American Democracy on the Eve of the 2022 Midterms
Bright Line Watch October 2022 surveys

Two years ago, America’s democracy was tested when Donald Trump refused to concede Joe Biden’s pres­i­den­tial win, a violent mob stormed the Capitol to try to prevent the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of Biden’s victory, and a majority of con­gres­sion­al Republicans, including two-thirds of House members, voted against cer­ti­fy­ing the result. Public con­fi­dence in demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions dropped imme­di­ate­ly afterward among Republicans and did not rebound in 2021. As the country approach­es its first national elections since the failed effort to overturn the 2020 election and the January 6 insur­rec­tion, numerous tallies show that sub­stan­tial numbers of Republican can­di­dates for federal or statewide office deny the legit­i­ma­cy of the 2020 election, including nominees for Secretary of State in states like Arizona and Nevada that could decide the 2024 election. 

In this context, we fielded parallel public and expert surveys to assess the status of U.S. democracy. These surveys were conducted October 5–14 among 682 political sci­en­tists and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sample of 2,778 Americans. Our key findings are the following:

  • The gap between Republicans and Democrats in confidence in American elections remains large, but has diminished in the past year. Compared to November 2021, somewhat more Republicans recognize the legitimacy of Biden’s 2020 victory and express confidence in the integrity of the vote count in the upcoming midterm elections.

  • Both experts and the public, including four in five Republicans, say it is important for candidates who lose fair elections to publicly acknowledge defeat, but hundreds of 2022 Republican candidates for Congress or statewide office continue to deny that former President Trump lost to Joe Biden in 2020 or question the legitimacy of Biden’s victory. Across the three most comprehensive media tallies, the estimated percentage of deniers among Republicans is 31% for Attorney General candidates, 49% for governor, 31–39% for Secretary of State, 41–55% for U.S. House, and 35–41% for U.S. Senate. These ratings are generally consistent; about 80% of ratings are identical between organizations.

  • Experts rate the prevalence of 2020 election denialism among Republican candidates for statewide office as the most abnormal and important event of the past year and one of the most extreme to take place since 2016.

  • 91% of experts rate a 2024 Trump candidacy as a threat to democracy, including 35% who rate it as an extraordinary threat and 39% who rate it as a serious threat. 

  • 70% of experts view a prosecution of Trump as beneficial to U.S. democracy, including 16% who rate it as an extraordinary benefit and 35% who rate it as a serious benefit. 

  • Majorities of the public believe Trump committed crimes in trying to overturn the 2020 election, in his actions related to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and in handling classified documents and favor prosecution for each. However, the partisan splits on these issues are profound – approximately 90% of Democrats favor prosecution and close to 90% of Republicans oppose it. Experts overwhelmingly support prosecution. 

  • The academic experts we surveyed anticipate that some high-profile candidates in the 2022 midterm elections will refuse to concede. They also anticipate continued politicization of Supreme Court appointments. 

  • Experts are divided, however, on whether the Supreme Court will endorse the Independent State Legislature theory, which would allow state legislatures to regulate elections without constraint from institutions such as state courts and constitutions.

  • Assessments of the performance of U.S. democracy are stable and consistent with past surveys, but every group surveyed – experts and the public, Democrats and Republicans – anticipates a decline in the quality of U.S. democracy five and 10 years in the future.

  • Experts assess the quality of democracy in other countries as having mainly declined since we last surveyed on this in 2018.  However, partisan polarization in perceptions of democracy abroad is less pronounced than for democracy in the United States.

  • Among our sample of academic experts, those who post regularly about democracy on Twitter are more pessimistic about democracy’s future than those who do not.

Confidence in the 2020 and 2022 elections

We start by revis­it­ing the question of whether the public regards Joe Biden as the rightful winner of the 2020 pres­i­den­tial election – a key question for the legit­i­ma­cy and stability of U.S. democracy. In surveys through­out 2021, we found stark partisan polar­iza­tion, and remark­able stability, on this question. As the figure below indicates, that pattern persisted. However, Republican doubts about Biden’s legit­i­ma­cy did soften since our last poll in November 2021.

Overall, about two-thirds of Americans recognize Biden as the rightful winner. Democrats have been nearly unanimous on Biden’s win from the outset and remain so, with 96% rec­og­niz­ing his victory. For the first time since the 2020 election, we observe sub­stan­tial movement among Republicans, 33% of whom now regard Biden as the rightful 2020 winner, up sig­nif­i­cant­ly from 27% in November 2021. The partisan gulf on this question remains vast, with a large majority of Republicans still not rec­og­niz­ing Biden’s win. Still, the mea­sur­able change in Republican recog­ni­tion of Biden’s legit­i­ma­cy, which mirrors other recent survey data, is note­wor­thy.1

We also asked respon­dents to sep­a­rate­ly report their con­fi­dence that their own vote, votes in their state, and votes nation­wide in the November 2022 midterm elections would be counted as voters intend. The results are illus­trat­ed in the figure below. Two patterns are clear. First, con­sis­tent with other polls, con­fi­dence in the integrity of the vote count at each level is far higher among Democrats than among Republicans. Second, within each group, con­fi­dence is highest for one’s own vote and declines at higher levels of aggre­ga­tion. The decline by level is most pro­nounced among Republicans – just 49% say they are “very” or “somewhat confident” in the national vote count compared to 67% for the state vote count and 68% for their own vote. 

We note, however, that 49% of Republicans expressed con­fi­dence in the national vote count, which is seven per­cent­age points higher than what we found in November 2021 – a trend that is con­sis­tent with the greater belief Republicans expressed in the legit­i­ma­cy of Biden’s victory in this survey. However, con­fi­dence in the national vote count among Republicans is still well below the 58% we recorded in October 2020.

We also asked respon­dents about their con­fi­dence that everyone who is legally entitled to vote and seeks to do so will be able to cast a ballot in the November 2022 election. The next figure presents responses overall and by respon­dent par­ti­san­ship. Seventy-two percent of Republicans are confident that voting is suf­fi­cient­ly acces­si­ble, a figure that hasn’t changed sig­nif­i­cant­ly from a year ago. On this issue, the movement is among Democrats, with 68% confident in ballot access versus 61% last year. This increase might be driven by a change in issue salience rather than a change of heart. Throughout 2021, Democrats were animated in oppo­si­tion to ini­tia­tives in a number of states placing restric­tions on voting. During 2022, Democratic pre­oc­cu­pa­tions shifted toward repro­duc­tive rights and the economy.

Conceding defeat

In January 2021, we asked our expert and public respon­dents how important it is to democracy that “Politicians who lose free and fair elections will concede defeat.” The experts nearly uniformly (94%) rated conceding defeat as “essential” or “important” to democracy (versus “ben­e­fi­cial… but not required” or “not relevant” to democracy). The numbers were lower among the public (68%), with higher priority expressed by respon­dents who dis­ap­proved of former President Trump (79%) compared to Trump sup­port­ers (54%). 

In our October 2022 survey, we asked our public sample to say how important they think it is “for a losing candidate for Congress to publicly acknowl­edge the winner as the legit­i­mate rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the state or district” in November’s elections. The figure below breaks out responses by partisan group. Overall, 85% regard it as “very” or “somewhat important” for losing can­di­dates to acknowl­edge defeat publicly (versus “not too important” or “not at all important”), with a higher rate among Democrats (94%) than Republicans (79%).

We also asked the public and experts to evaluate the degree to which this principle is upheld in American politics. Ratings on per­for­mance are lower than on impor­tance – 34% of experts and 38% of the public rated the U.S. as fully or mostly meeting this standard compared to 40% of experts and 34% of the public, respec­tive­ly, in November 2021.

Willingness to concede defeat – in both past and future elections – has become a central point of con­tention among can­di­dates around the country. In Republican primaries this year, denying the validity of President Biden’s 2020 election became a marker of fealty to the party base. A variety of news orga­ni­za­tions published tallies of can­di­dates who supported this narrative. To determine a candidate’s status as an election denier, these sources drew on can­di­dates’ campaign state­ments, debate footage, and social media posts, endorse­ment of lawsuits, and (for members of Congress) oppo­si­tion to cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of Biden’s election.2 We combined lists con­struct­ed by the Washington Post, Bloomberg, and FiveThirtyEight to provide the most com­pre­hen­sive measure of the preva­lence of Republican can­di­dates for high office who deny the 2020 election result.3 Our results are illus­trat­ed in the figure below, which is based on data from the 522 can­di­dates rated by all three outlets. 

For Attorney General, each outlet codes eight of 29 (28%) can­di­dates as deniers. Six of the 29 Republican can­di­dates (21%) are coded as deniers by all three outlets and 5 are coded as deniers by one or two outlets (17%). For Governor, each outlet codes 18 of 37 Republican can­di­dates (49%) as deniers. 12 (32%) are coded as deniers by all three outlets and 12 (32%) are coded as deniers by one or two outlets. For other offices, between a third and just over half of Republican can­di­dates are cat­e­go­rized as deniers, with more variation across sources than in the codings than for governor and attorney general. For Secretary of State, the outlets code the per­cent­age of deniers as 31–39%. A total of 23% of Republican Secretary of State can­di­dates are coded as deniers by all three sources while 19% are coded as deniers by one or two sources. Among U.S. House can­di­dates, 41–55% of Republicans are coded as deniers by the three outlets. In total, 33% of Republican House can­di­dates are coded as deniers by all three sources and 29% are coded as non-deniers by one or two sources. Finally, 35–41% of Republican U.S. Senate can­di­dates are coded as deniers across outlets. 24% were coded as deniers by all three sources and 26% were coded as deniers by one or two sources.4 Searchable data on all can­di­dates and how they were clas­si­fied by each source are here.

Donald Trump’s legal status

Former President Trump faces potential legal exposure from a grand jury inves­ti­ga­tion into alle­ga­tions that he pressured Georgia’s Secretary of State into fraud­u­lent­ly changing electoral results, possible charges related to his role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and an FBI inves­ti­ga­tion into his handling of clas­si­fied documents after leaving the pres­i­den­cy. We asked both our expert and our public respon­dents to assess whether committed a crime in each case and if he should be pros­e­cut­ed for such a crime. The issues were described as follows:5

  • His efforts to change the results of the 2020 presidential election

  • His role in the events of January 6, 2021

  • His handling of classified documents after leaving the White House

On each matter, we asked each respon­dent whether they think Trump committed a crime and whether they think he should be prosecuted. 

The following figure shows responses to each question for the experts and for the public overall. Three patterns are imme­di­ate­ly apparent. First, on each issue, clear but narrow majori­ties of the public believe Trump committed crimes and that he should be pros­e­cut­ed.6 Second, the expert respon­dents are far more likely than the public to hold both of these beliefs. Third, the cor­re­la­tion between believing Trump committed a crime and believing that he should be pros­e­cut­ed is stronger among the public than the experts. Among the public, 94.4% of respon­dents who perceive a crime also favor pros­e­cu­tion. Among the expert sample, this rela­tion­ship is slightly weaker.

The next figure shows the same set of responses for the public broken down by par­ti­san­ship. The partisan chasm on Trump’s criminal cul­pa­bil­i­ty is even deeper than on the integrity of American elections, high­light­ing the deep polar­iza­tion that underlies the steady pattern of majority support in the figure above. On each item, around 90% of Democrats believe that Trump committed a crime and should be pros­e­cut­ed. Among Republicans, the cor­re­spond­ing figures are in the 10–15% range. Partisan inde­pen­dents fall in the 40–50% range depending on the issue. Here again, support for pros­e­cu­tion is tightly bound to belief in crim­i­nal­i­ty. In no instance is the pro­por­tion who believes Trump committed a crime sta­tis­ti­cal­ly dis­cernible from the pro­por­tion favoring pros­e­cu­tion overall or within a given partisan group.7


Democratic per­for­mance

As in previous surveys, we asked each expert and public respon­dent to rate the overall per­for­mance of American democracy on a scale from 0 to 100. In this survey wave, we also asked respon­dents to forecast the expected per­for­mance of American democracy in five years and in 10 years, on the same scale. The figure below reports the average ratings for various groups of respon­dents. The solid lines track expert and public assess­ments from February 2017 to October 2022; the dotted lines show future predictions.

Contrary to crit­i­cisms that academics overrate threats to American democracy, the experts (green) con­sis­tent­ly rate democracy more pos­i­tive­ly than the public does. Mean expert ratings have ranged from 60 to 69 on the 100-point scale over the past five years and were 67 in October 2022. Assessments among the public overall (purple) have been steadier, ranging from 53 to 58, and are at 55 in the most recent survey. Among the public, Democrats’ and Republicans’ ratings depend on which party controls the White House. From 2017 through 2020, mean Republican ratings were, on average, eight points above those of Democrats, a pattern that flipped after Biden took office. In October 2022, the average rating among Democrats was 60 compared to 54 among Republicans.

What all groups share – experts and public, Democrats and Republicans – is pessimism about American democracy in the years ahead. The experts, on average, antic­i­pate a drop from 67 to 60 in five years and to 59 in ten years. Among the public, those numbers are 55 (October 2022) to 53 (2027) to 51 (2032), with similar tra­jec­to­ries among Democrats (60, 58, and 57, respec­tive­ly) and Republicans (54, 51, and 50, respec­tive­ly). Pessimism about U.S. democracy might have different roots between the parties and among people with different levels of political engage­ment, but everyone is pessimistic.

Is the Twittersphere different?

Debates continues to rage over whether social media has a dele­te­ri­ous effect on democracy. Twitter is often singled out for its height­ened level of political rhetoric, including within online academic com­mu­ni­ties. Yet the degree to which Twitter content is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of broader political attitudes is an open question in light of demo­graph­ic and political dif­fer­ences in who uses the platform, the fluidity of the groups that interact on it, and the vast skew in content pro­duc­tion toward a small minority of users who generate the vast majority of tweets.

In this survey wave, we sought to determine whether appraisals of American democracy within our expert sample of political sci­en­tists vary with respon­dents’ degree of Twitter engage­ment. We included two questions on the expert survey about whether, and how often, respon­dents use Twitter and, if so, do they tweet about issues related to the state of American democracy. The figure below shows our current democracy ratings, and forward-looking pro­jec­tions, breaking out those who tweet on American democracy once a week or more fre­quent­ly (11% of respon­dents) from the rest of our expert sample.

On assess­ments of current democracy, the groups’ mean ratings are nearly identical – 66 and 67, respec­tive­ly, for experts who tweet about democracy fre­quent­ly and those who do not. Projecting into the future, both groups antic­i­pate demo­c­ra­t­ic erosion but those who tweet about democracy are somewhat more pes­simistic, antic­i­pat­ing a rating of 56 in five years compared to 60 for other experts and a rating of 54 in ten years versus 59 for other experts. We caution that these dif­fer­ences are not sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant and do not imply any causal effect of Twitter use or judgment about the relative accuracy of the groups’ forecasts. They do suggest, though, the need to take selection into account when consuming democracy news from Twitter – the tone among academic experts there may be more pes­simistic than what experts as a whole would convey.

Democracy in other countries

Our surveys also asked respon­dents to use the same 100-point scale to rate democracy in 13 addi­tion­al countries (with each respon­dent rating a randomly selected set of 6). In a previous survey conducted in January 2018, we measured per­cep­tions of the same set of countries (except Brazil). The next figure shows the mean ratings of the expert and public samples in October 2022 (left panel) and the changes relative to 2018 ratings for each group (right panel).

Canada and Great Britain are the only countries in our com­par­i­son set rated as more demo­c­ra­t­ic than the United States, with both the expert and public samples con­cur­ring. Democracy in other countries is rated lower than the United States to varying degrees, with Israel and Mexico as the closest com­par­isons and North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and China at the bottom of the scale. 

Country ratings have tended to decline overall since 2018.8 Canadian democracy remains admired by our expert sample but slid 13 points in the public’s esti­ma­tion. Recent cabinet turmoil in Britain has dented Westminster’s rep­u­ta­tion among both experts and the public. Our surveys were completed before Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned but her government’s insta­bil­i­ty and policy woes were prominent in the news while the surveys were in the field and former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s scandal-tinged departure was recent in memory. At the lower end of the scale, Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia, already rated as unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic, dropped further in the esti­ma­tion of both experts and the public. North Korea, having already crash-landed, has nowhere further to fall. 

Only two scores improved markedly from 2018 – the expert ratings for Philippines and for Turkey. In the former case, former President Rodrigo Duterte respect­ing the constitution’s one-term limit and not seeking reelec­tion may have reg­is­tered as a demo­c­ra­t­ic reprieve (notwith­stand­ing the dynastic impli­ca­tions of Duterte’s daughter’s election to the vice pres­i­den­cy and former dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s son, Bongbong, winning the pres­i­den­cy). Turkey’s higher rating in 2022 might reflect the proximity of our 2018 survey to the failed 2016 military coup attempt against President Erdogan.

The next figure breaks out ratings from Democrats and Republicans from our public sample (left panel) and also shows changes from the 2018 ratings (right panel). Partisanship does not seem to color how Americans see democracy abroad as much as it affects per­cep­tions of democracy at home. The notable exception is Canada’s decline since 2018 among Republicans, which might reflect the sym­pa­thet­ic treatment in con­ser­v­a­tive U.S. media outlets of last winter’s vaccine mandate protests. Other than Canada (which Democrats rate at 71 versus 48 among Republicans), the biggest partisan spreads are observed for Israel (55 among Republicans, 47 among Democrats), Mexico (48 among Democrats, 40 among Republicans), and Venezuela (30 among Democrats, 23 among Republicans). Notwithstanding these excep­tions, the average partisan dif­fer­ence in country democracy ratings is just 5.7 points and the dif­fer­ence in ratings between parties are not sta­tis­ti­cal­ly dis­cernible in 7 of 13 cases.

Note that we included Brazil among the countries our respon­dents rated in the October survey wave, when it was rated at 50 by the experts, 43 by Democrats, and 40 by Republicans just after the first round of Brazil’s national elections on October 3rd. In that first round, incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro and chal­lenger Luis Ignacio da Silva advanced to a run-off that is scheduled for October 30th. Bolsonaro, who is widely regarded as similar in political style to Donald Trump, has repeat­ed­ly ques­tioned the integrity of Brazilian public opinion surveys as well as the country’s voting machines and electoral admin­is­tra­tion. Bolsonaro has also refused to commit to accepting the election outcome if he is not declared the winner, and received Trump’s endorse­ment. We will survey our respon­dents again on Brazilian democracy in November 2022, after the pres­i­den­tial run-off, to see how assess­ments change depending on the outcome and the behavior of both candidates.

Expert assess­ments of like­li­hoods and threats

We asked our expert sample to rate the prob­a­bil­i­ty of several events occurring during or after the 2022 midterm elections that bear on the state of American democracy.

  • Republican candidates who lose elections for statewide office (for example, governor or U.S. senator) in two or more different states refuse to concede defeat.

  • The Republican Party wins a majority in the House of Representatives even though Democratic House candidates win more votes than Republican House candidates nationwide.

  • Disputes over the election results in the 2022 midterms escalate to political violence in which more than 10 people are killed nationwide.

We also asked the experts to assess the like­li­hood of some potential events further in the future:

  • In 2023, the Supreme Court endorses the Independent State Legislature theory, increasing the authority of state legislatures over congressional maps and the appointment of presidential electors and diminishing the influence of governors, independent election commissions, state constitutions, and state courts;

  • The next Supreme Court vacancy will not be filled unless the Senate and the presidency are held by the same party.

The figure below reports the median prob­a­bil­i­ty estimate (x) and the density of prob­a­bil­i­ty estimates across the available range of 0% to 100% for each scenario among our expert respon­dents. Items are listed in descend­ing order of estimated median probability. 

Of the five events we surveyed, experts assigned the highest and lowest prob­a­bil­i­ties to events that could take place after the November election. Consistent with the preva­lence of 2020 election denialism among current GOP can­di­dates, a large majority of experts expect that Republicans who lose elections for statewide office in two or more states will refuse to concede defeat this year. The median prob­a­bil­i­ty estimate for this outcome was 75%. However, most experts do not antic­i­pate election disputes to trigger wide­spread violence, though the median estimated prob­a­bil­i­ty of post-election violence killing more than 10 people nation­wide is a still-con­cern­ing 34%.

The experts place a high expec­ta­tion (median 72%) on the Republican Party winning a House majority while capturing fewer votes nation­wide than Democrats due to ger­ry­man­der­ing and the Republican advantage based on the geo­graph­i­cal dis­tri­b­u­tion of voters. Yet as the midterms approach, recent analyses have diverged on the antic­i­pat­ed degree of pro-Republican bias of House districts. The absence of Democratic can­di­dates in many safe Republican districts also opens the prospect of an electoral inversion in the opposite direction in which Democrats hold the House despite a Republican popular vote victory. 

We also asked the political science experts to weigh in on the like­li­hood of two scenarios involving the Supreme Court. The first scenario is that the Court will issue a decision in 2023 endorsing the Independent State Legislature (ISL) theory. In June 2022, the Court agreed to hear arguments in Moore v. Harper, a case in which the General Assembly (state leg­is­la­ture) of North Carolina chal­lenges the authority of the state’s Supreme Court to block leg­isla­tive maps drawn and approved by the leg­is­la­ture. ISL theory is based on readings of two passages in the U.S. Constitution referring to state leg­isla­tive authority over elections. It rep­re­sents a departure from existing precedent in reading such authority as uncon­strained by state con­sti­tu­tions or state courts and other insti­tu­tion­al actors, such as election boards. By agreeing to hear the North Carolina case in December 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court indicated a will­ing­ness to consider the ISL-based claims of the North Carolina leg­is­la­ture. The political science experts we surveyed are divided (median forecast 51%) over whether this case fore­shad­ows an endorse­ment of ISL theory, which would increase the authority of state leg­is­la­tures nation­wide in reg­u­lat­ing elections and resolving electoral disputes. Many critics of ISL fear that such a decision would allow GOP state leg­is­la­tures to more aggres­sive­ly ger­ry­man­der and restrict access to the vote in a manner that harms democracy.

The other Supreme Court-related item that we surveyed experts about asked whether the Court’s next vacancy will not be filled unless the Senate and the pres­i­den­cy are con­trolled by the same party. This scenario assumes that the standoff that took place between then-President Obama and the Republican-con­trolled Senate (which held open the seat vacated by Antonin Scalia until after the 2016 election) would be repli­cat­ed in the future. Experts expect a similar pattern of behavior during the next situation of this type – the median forecast is 72% that a justice would not be confirmed unless the same party holds the Senate and the White House. 

We also asked the experts to assess the effect of the following scenarios on US democracy:

  • A Trump candidacy for president in the 2024 cycle

  • A prosecution of former President Donald Trump

Experts could indicate whether they expected each reform to benefit democracy, have no impact on democracy, or threaten democracy. The figure below sum­ma­rizes the results, which are stark. 91% of the political science experts regard a Trump candidacy in 2024 as a threat to democracy, with 35% rating the level as extra­or­di­nary and 39% as serious. By contrast, 70% of political science experts view a pros­e­cu­tion of Trump as ben­e­fi­cial to U.S. democracy, with 16% rating the benefit as extra­or­di­nary and 35% as serious.


We continue to survey experts about the normality and impor­tance of events that have taken place in the past year. The complete list of events (with the exact text shown to respon­dents) is provided in the appendix to this report; the ratings provided by our experts are plotted on the figure below. It dis­tin­guish­es between events that experts rate as rel­a­tive­ly normal and important (e.g., Congress passing the Inflation Reduction Act), normal and unim­por­tant (Joe Biden testing positive for COVID), rel­a­tive­ly abnormal but unim­por­tant (the FBI inves­ti­ga­tion of the theft of Ashley Biden’s diary), and both abnormal and important (e.g., the state of Florida flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard). We are par­tic­u­lar­ly concerned about events in the shaded upper-right quadrant, which experts rated as mostly important to important and mostly abnormal to abnormal on average.

We therefore zoom in on the upper-right quadrant of espe­cial­ly abnormal and important events in the figure below, which jux­ta­pos­es expert ratings of events from our most recent survey with those from past surveys. As the figure indicates, six events that took place since our last survey in late 2021 were rated as both highly abnormal and highly important. Two concern the inves­ti­ga­tion of former President Trump’s handling of clas­si­fied documents: the FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and the discovery of documents there per­tain­ing to the nuclear capa­bil­i­ties of a foreign country. The other four relate to the effort by President Trump to overturn the 2020 election and its aftermath, including Republicans who were at the Capitol riot on January 6 winning party nom­i­na­tions in 2022 House contests, Trump promising to pardon January 6 rioters if he wins the pres­i­den­cy in 2024, and testimony to the January 6 committee that Trump was per­son­al­ly involved in the plan to put forward slates of fake electors in bat­tle­ground states following the 2020 election. However, experts rated the preva­lence of 2020 election denialism among Republican can­di­dates for statewide office as the most abnormal and important event of the past year and one of the most extreme to take place since 2016. Experts rated this devel­op­ment as both more abnormal and more important, for instance, than Trump pres­sur­ing Ukraine to inves­ti­gate Joe Biden while he was in office – an action for which he was impeached by the House of Representatives. 


Bright Line Watch conducted its sev­en­teenth survey of academic experts from October 5‑YY, 2022 and its four­teenth survey of the general public durfroming October 5–14, 2022. Our public sample consisted of 2,778 par­tic­i­pants from the YouGov panel who were selected and weighted to be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the U.S. adult pop­u­la­tion. We also surveyed 682 political science experts across a diverse range of subfields (5.8% of solicited invi­ta­tions). Our email list was con­struct­ed from the faculty list of U.S. insti­tu­tions rep­re­sent­ed in the online program of the 2016 American Political Science Association con­fer­ence and updated by reviewing depart­ment websites and job placement records from Ph.D. programs in the period since.

All estimates shown in the report used weights provided by YouGov. Our expert sample is unweight­ed because we do not collect demo­graph­ic data to protect anonymity. Error bars in our graphs represent 95% con­fi­dence intervals. Data are available here.

Both the expert and public samples in Wave 17 responded to a battery of questions about demo­c­ra­t­ic per­for­mance in the United States. Afterward, they were asked to evaluate the quality of American democracy overall on a 100-point scale.

How well do the following state­ments describe the United States as of today?

  • The U.S. does not meet this standard

  • The U.S. partly meets this standard

  • The U.S. mostly meets this standard

  • The U.S fully meets this standard

  1. Government officials are legally sanc­tioned for misconduct
  2. Government officials do not use public office for private gain
  3. Government agencies are not used to monitor, attack, or punish political opponents
  4. All adult citizens enjoy the same legal and political rights
  5. Government does not interfere with jour­nal­ists or news organizations
  6. Government effec­tive­ly prevents private actors from engaging in polit­i­cal­ly-motivated violence or intimidation
  7. Government protects indi­vid­u­als’ right to engage in unpopular speech or expression
  8. Political com­pe­ti­tion occurs without criticism of opponents’ loyalty or patriotism
  9. Elections are free from foreign influence
  10. Parties and can­di­dates are not barred due to their political beliefs and ideologies
  11. All adult citizens have equal oppor­tu­ni­ty to vote
  12. All votes have equal impact on election outcomes
  13. Elections are conducted, ballots counted, and winners deter­mined without pervasive fraud or manipulation
  14. Executive authority cannot be expanded beyond con­sti­tu­tion­al limits
  15. The leg­is­la­ture is able to effec­tive­ly limit executive power
  16. The judiciary is able to effec­tive­ly limit executive power
  17. The elected branches respect judicial independence
  18. Voter par­tic­i­pa­tion in elections is generally high
  19. Information about the sources of campaign funding is available to the public
  20. Public policy is not deter­mined by large campaign contributions
  21. Citizens can make their opinions heard in open debate about policies that are under consideration
  22. The geo­graph­ic bound­aries of electoral districts do not sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly advantage any par­tic­u­lar political party
  23. Even when there are dis­agree­ments about ideology or policy, political leaders generally share a common under­stand­ing of relevant facts
  24. Elected officials seek com­pro­mise with political opponents
  25. Citizens have access to infor­ma­tion about can­di­dates that is relevant to how they would govern
  26. Government protects indi­vid­u­als’ right to engage in peaceful protest
  27. Law enforce­ment inves­ti­ga­tions of public officials or their asso­ciates are free from political influence or interference
  28. Government sta­tis­tics and data are produced by experts who are not influ­enced by political considerations
  29. The law is enforced equally for all persons
  30. Incumbent politi­cians who lose elections publicly concede defeat

The figure below breaks out per­for­mance ratings on each of 30 demo­c­ra­t­ic prin­ci­ples. The markers for each principle indicate the per­cent­age of expert (green) and public (purple) respon­dents who regard the United States as fully or mostly meeting the standard (as opposed to meeting it partly or not at all). Consistent with the overall ratings, the experts rate U.S. demo­c­ra­t­ic per­for­mance more pos­i­tive­ly than the public overall. Few excep­tions exist, however, such as voting rights being equally protected for all citizens, politi­cians operating with a common under­stand­ing on factual matters, and electoral districts not sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly favoring one party over the other.

The next figure shows per­for­mance assess­ments on the same 30 prin­ci­ples for the public sample only by respon­dent par­ti­san­ship. On some prin­ci­ples, middling overall public assess­ments hide stark partisan polarization. 

Additional com­po­nents of expert survey 

Political events

In this series of questions, we ask how normal or abnormal and how important or unim­por­tant recent political events are.

Is this normal or abnormal?

  • Normal
  • Mostly normal
  • Borderline normal
  • Mostly abnormal
  • Abnormal

Is this unim­por­tant or important?

  • Unimportant
  • Mostly unim­por­tant
  • Semi-important
  • Mostly important
  • Important
  1. 3 Republicans who were at the Capitol riot on January 6 win party nom­i­na­tions in 2022 House contests
  2. Trump says he would pardon January 6 rioters if he wins the pres­i­den­cy in 2024
  3. After the 2020 election, Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, pressed White House chief of staff to overturn results
  4. The FBI searches Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago
  5. Justice Stephen Breyer retires from the Supreme Court
  6. The Supreme Court strikes down Obama-era reg­u­la­tions that the EPA imposed on coal-fired power plants
  7. Drone strike carried out by U.S. forces kills al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
  8. Biden admin­is­tra­tion announces plan to cancel $10,000 in student debt
  9. January 6 committee hears testimony that Trump was per­son­al­ly involved in plan to put forward slates of fake electors in bat­tle­ground states following the 2020 election
  10. FBI finds documents related to foreign nations’ nuclear capa­bil­i­ties during search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence
  11. Over 40% of Republican can­di­dates for statewide office in the 2022 elections refuse to acknowl­edge the legit­i­ma­cy of the 2020 election
  12. The U.S. sends billions in military aid to Ukraine after Russia invades
  13. January 6 committee presents evidence that Trump was told that using VP Pence to overturn the 2020 election was illegal
  14. 18 months into the Biden pres­i­den­cy, polls show that a majority of Democrats wants a new pres­i­den­tial nominee in 2024
  15. Congress passes the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $370 billion in spending and tax credits in low-emission forms of energy
  16. FBI inves­ti­gates the theft of the personal diary of Biden’s daughter
  17. Biden tests positive for COVID-19 and expe­ri­ences mild symptoms
  18. News reports indicate that toilets in the Trump White House were clogged by papers
  19. Florida voter fraud task force arrests 20 people for voting illegally, many of whom had been told they were eligible to vote
  20. Speaking at a Trump rally, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene claims that Democratic ‘killings’ of Republicans have started
  21. The Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, allowing state-level restric­tions on abortion
  22. Republican Representative Liz Cheney, a critic of Trump’s claims regarding the 2020 election, loses her primary to a Trump-backed challenger
  23. Following Disney’s criticism of a Florida bill reg­u­lat­ing classrom dis­cus­sions of gender and sexuality, the state leg­is­la­ture ter­mi­nates the company’s special tax status
  24. Florida flies dozens of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard to protest illegal immi­gra­tion under Biden
  25. Florida adopts reg­u­la­tions that limit classroom dis­cus­sions of gender and sexuality

Additional Figures

Trump’s legal status — When “Don’t Know” is an option:


  1. True partisan inde­pen­dents (those who do not lean toward either Republicans or Democrats) make up 18% of our sample. They have not moved sig­nif­i­cant­ly over the past year; 59% recognize Biden as the rightful winner.
  2. The Washington Post and also reached out with direct com­mu­ni­ca­tion to can­di­dates to survey their positions on the matter.
  3. CNN (governor, Senate) and NBC (attorney general, governor, Secretary of State) also produced lists of election deniers but their coverage across offices is not as com­pre­hen­sive so we do not include it here. For the offices that these two outlets covered, estimates of election-denying Republicans tend to be higher than those reported by Bloomberg, FiveThirtyEight, and The Washington Post: CNN finds sub­stan­tial­ly more election-denying can­di­dates for Governor (60%) and U.S. Senate (56%), while NBC’s reported figures are on the high end for Attorney General can­di­dates (35%) and Secretary of State can­di­dates (39%), but on the low end for Governor (41%). The New York Times covered the same set of offices as those analyzed in this report but did not provide indi­vid­ual-level candidate clas­si­fi­ca­tion data with its tally and thus is excluded. Further com­pli­cat­ing com­par­isons„ The New York Times cat­e­go­rized can­di­dates into three distinct groups: “openly said the 2020 election was stolen”, “ques­tioned the 2020 election in other ways”, and “found no evidence.” The aggregate data reported by The New York Times shows more election deniers than other sources: 53% of can­di­dates for Attorney General, 65% of can­di­dates for Governor, 58% of can­di­dates for Secretary of State, 69% of can­di­dates for U.S. House, and 78% of can­di­dates for U.S. Senate are cat­e­go­rized as election deniers. We caution however, that the set of can­di­dates analyzed by The New York Times differs from that analyzed by the three main sources analyzed in this report. All the sources except coded can­di­dates according to a denier/non-denier binary. rated can­di­dates as “fully denied,” “raised questions,” “fully accepted,” “accepted with reser­va­tions,” “no comment,” or “avoided answering.” We coded those who “fully denied” or “raised questions” as deniers. We are grateful to Maria Janel Consuelo Perez and Coalter Palmer for research assis­tance with these data.
  4. Bloomberg was slightly less likely to label can­di­dates as deniers than the or the Washington Post. Agreement rates on indi­vid­ual candidate codings between sources are as follows: Bloomberg-538: 78%; WaPo-538: 82%; WaPo-Bloomberg: 83%.
  5. We focused on Trump’s actions as president and former president. We did not ask about financial fraud charges against the Trump Organization sep­a­rate­ly filed by New York’s attorney general.
  6. We present results for respon­dents who were given “Yes” and “No” as the available answers. Results are similar among those who were randomly assigned to be provided also with a “Don’t know” response option, though the per­cent­ages saying they believe Trump committed a crime and should be pros­e­cut­ed falls below 50% when the “Don’t know” option is provided. A figure showing those results is in the appendix to this report.
  7. We asked anyone who said Trump committed a crime but should not face pros­e­cu­tion why they held those views. However, there were not enough such respon­dents in either sample for us to conduct a mean­ing­ful analysis.
  8. Of 24 ratings (public and expert for 12 countries measured in both surveys), 16 declined and 8 increased.