Bright Line Watch — Invitation for Survey Question Proposals

Overview conducts regular surveys on the quality, per­for­mance, and resilience of democracy in the United States. We welcome proposals for questions to be included in our surveys from students, other scholars, civil society orga­ni­za­tions, or inter­est­ed citizens.

Every proposed question must include the following:

  • The precise question, or battery of questions, fully spelled out, word-for-word, as it would appear in the survey instrument, including the response options and any information about how the response options should be configured.

  • A concise explanation of the motivation behind the question (or questions), what information it aims to elucidate, and how it contributes to the information collected and reported in BLW’s existing surveys.

Proposals from individuals may be submitted electronically to . Proposals from students in academic courses should be submitted first to your instructor. We request that instructors please collect all proposals from a given class into a single document and submit them by email along with a brief description of the course and any other salient information about the proposals that can facilitate BLW’s review.

Background infor­ma­tion

The core of BLW’s surveys is a list of 27 state­ments of demo­c­ra­t­ic prin­ci­ples. We regard democracy as inher­ent­ly multi-faceted and recognize that threats to democracy are often piecemeal, so we seek to measure demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­or­i­ties and per­for­mance across diverse dimen­sions. BLW regularly includes in its surveys two batteries of questions that rely on this core set of 27 statements:

  • Importance to democracy:  How important are these characteristics for democratic government?

  • Performance of U.S. democracy:  How well do the following statements describe the United States as of today?

We include the “impor­tance” battery on our surveys occa­sion­al­ly to measure respon­dents’ demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­or­i­ties. By contrast, we include the “per­for­mance” battery in every survey wave to track assess­ments of U.S. democracy on all 27 demo­c­ra­t­ic prin­ci­ples over time. For that reason, we value stability in our list of 27 state­ments and do not intend to add to, or change, the list of 27 state­ments on a regular basis.

Of course, we will consider adding state­ments to the battery if there is a demo­c­ra­t­ic principle that we have over­looked. But we encourage those who would propose new questions to think mostly about new questions that can con­tribute to BLW’s project and mission rather than focusing first on adding to the core per­for­mance battery.

On most survey waves, BLW com­ple­ments its core per­for­mance battery with a set of questions that broadens our line of inquiry. Here are two examples from previous surveys:

  • The May 2017 expert survey included a battery that asked respondents to rate the overall quality of U.S. democracy at various dates in history. This measure allowed us to trace the historical trajectory of U.S. democratic quality according to current standards.

  • The January 2018 public and expert surveys included a battery that asked respondents to rate the overall quality of democracy in 12 countries other than the United States. This allowed us to place our U.S. results in comparative perspective and shed light on what characteristics of other countries’ politics contribute to/detract from assessments of democratic quality.

Suggestions for what to propose

We encourage proposals for new questions in any format that are not redundant to our existing set of impor­tance and per­for­mance measures.

New questions can take the form of complete batteries (i.e., a common question applied to a range of contexts), a series of related questions, or indi­vid­ual stand-alone survey questions.

In par­tic­u­lar, we welcome ideas for how to exploit BLW’s dual sample structure — in which we conduct parallel surveys of academic experts and of the general public — to help us learn about how demo­c­ra­t­ic values and attitudes compare between political elites and the general public.

We welcome original questions, but we are also open to sug­ges­tions for questions that are drawn from other surveys and research. Replicating questions with new respon­dent samples can be infor­ma­tive and can add value by lever­ag­ing the insights of other scholars. Please be sure to provide a full citation to the original source in any sub­mis­sions that propose repli­cat­ing questions from another source.