered in New York City.
The Gatestone Institute was founded by Nina Rosenwald, an American political activist, philanthropist, heiress of the Sears Roebuck fortune, and prominent Zionist; Rosenwald remains its president. From 2013 to 2018, the Institute was chaired by John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and United States National Security Advisor. It is currently chaired by Amir Taheri, a controversial Iranian author known for spreading falsities, most famously regarding Iranian Sumptuary Law.
The Gatestone Institute is best known for its anti-Muslim publications, and spreading concerns over things like a coming “jihadist takeover” and the “Islamization” of Europe. Despite being widely criticized for publishing false and inaccurate reports, the Gatestone Institute has nonetheless been influential in bolstering anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe.
PEOPLE: Gatestone Institute’s fellows.
33. Institute for Public Policy Research
British left-wing think tank Institute for Public Policy Research was founded in 1988. It is headquartered in London, but has offices around the U.K. The IPPR owes its founding to British businessman and Baron Clive Hollick, and President of Queens’ College, Cambridge John Eatwell.
A registered charity, the IPPR advances progressive public policy positions through research and a dense body of publications. Though primarily focused on economic issues, the IPPR also touches on education, climate and environment, public health, and even arts and culture. In particular, it is known for its quarterly journal IPPR Progressive Review.
In 2018, it published Prosperity and justice: A plan for the new economy, a report recommending such progressive changes as raising the minimum wage, a new national investment strategy, raising corporate taxes, and a flat income tax rate. Most recently, IPPR has been focused on the U.K. COVID-19 pandemic response, and how the government can implement better public health measures while also keeping the economy from grinding to a halt.
PEOPLE: IPPR’s staff and experts.
34. Center for Security Policy
The Center for Security Policy is a Designated Hate Group recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Established in 1988, the CSP is a non-profit think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It is known for promoting far-right, extremist, and anti-Muslim views and policies. It is particularly well-known for advancing debunked claims that President Barack Obama is Muslim and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The CSP was founded by Frank Gaffney, Jr., a conspiracy theorist and former federal government official. Gaffney held a variety of federal roles before being promoted to Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs by the Reagan administration in 1987. After seven months, Gaffney was forced out of the position, and shortly thereafter he established the Center for Security Policy. Notably, Gaffney was also banned from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) for his views.
Despite being widely regarded as disreputable, the CSP has gained significant influence in conservative circles and the Republican party, particularly after being referenced by prominent figures like Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann, and President Donald Trump. In fact, several figures associated with the CSP have gained prominence in the Trump administration, Kellyanne Conway, National Security Council Fred Fleitz, and Deputy National Security Advisor Charles Kupperman. Beyond having influential members, CSP has exerted influence through publications and a variety of media outlets.
In addition to the President Obama conspiracy theories, CSP has claimed there is a conspiracy to enact Sharia law in the U.S. CSP reports have been used by the Trump administration to support its “Muslim ban” policies.
PEOPLE: CSP’s staff and senior fellows.
35. German Marshall Fund
The German Marshall Fund is a nonpartisan American think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1972 on the 25th anniversary of the Marshall Plan with a gift from the West German government, hence the name.
Founder Guido Goldman used the governmental gift to establish the German Marshall Fund as a memorial to the Marshall Plan, and fund research that encourages policy making that strengthens the relationship between the U.S. and Europe. In addition to publishing policy research, the German Marshall Fund is a grantmaking institution, distributing grants to public sector institutions such as the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio.
The German Marshall Fund has also been responsible for organizing major international conventions and exchanges, hosting American and International political figures at events around the world, such as the Brussels Forum, the Atlantic Dialogues, and the Stockholm China Forum. It also operates programs such as the Alliance for Securing Democracy, and the Balkan Trust for Democracy.
36. Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
Headquartered in New York City, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research is a non-profit conservative think tank that was established in 1977. The MIPR mostly focuses on economic and domestic policy and urban affairs, and values personal liberties and free market enterprise.
MIPR was founded by Anthony Fisher, British businessman and founder of the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Atlas Network, along with William J. Casey, the director of the CIA for most of the 1980s. MIPR came to prominence during the Reagan administration with the publication of Wealth and Poverty in 1981, which was a core influence on President Reagan’s economic policies. In 1990 it began publishing the magazine City Journal, and the institute became closely associated with future NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani, which ultimately led to the implementation of implementing new approaches to policing, including the “Broken Windows” policy that came to dominate the NYPD, as well as COMPStat.
Another major area of influence has been in welfare reform, of which the MIPR was successful in arguing to the major welfare reform of 1996. The MIPR has also argued for reforming the federal student financial aid systems, as well as public education (allowing for more charter schools). In the area of energy and the environment, MIPR is a vocal supporter of fracking, denies climate change as a threat, and is opposed to government subsidies for alternative energy sources. It is criminal of the Affordable Healthcare ACT, and supportive of raising the federal minimum wage to $15.
MIPR maintains influence through funding research and publishing magazines, journals, reports, and books. It also regularly hosts events, and maintains a handful of projects, such as the Obamacare Impact Map, and the Adam Smith Society.
PEOPLE: Manhattan Institute’s experts.
37. NITI Aayog
Headquartered in New Delhi, NITI Aayog is an Indian think tank focused on public policy. The “NITI” in its name stands for National Institution for Transforming India. For the unfamiliar, India is made up of a collection of state governments. As Americans may be familiar with, these state governments do not always work together; in India, however, state governments have more power than in the U.S. The goal of NITI is to foster collaboration among these governments, in an approach known as “cooperative federalism.”
NITI Aayog is a relatively new think tank, founded in 2015 following recommendation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to replace the Federal Planning Commission. NITI is focused on promoting a vision of shared priorities, needs, and strategies, and makes recommendations for economic planning in particular. The institute exerts its influence through research and reports, initiatives such as IndiaChain (a push for extending the technological and digital infrastructure of the country), and its NITI Lectures series. It is chaired by the prime minister of India.
PEOPLE: Team NITI and three key members.
38. Observer Research Foundation
Headquartered in New Delhi, the Observer Research Foundation is an independent think tank in India. ORF was established in 1990 by the family of Indian business tycoon Dhirubhai Ambani (founder of massive multinational conglomerate Reliance Industries).
In line with its origins, the Observer Research Foundation initially focused mostly on economic issues, particularly the economic liberalization reforms of India in the early ’90s (which, among other things, significantly opened the Indian economy to foreign investment). In time, the interests and activities of the ORF expanded to include issues of public policy, environmental policy, global strategy, and security. Today, ORF conducts research and publishes reports on a range of topics, and hosts events and forums with high-profile attendees and participants. The ORF has maintained significant influence in the Indian government, and boasts influential and high-ranking members.
Though the ORF receives funding from the government and foreign sources, the bulk of its funding still comes from Reliance Industries.
PEOPLE: ORF’s people.
39. Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation is a non-profit think tank focused on emerging issues in technology and technological policies. ITIF is a non-partisan institution headquartered in Washington, D.C.
ITIF was established in 2006 as a non-partisan institution by Robert D. Atkinson, a Canadian-American economist. Its stated goal is,
To formulate, evaluate, and promote policy solutions that accelerate innovation and boost productivity to spur growth, opportunity, and progress. Toward that goal, ITIF focuses on current innovations and trends, economic issues relating to trade and competition, and emerging issues in technology, including energy and biotech ethics.
ITIF produces and publishes research designed to influence tech policy, both in terms of domestic and international issues, including the journals The Atlantic Century, and State New Economy Index. It also hosts events, and publishes materials in mainstream media outlets. The Foundation was supportive of the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) legislation to protect copyrighted materials online, and supports maintaining net neutrality. It has also been critical of China’s industrial tactics and policy.
40. Congressional Research Service
A branch of the Library of Congress, the Congressional Research Service is a nonpartisan governmental think tank headquartered in Washington D.C.
The Congressional Research Service was established in 1914 at the suggestion of Senator Robert La Follette Sr. and Representative John M. Nelson for developing a special reference unit of the Library of Congress. Initially founded with the focus of fulfilling requests for information from Congress, the CRS expanded its role over time to performing research and analysis to support the legislative process, and publishing journals such as the Congressional Research Service Review.
Though it is sometimes viewed as the think tank of the U.S. Congress, it does not make policy recommendations and remains impartial as much as is possible, providing only objective, data-driven reports and analysis. It consists of six research divisions, and produces hundreds of Congressional Research Service reports each year, with the goal of defining issues and data for legislative applications; as of 2018, most of these reports are publicly available.
PEOPLE: CRS’s organizational structure.
41. Institute for Government
Established in 2008, the Institute for Government is an independent U.K. think tank with the motto:
Working to make government more effective. The institute was created with funding by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, at the suggestion of David Sainsbury, Baron Sainsbury of Turville, a life peer of the Labour Party.
To realize its mission, the Institute for Government works directly with politicians, public servants, and governmental staff. It funds, publishes, and disseminates reports, holds seminars and events, and provides training programs and discussions. Working across the political spectrum, the Institute for Government seeks to guide politicians in efficient leadership and government administration. Recently it has focused its efforts on the COVID-19 pandemic response and Brexit.
42. Centre for Social Justice
The Centre for Social Justice is a British non-profit think tank headquartered in London. Relatively young, CSJ was established in 2004 by Sir George Iain Duncan Smith (former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Leader of the Conservative Party), Tim Montgomerie (a political activist and blogger), Mark Florman (CEO and entrepreneur), and Baroness Philippa Claire Stroud.
Ostensibly, CSJ is focused on social justice issues. Though CSJ identifies itself as politically independent, it has its roots in the British Conservative Party, and was particularly influential under conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. Due to these roots, as well as its affiliations and positions, the CSJ is often seen as a center-right think tank. However, it’s worth pointing out here that conservatism in the U.K. is of a different cut than in the U.S. Certain policy positions will sound like familiar territory to Americans, such as raising the minimum age for the state pension from 67 to 75, or expanding police presence, resources, and funding. It is also supportive of Brexit.
Other positions, however, sound at home among American liberal platforms. Such positions include rejecting building new women’s prisons in favor of community programs and reform alternatives, outlined in A Woman-Centred Approach, or providing permanent housing and access to rehabilitative care and vocational training for homeless people and addicts in its Housing First report.
The CSJ is well known for its research and publications on topics such as addiction, homelessness, modern slavery, and gang activity. Additionally, it operates an annual award ceremony for charitable organizations.
PEOPLE: CSJ’s team.
43. Discovery Institute
The conservative, non-profit think tank Discovery Institute is headquartered in Seattle, Washington. Established in 1990 as an offshoot of the Hudson Institute, the Discovery Institute focuses on public policy questions surrounding science and technology. The Discovery Institute is best known for its work on intelligent design, which it argues is a scientific alternative to neo-Darwinian evolution.
The Discovery Institute is controversial, with much of the scientific and academic community regarding intelligent design as a variant of creationism and therefore as pseudoscientific. Yet the Discovery Institute claims that intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory and boasts a growing cadre of scientists who support intelligent design, as exemplified in its Dissent from Darwin list. The Institute’s influence internationally may even be greater than in the U.S. In Brazil, for instance, intelligent design has made deep educational inroads through the work of Marcos Eberlin and other Brazilian scientists friendly to Discovery.
The arm of the Discovery Institute that advances intelligent design is its Center for Science and Culture, which publishes the blog Evolution News & Science Today. Its Discovery Institute Press publishes books arguing for the superiority of intelligent design over neo-Darwinian evolution, such as David Berlinski’s The Deniable Darwin & Other Essays (2010). The Institute is also allied with Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity, another pro-intelligent design organization.
Beyond intelligent design, the Discovery Institute runs programs and centers that address other subjects from a socially and politically conservative vantage. These subjects include free enterprise, personal liberty, government authority, human dignity, and artificial intelligence. Included here are its Center on Wealth, Poverty, and Morality; the Technology and Democracy Project; the Center on Human Exceptionalism; and the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.
PEOPLE: Discovery Institute’s fellows.
44. Fabian Society
Headquartered in London, the British Fabian Society is a socialist think tank established in 1884, making it the oldest think tank on our list. It is primarily focused on advancing democratic socialism in the U.K. through policy reform.
The history and influence of the Fabian Society is deeply rooted in British politics. The group was a founding organization of the Labour Representation Committee, from which today’s Labour Party developed. The Fabian Society was established by writers John Davidson, Edward R. Pease, and Edward Carpenter, and physician and eugenicist Havelock Ellis after humanist organization The Fellowship of the New Life dissolved. The Society’s name is a reference to the Roman General Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus who used gradualist tactics to defeat Hannibal’s army. Over the years, the Fabian Society accumulated numerous high-profile members, including Bertrand Russell, Emmeline Pankhurst, George Bernard Shaw, Annie Besant, and H. G. Wells.
In its century-plus history, the Fabian Society has had a significant formative effect on the Labour Party and its platform. While often taking a moderate stance, the Fabian Society has helped gradually pull many aspects of U.K. public policy to the left, especially in regards to taxes and national spending. Moreover “Fabianism” has become an influential movement in its own right, bolstering democratic socialism around the world. Today, the Fabian Society continues to conduct research in public policy and publish influential reports.
45. Third Way
Third Way is an American public policy think tank headquartered in Washington D.C. It advocates for a center-left platform in public policy. Third Way was established in 2005 as an offshoot of Americans for Gun Safety. Third Way in the U.S. is not affiliated with Third Way in the U.K., which was itself a right-wing think tank, though it dissolved in 2006.
The organization divides its focus across four areas: Economics, National Security, Climate and Energy, and Social Policy and Politics. As a center-left organization, it argues for policy measures including funding research in alternative energy sources, LGBTQ+ rights and equality, trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and increased gun safety and control. Toward this, Third Way publishes reports and pamphlets, hosts events, and publishes articles and opinion pieces in major media outlets. It also engages in rural reinvestment efforts.
Third Way has come under criticism for receiving funding from individuals with close ties to the banking industry, and investment bankers on its board of trustees. Additionally, it has been criticized for potentially publishing inaccurate or altered research.
PEOPLE: Third Way’s team.
46. National Policy Institute
The National Policy Institute is a Designated Hate Group recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The National Policy Institute is a white supremacist think tank established in 2005. It is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, seven miles outside of Washington, D.C. It lobbies for white supremacist policies (such as immigration bans, deportation of people of color, and laws that exclusively privilege white Americans) and is best known for being chaired by prominent neo-Nazi and white nationalist Richard Spencer.
The NPI was founded by William Regnery II, a prominent white nationalist figure and political donor. The NPI was relatively obscure until Spencer became chair in 2011. Prior to this, Spencer had made a name for himself by coining the term “alt-right” (and spearheading the movement), spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and advocating for the enslavement of Haitian people, as well as the “ethnic cleansing” of America (notably, Spencer is banned from entering most countries in Europe).
With the direction of Spencer, NPI became significantly more influential through lobbying, conventions, and publications. The group presents itself as an academically-minded white nationalist organization, and its platform as academic social criticism. Rather than deny common white supremacist positions (such as enslavement and genocide), NPI leans into them, arguing from what it portrays as a researched and reasoned academic foundation. Because of its connection with Spencer, the recent visibility, presence, and vocal influence of the alt-right in American politics and culture cannot be separated from the NPI. Due to a failure to file tax returns with the IRS, the NPI lost its tax exempt status in 2017.
PEOPLE: NPI’s who-we-are page.
47. Institute of Public Affairs
Headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, the Institute of Public Affairs is a conservative non-profit think tank. It is mostly focused on economic policy, government oversight, and issues affecting the free operation of businesses.
The IPA was established in 1943 by Australian economist Charles Denton Kemp after the collapse of the right-wing United Australia Party. It was primarily focused on business interests amid post-WWII reconstruction. Not long after its founding, the Commonwealth Security Service investigated the IPA for fascist sympathies and counter-revolution ideals, in part because some of its council members were also part of the Japan-Australia Society.
Through the years, IPA has moved further to the right on the political spectrum in its views. It supports such policy measures as lowering the tax rate, abolishing the minimum wage, deregulating the economy, privatizing government bodies and services, eliminating welfare programs for Indigenous Australians, and repealing Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (which pertains to harassment and hate speech).
In the 1990s, IPA published materials rejecting scientific evidence on the harms of secondhand smoking (after receiving funding through the tobacco industry and companies like Philip Morris). In recent years, it has worked to discredit climate change science, and has received a significant amount of funding from prominent climate change deniers (and companies like ExxonMobil). It maintains influence through publications like the IPA Review, events and conferences, political activism, and research projects and centers.
PEOPLE: IPA’s people.
Civitas is a British think tank headquartered in London and established in 2000. Though self-described as “classically liberal” and “non-partisan”, Civitas is generally seen as a conservative organization.
Citivas was founded by David George Green, who remains its CEO. An author of several books, and contributor to a variety of newspapers, magazines, and broadcast journalism programs, Green previously worked at the Institute of Economic Affairs as Director of the Health and Welfare Unit.
Civitas developed apart from IEA out of a desire to focus on a wider range of issues than just economics. In particular, Civitas focuses much of its efforts on education in the U.K., producing and supplying educational materials through Core Knowledge U.K. Additionally, it performs and publishes research through books, reports, and external media. Its conservative platform includes anti-LGBTQ stances, anti-immigration stances, support of Brexit, limited social welfare, and limited government oversight of corporations and industry, particularly in regards to environmental impact and safety.
PEOPLE: Civitas’s staff.
49. Terra Nova
Terra Nova is an independent French think tank, established in 2008. It is a liberal institution, often associated with the French Socialist Party, as well as Emmanuel Macron, the President of France. Accordingly, it is focused on promoting social democratic ideas and policy both in France and the surrounding European continent.
Terra Nova was founded by prominent French civil servant and public intellectual, Olivier Ferrand. The initial goal was to spurn the renewal of left-wing politics in the country, which it did handily. Terra Nova is the source of numerous influential reports, and played a major role in getting the French Socialist Party to utilize an open primary system for the 2012 presidential election. It has also pushed for a progressive approach to political unity among the left, advocating for a more diverse support base (reflecting gender, race, and ethnic populations), instead of just working-class French people.
Terra Nova produces influential research and publications in the form of long reports and policy briefs. It also hosts public events, debates, and lectures.
PEOPLE: Terra Nova’s “About Us” page.
Headquartered in London, Reform is a British think tank focused on issues of public services and economics. It was founded in 2001 by Nick Herbert, a British Conservative Party MP.
As its name suggests, Reform argues for policy reform. It takes issue with the operation of public services in the U.K., and advocates for measures such as reducing public spending, reducing social welfare, and reducing the tax rate. It regularly conducts research and publishes reports, manages a blog, and hosts events (with speakers including former Prime Minister Theresa May).
PEOPLE: Reform’s team.