Rebound in Confidence: American Democracy and the 2022 Midterm Elections
Bright Line Watch November 2022 surveys

The November 2022 midterm elections narrowly returned the United States to divided gov­ern­ment. From the per­spec­tive of American democracy, the most note­wor­thy result was the under­per­for­mance of election denier can­di­dates allied with former President Trump and their accep­tance of the results (with only one prominent exception – Kari Lake in Arizona).

To under­stand the outcome of the election and its effects on per­cep­tions of democracy in the United States, we fielded parallel surveys of 707 political sci­en­tists and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sample of 2750 Americans from November 22-December 2, 2022. These data were collected after it became clear which party would control the House and Senate1 but while votes were still being counted in most states and with some House contests still unre­solved. This timing was chosen to allow us to compare the post-election results with our pre-election survey, which was conducted October 5–14, 2022. (81% of public respon­dents from that survey took this one as well, allowing us to see how views changed over time for those individuals.) 

Our key findings are the following:

  • Public confidence that votes were counted accurately at the local, state, and national levels increased after the election and beliefs in voter and election fraud decreased. The changes were generally largest among Republicans. 

  • Our expert respondents, the public overall, and Democratic and Republican partisans alike all rate the overall performance of American democracy as having improved after the election. 

  • Experts and the public also view the prospects of US democracy in the future more favorably, though improvements in public perceptions were concentrated among Democrats. Partisans from both sides expect the quality of democracy to decline if the other side wins in 2024.

  • Experts regard the prospect of Donald Trump capturing the GOP nomination again in 2024 as a profound threat to American democracy and expect major declines in the quality of American democracy if Donald Trump wins. A plurality of the public shares this view.  Smaller shares of both groups see Ron DeSantis as a threat and expectations of democratic decline if he wins are smaller as well. 

  • A majority of experts see the Democratic strategy of supporting election deniers in GOP primaries as a threat to democracy. 

  • A substantial fraction of Americans say protecting democracy is the most important consideration in which candidate they will support for president in 2024. Among partisans, more prioritized selection of a candidate who would protect American democracy over a candidate who best matched their policy preferences or one who would be most likely to win the general election.

  • In sharp contrast with previous surveys, experts evaluated major events before and after the midterm elections as predominantly conforming with traditional democratic norms.

  • Between October and November, both experts and the public perceived democratic improvement in Brazil and a decline in democracy’s prospects in China.

Confidence in American elections

We asked respon­dents to report their con­fi­dence that their own vote, votes in their state, and votes nation­wide in the November 2022 midterm elections were counted as voters intended. We prospec­tive­ly asked the same battery of questions in October, allowing us to analyze change over time in the levels of “very” and “somewhat confident” responses (as opposed to “not very” and “not at all confident”) by party. These findings are presented in the figure below.

As the figure illus­trates, public con­fi­dence in the integrity of vote counts rose for Democrats and Republicans for both people’s own vote2 as well as at the state level. The partisan gap in con­fi­dence in the national-level vote count widened, however. Confidence among Democrats, already high, increased from 95% to 97% for the personal vote, 89% to 92% at the state level and from 80% to 90% nation­wide. Republican con­fi­dence also increased sig­nif­i­cant­ly from 68% to 78% for the personal vote and from 67% to 73% for the statewide vote. However, con­fi­dence in the national vote among Republicans, which was already much lower than for Democrats, did not change sig­nif­i­cant­ly (49% in October, 51% in November).3

We also asked respon­dents before and after the election about their con­fi­dence that everyone who was legally entitled to vote and sought to do so was able to cast a ballot. Among Democrats, con­fi­dence increased from 68% before the election to 77% afterward. By contrast, Republican con­fi­dence in voter access did not change appre­cia­bly (72% in October, 71% in November).

The nation­wide increase in Democratic con­fi­dence in the vote count and voter access is perhaps con­sis­tent with a winner’s effect given how their party out­per­formed expec­ta­tions in the midterms and the positive messages they are likely to have heard from co-partisans about the per­for­mance of the electoral system. Notably, however, we do not observe a decrease in Republican con­fi­dence like we found among Trump approvers after the 2020 election. In that case, con­fi­dence in voting at the national level collapsed, falling from 56% to just 28% among Trump sup­port­ers. The lack of prominent alle­ga­tions of wide­spread fraud after the 2022 midterms, in contrast with 2020, likely explains the different pattern.

Though such alle­ga­tions were rare, the most prominent attacks on election legit­i­ma­cy focused on delays in counting ballots and on scenarios in which a candidate with a narrow initial lead might fall behind when more ballots were counted. We therefore included an exper­i­ment in the November survey to test whether long counts and lead changes harmed public con­fi­dence in election results. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three con­di­tions describ­ing the outcome of the election for U.S. Senate in Nevada:

Election outcome baseline: Nevada’s incumbent Democratic senator Catherine Cortez Masto narrowly defeated Republican chal­lenger Adam Laxalt.

Long count: After days of mail-in ballot counting, Nevada’s incumbent Democratic senator Catherine Cortez Masto narrowly defeated Republican chal­lenger Adam Laxalt.

Long count and outcome reversal: After days of mail-in ballot counting and despite trailing until the last day of the count, Nevada’s incumbent Democratic senator Catherine Cortez Masto narrowly defeated Republican chal­lenger Adam Laxalt.

Participants in each condition were then asked how confident they were that votes in the state of Nevada were counted as voters intended. We expected that reminders of the long counting process would diminish public con­fi­dence in the outcome and that a reversal in the lead at the end of that count would damage it further. 

The next figure shows the per­cent­age of respon­dents who said they were “very” or “somewhat confident” (as opposed to “not too” or “not at all confident”) in the integrity of the Nevada count for each partisan group by each exper­i­men­tal condition.

The effects we measure are in the expected direction but fall short of sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance. Among Democrats, whose candidate won the race, more than nine in ten respon­dents express con­fi­dence in the vote count regard­less of the details provided (94% for both the baseline and the long count con­di­tions and 92% among par­tic­i­pants informed about both the long count and the lead change). Among Republicans, con­fi­dence is just 45% in the baseline condition and falls in the long count condition to 44% and to 39% in the condition with a delayed count and a late change in the leading candidate.

Beliefs in voter and election fraud

We asked respon­dents about the preva­lence of five different forms of voter and election fraud: voting by non-citizens, voting under a false identity, stealing or tampering with ballots, voting more than once, and voting with another person’s absentee ballot. For each type of fraud, respon­dents were asked how many instances they believe occurred on a seven-point scale from “Less than ten” to “A million or more.” The figure below compares public beliefs in the preva­lence of fraud in the 2022 election from our November survey with belief in the preva­lence of fraud in the 2020 election from our poll conducted in November of that year. For each election, the figure shows the per­cent­ages of Democrats, Republicans, and inde­pen­dents (excluding people who lean toward one party) who estimated that “Thousands” of votes or more were affected for each type of fraud.

The most notable change is decline in beliefs in wide­spread fraud among Republicans. Belief that thousands or more votes were affected by non-citizens voting and absentee ballot fraud dropped by more than 10 per­cent­age points between November 2020 and November 2022. Corresponding beliefs in thousands of cases of voter imper­son­ation fraud, stealing or tampering with ballots, and voting more than once fell by more than 20 per­cent­age points. (Sixty percent of Republicans believe that thousands of votes or more were changed by voting machine software manip­u­la­tion, a question we asked for the first time in the November 2022 survey.) 

Notably, there is no credible evidence of “thousands” of cases of any of these types of fraud – scholars find its incidence to be van­ish­ing­ly rare in general, including in the 2020 election. In this sense, even millions of Democrats express beliefs in fraud that are out of line with empirical evidence. But trends in the preva­lence of these beliefs are encouraging.

Conceding defeat

In both the October and November 2022 surveys, we asked our public sample to say how important they think it is “for a losing candidate to publicly acknowl­edge the winner as the legit­i­mate rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the state or district.” The figure below breaks out responses by partisan group for both survey waves among the random subset of respon­dents who were given no other infor­ma­tion about con­ces­sions (i.e., controls in the exper­i­ment described below).

Democrats are virtually unanimous in their support for the con­ces­sion norm — more than 9 in 10 said losing can­di­dates conceding is “very” or “somewhat important” in both the pre- and post-election surveys. Prior to the election, 79% of Republicans agreed with that view, an encour­ag­ing­ly narrow partisan gap given what happened in the aftermath of the 2020 election. However, support among GOP iden­ti­fiers declined after the election to 68%. Endorsing con­ces­sions after your party is widely seen as per­form­ing poorly in an election may be more difficult than doing so before an election in which the party is expected to do well.

To further probe attitudes toward con­ces­sions, the November survey included an exper­i­ment assessing how messages from losing Republican can­di­dates who pre­vi­ous­ly ques­tioned the integrity of the 2020 election affect public beliefs about whether politi­cians should acknowl­edge defeat. Participants in our public sample were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: 

-> a pure control, with no infor­ma­tion provided;

-> an infor­ma­tion­al baseline with infor­ma­tion about guber­na­to­r­i­al races in two states:

Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor, and Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for Arizona governor, both lost to their Democratic opponents.

-> a con­ces­sion condition in which respon­dents were provided with the infor­ma­tion­al baseline and then told that a leading election denier who lost his race had conceded: 

Following the election, Doug Mastriano acknowl­edged defeat, saying: “Difficult to accept as the results are, there is no right course but to concede.”

-> a non-con­ces­sion condition in which respon­dents were provided with the infor­ma­tion­al baseline and then told that a leading election denier who lost her race had not conceded: 

Following the election, Kari Lake refused to acknowl­edge defeat, saying: “Arizonians know BS when they see it.”

Participants in the last three con­di­tions (that is, all except the pure control group) were asked whether the specific can­di­dates mentioned “should publicly acknowl­edge [his/her] opponent as the legit­i­mate governor of [Pennsylvania/Arizona]?” We expected that receiving infor­ma­tion about Mastriano’s con­ces­sion should increase support for con­ces­sions whereas receiving infor­ma­tion about Lake’s non-con­ces­sion should have an opposite effect and that these effects should be more pro­nounced among Republicans than Democrats.

The figure below shows the per­cent­age of respon­dents in each party who stated they “strongly” or “somewhat agree” that Lake and Mastriano should concede depending on the message that they were shown. We compare respon­dents in the three exper­i­men­tal con­di­tions, omitting the control group analyzed above.

Contrary to our expec­ta­tions, we find no evidence that these messages influ­enced public support for con­ces­sions. As expected, Democrats were more likely to support con­ces­sions by the defeated Republican candidate, but the messages from Lake and Mastriano had no mea­sur­able effect on their views. Republicans were somewhat less likely to say Mastriano should concede when told about Lake’s non-con­ces­sion (57% versus 61%) and somewhat more likely to say Lake should concede if told about Mastriano’s con­ces­sion (54% versus 49%), but none of these effects reached sta­tis­ti­cal significance.

Democratic per­for­mance

As in previous surveys, we asked expert and public respon­dents to rate the overall per­for­mance of American democracy on a scale from 0 to 100. The figure below reports the average ratings for experts, for the American public as a whole, and for Democrats and Republicans. 

Notably, ratings of U.S. democracy increased among experts, the public overall, and both Democrats and Republicans in the public sample after the midterm election compared to before. This joint increase contrasts sharply with what happened after the 2020 election, when democracy ratings among Republicans fell sharply and ratings increased cor­re­spond­ing­ly among Democrats, leaving the overall public rating unchanged. (Expert ratings also increased.) The 2020 election pattern reflects a variant of a so-called winner’s effect in which sup­port­ers of a winning party express increased sat­is­fac­tion with democracy and sat­is­fac­tion among losing partisans declines. The shared increase in ratings of democracy after 2022 might reflect the ambiguous nature of a midterm in which Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives but Democrats surpassed expec­ta­tions in keeping the Senate. 

In both our October and November surveys, we also asked respon­dents to forecast the expected per­for­mance of American democracy in five years and in ten years on the same 0–100 scale. The next figure shows, for each partisan group and for the academic expert respon­dents, average five- and ten-year pro­jec­tions from before and after the November midterm election.

The experts, who have been con­sis­tent­ly more positive than the public about the status of American democracy, are dis­tinct­ly more opti­mistic after the midterm elections. Their current assess­ment rose from 67 to 69 and their pro­jec­tions shifted from a pattern of decline (60 and 59 in 5 and 10 years, respec­tive­ly) to near-stability (66 in both 5 and 10 years). The shift among the public overall is in the same direction but more modest, increas­ing from 55 to 57 for current American democracy, 52 to 53 for 5 years, and 51 to 52 for 10 years. Disaggregating by party iden­ti­fi­ca­tion reveals that this shift is driven mainly by Democrats (59 to 61 current, 56 to 59 for 5 years, and 56 to 59 for 10 years) whereas Republican views are slightly more opti­mistic now (54 to 57 current) but not for the future (decreas­ing from 52 to 50 for 5 years and from 50 to 47 at 10 years).

Finally, the November survey also asked expert and public par­tic­i­pants to sep­a­rate­ly project the future state of American democracy on the same 0–100 scale assuming that either Joe Biden, Donald Trump, or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis wins the 2024 pres­i­den­tial election. The figure below shows how these pro­jec­tions vary by the outcome of the 2024 race for experts, for the public overall, and for Democrats and Republicans separately.

Experts expect American democracy to perform better in five years if Biden wins again — their average rating increases from 66 given current infor­ma­tion to 72 if he were to be re-elected. Conversely, their ratings decrease sub­stan­tial­ly if DeSantis (58) or espe­cial­ly Trump (49) were to win. Among the American public as a whole, pro­jec­tions are unaf­fect­ed by a Biden win (54 under that scenario as well as under the status quo). Projections decrease slightly if DeSantis is the 2024 winner (from 54 to 50) and still further if Trump wins (to 43). These overall shifts, however, conceal opposite and off­set­ting partisan effects. Democrats’ five-year pro­jec­tions increase to 68 under Biden but plummet to 42 under DeSantis and 31 under Trump. In contrast, Republicans pro­jec­tions increase to 66 under DeSantis and 65 under Trump, but fall to 39 under Biden. The polar­iza­tion we observe in these expec­ta­tions are a familiar and troubling reminder of the extent to which con­cep­tions of democracy differ across America’s partisan divide.

Assessments of like­li­hoods and threats

We asked our expert sample to rate the prob­a­bil­i­ty of several events that could bear on the state of American democracy occurring in the next year or two:

  • Disputes over the debt ceiling lead to a federal government shutdown in 2023

  • Joe Biden is impeached by the House of Representatives in 2023

  • Three or more states adopt rules in 2023 requiring that all ballots in the 2024 election be hand-counted

  • Donald Trump is nominated as the Republican candidate for president in the 2024 election

  • Ron DeSantis is nominated as the Republican candidate for president in the 2024 election

  • Joe Biden is nominated as the Democratic candidate for president in the 2024 election

  • President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden is indicted by the end of 2023

  • Criminal charges are filed against former president Donald Trump in 2023 

  • The Supreme Court rules in 2023 that race-conscious college admissions are unconstitutional

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.

A near consensus exists that the Supreme Court will rule in 2023 against the con­sid­er­a­tion of race in college admis­sions, anchoring the high end of the expec­ta­tions scale with a median prob­a­bil­i­ty estimate of 85%. In addition, experts expect that Joe Biden will probably win the Democratic nom­i­na­tion in 2024 (66%), that disputes over the federal debt ceiling will trigger a gov­ern­ment shutdown in 2023 (65%), and that former President Trump will face criminal charges in 2023 (60%), though with somewhat less con­fi­dence. Experts are equally divided on whether Trump or DeSantis is the favorite, giving each a 50% chance (which by def­i­n­i­tion under­rates the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a third candidate capturing the nom­i­na­tion). Experts also gave even odds to the prospect that multiple states will require that ballots be counted by hand in 2024 (50%). Finally, the experts sep­a­rate­ly rated both the like­li­hood of a Hunter Biden indict­ment in a criminal case or a Joe Biden impeach­ment in the House of Representatives at 40%.

In our prior survey, we asked respon­dents to forecast three events related to the 2022 election. The median forecast was 75% that Republican can­di­dates who lose elections for statewide office in two or more different states would refuse to concede defeat. As of this writing, it appears that this forecast was correct. In Arizona, the losing Republican can­di­dates for governor, secretary of state, and attorney general are all con­test­ing their defeats and no public evidence of a con­ces­sion can be found for Jim Marchant, a candidate for Secretary of State in Nevada, and Kristina Karamo, a candidate for Secretary of State in Michigan (both have ques­tioned the results). However, the median forecast of 72% was incorrect that the Republican Party would win a majority in the House of Representatives despite getting fewer votes. Experts were correctly more skeptical (34%) that disputes over the election results would escalate to political violence in which more than 10 people are killed nation­wide, which also did not take place.

We also asked both our experts and public par­tic­i­pants to consider a series of events, some of which have already happened and others that could mate­ri­al­ize in the future, and to assess the impact (if any) of each on democracy in the U.S. Respondents were first asked whether the event would benefit, threaten, or not affect American democracy. Those who selected benefit or threat were then asked a followup question about the degree of either effect. The set of prior events experts were asked to consider was the following:

  • Facebook limiting sharing of the Hunter Biden laptop story before the 2020 election

  • States that lean Democratic adopting independent commissions to draw congressional districts

  • Democrats supporting election-denying candidates in Republican primaries in order to improve the chances of the Democratic candidate in the general election

  • Attorney General Merrick Garland names Jack Smith as special counsel in charge of two investigations into former president Trump

The set of prospec­tive events experts were asked to consider was the following:

  • Donald Trump is nominated as the Republican candidate for president ahead of the 2024 elections

  • Ron DeSantis is nominated as the Republican candidate for president ahead of the 2024 elections

  • Joe Biden is nominated as the Democratic candidate for president ahead of the 2024 elections

  • Criminal charges are filed against former president Donald Trump in 2023

  • Joe Biden is impeached by the House of Representatives in 2023

  • An investigation of Hunter Biden’s financial activities by the House of Representatives

The next figure shows expert ratings of the perceived benefits and threats to democracy from these actual events or prospec­tive events that might occur in the future. The events are presented in descend­ing order of their overall perceived threat to democracy. (The right panel shows the per­cent­age of respon­dents who rated the scenario as neither a threat nor a benefit to democracy).

Consistent with the projected democracy ratings presented above, experts over­whelm­ing­ly (89%) regard a Trump renom­i­na­tion for president as a threat to democracy, with 36% rating it as an extra­or­di­nary threat. A DeSantis nom­i­na­tion is seen as less threat­en­ing by experts — slightly more respon­dents (47%) perceive no impact on democracy than see it as a threat (44%). Experts also express alarm at the prospect of a Biden impeach­ment, which 65% see as a demo­c­ra­t­ic threat.

The next most neg­a­tive­ly rated event is one that already happened – Democrats inter­ven­ing to support election deniers in Republican primaries with the hope of boosting can­di­dates who would be easier to defeat in the general election. The strategy appeared to be suc­cess­ful – can­di­dates who received Democratic backing con­sis­tent­ly lost in the general election. However, a majority (52%) of our academic experts rate the tactic as a threat to democracy; only 10% perceive a benefit while 38% see no impact.

The middle and bottom of the figure illus­trates three events the academic experts mostly regard as neither threat­en­ing nor ben­e­fi­cial to democracy. In October 2020, Facebook (and Twitter) limited sharing of stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop, a con­tro­ver­sial decision that attracted wide­spread criticism on the right. In total, 15% of experts regard Facebook’s action on the laptop story as threat­en­ing to democracy, 26% rate it as ben­e­fi­cial, but a majority of 59% perceives no effect. A related item measures per­cep­tions of planned Republican inves­ti­ga­tions of Hunter Biden’s financial activ­i­ties. Fifteen percent of experts rate such an inves­ti­ga­tion as a threat to democracy, 7% as a benefit, and 78% as neither. The prospect of Joe Biden’s renom­i­na­tion by Democrats in 2024 is also rated as neither threat­en­ing nor ben­e­fi­cial by 80% of the experts.

The bottom of the figure also illus­trates three events the experts regard as over­whelm­ing­ly ben­e­fi­cial for democracy. One is the adoption, in states con­trolled by Democrats, of non­par­ti­san com­mis­sions to draw con­gres­sion­al and state leg­isla­tive district maps, which some partisan skeptics at the time described as “uni­lat­er­al dis­ar­ma­ment.” Experts depart from that criticism, over­whelm­ing­ly (78%) rating the com­mis­sions as ben­e­fi­cial to democracy. There is a similar consensus (70%) that Attorney General Garland’s decision to name a special counsel to head inves­ti­ga­tions into former president Trump is a benefit to democracy. Finally, 76% would regard criminal charges against Trump in 2023 as ben­e­fit­ting democracy, undaunted by skeptics’ concerns about a spiral of retribution. 

The set of events presented to our public sample was the same as to the experts except it did not include the items on inde­pen­dent dis­trict­ing com­mis­sions or Democratic Party support for election-denig can­di­dates in Republican primaries. The figure below shows overall public responses.

A plurality of Americans (46%) regard a Trump nom­i­na­tion in 2024 as a threat to democracy — and most in that category regard it as an extra­or­di­nary threat. 27% would welcome Trump’s nom­i­na­tion as a demo­c­ra­t­ic benefit and an equal number regard it as not affecting democracy. The public splits roughly in thirds on Biden and DeSantis nom­i­na­tions – for Biden, 32% threat, 26% benefit, 42% neither; 29%, 34%, and 37%, respec­tive­ly, for DeSantis.

Many more Americans see Facebook’s 2020 treatment of the Hunter Bien laptop story as a threat (40%) than as a benefit (17%), with another 43% seeing no impact on democracy in that episode. Slightly more Americans would regard an impeach­ment of Joe Biden in 2023 as a threat (36%) than as a benefit (33%), with 31% antic­i­pat­ing no effect on democracy. More respon­dents see demo­c­ra­t­ic benefits than threat in Merrill Garland’s appoint­ment of a special counsel (39% to 28%) and in the prospect of a Trump pros­e­cu­tion (44% to 32%), and many more antic­i­pate a benefit (40%) than a threat (12%) from an inves­ti­ga­tion of Hunter Biden.

Finally, the next figure shows responses on these items broken out by partisanship.

Consistent with other results, we observe sharp polar­iza­tion. A majority of Democrats perceive a Trump nom­i­na­tion (77%), a Biden impeach­ment (60%), and a DeSantis nom­i­na­tion (51%) as a threat to democracy, while a majority of Republicans see these actions as benefits to democracy (53%, 62%, and 63%, respec­tive­ly). Conversely, a majority of Republicans see criminal charges against Trump (61%), a Biden nom­i­na­tion (63%), and the DOJ special counsel inves­ti­ga­tion of Trump (54%) as threats to democracy, while approx­i­mate­ly half of Democrats or more see these as benefits to democracy (78%, 48%, 67%, respec­tive­ly).4 Finally, we consider the two items related to Hunter Biden. Republicans see a House inves­ti­ga­tion of the President’s son as a benefit to democracy (70%) and Facebook’s inter­ven­tion in the laptop story as a threat (72%), whereas a majority of Democrats said these were neither a threat nor a benefit (60% and 68%, respectively).

Looking ahead to 2024

We also sought to measure the relative impor­tance that Americans assign to pro­tect­ing democracy in choosing among primary can­di­dates in the 2024 pres­i­den­tial election. To do so, we asked respon­dents the following question, ran­dom­iz­ing inclusion or exclusion of the option about pro­tect­ing democracy:

Thinking about the [Democratic/Republican] nom­i­na­tion, which of these best describes who you would like to see win the [Democratic/Republican] nomination?

The candidate whose policies I most prefer

The candidate with the best chance to win in the general election

[The candidate who is most committed to pro­tect­ing American democracy]

This design allows us to see the relative impor­tance given to democracy versus policy and like­li­hood of winning the general election as well as how its inclusion changes the support given to the other two options — policy pref­er­ence and the best chance of winning the general election. (Partisan inde­pen­dents were asked to express their pri­or­i­ties for both parties’ nominations.)

The figures below shows pri­or­i­ties for Democrats, Republicans, and inde­pen­dents with the response shares for each group shown when the pro­tect­ing democracy option was excluded (light shading, dots as markers) and when it was included (diagonal hatching markers).

The top row of the figure shows that, when asked whether they pri­or­i­tize electoral viability or policy com­pat­i­bil­i­ty for their party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, both Democratic (61% to 39%) and espe­cial­ly Republican (74% to 26%) partisans pri­or­i­tize policy com­pat­i­bil­i­ty. When we offer all three options, however, pro­tect­ing democracy draws more support than either of the others among both Democrats (40%) and Republicans (41%). Notably, pro­tect­ing democracy draws rel­a­tive­ly more support among partisans who would otherwise have selected policy as the most important con­sid­er­a­tion (declining from 60.6% to 31.4% among Democrats and 73.4% to 40.7% among Republicans compared to much smaller declines among those who pri­or­i­tized winning). 

The second row of the figure presents data for partisan inde­pen­dents, who make up 17.6% of our public sample.5 We are par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in the priority this group places on pro­tect­ing democracy because inde­pen­dents are a pivotal voting bloc in pres­i­den­tial elections. We asked the inde­pen­dents about their pri­or­i­ties for nom­i­na­tions in both of the major parties. When given only two options, inde­pen­dents pri­or­i­tized policy over winning even more than Democrats or Republicans did, which is con­sis­tent with their lack of concern about the fortunes of a par­tic­u­lar party. Like the partisans, though, many inde­pen­dents say they pri­or­i­tize can­di­dates who would protect American democracy when offered that response option. 39% of inde­pen­dents make pro­tect­ing democracy their top priority for a Democratic nominee (compared with 47% for policy and 14% for electoral viability), and 43% pri­or­i­tize pro­tect­ing democracy among Republicans (compared with 45% for policy and 12% for electoral viability). 

As Americans begin to con­tem­plate the 2024 pres­i­den­tial election, many at least say that pro­tect­ing democracy is a top priority in which candidate they will support. Among Democratic and Republican partisans (the key players in the nom­i­na­tion process), more people pri­or­i­tize pro­tect­ing democracy (41%) than either policy com­pat­i­bil­i­ty (35%) or general election viability (24%) among those who were offered all three response options.6 


We continue to survey experts about recent events, asking them to sep­a­rate­ly rate events as normal or abnormal and as important or unim­por­tant. The complete list of events (with the exact text shown to respon­dents) is provided in the report appendix; the average ratings provided by our experts are plotted on the figure below. 

Our primary goal in con­duct­ing this exercise is to identify events that appear in the shaded upper-right quadrant because experts rated them as both mostly important to important and mostly abnormal to abnormal. For the first time since we began surveying on this topic, however, that region of the figure is nearly empty, including only Kari Lake’s refusal to concede in the Arizona gov­er­nor’s contest. By contrast, experts rate several events in which chal­lenges to democracy were turned back as normal and important, including wide­spread con­ces­sions by defeated Republicans from both the estab­lish­ment and Trump-aligned wings of the party and defeats at the state level of most election deniers running for Secretary of State.

Of course, the dis­tri­b­u­tion of responses depends on the events we selected. We only note that we sought to include the most relevant potential events that were salient to American democracy, including those that could be rated as important and abnormal. The shift toward normalcy in this survey is, in our expe­ri­ence, unusual and noteworthy.

Democracy in other countries

Our November surveys also asked respon­dents to use the same 100-point scale to rate democracy in five addi­tion­al countries: Brazil, China, Israel, Russia, and the United Kingdom. Bright Line Watch surveys conducted in January 2018 and October 2022 measured per­cep­tions of democracy abroad. We repeated the exercise imme­di­ate­ly after our prior survey because important events took place between surveys that could affect eval­u­a­tions of gov­er­nance in each country:

  • Brazil held the second round of its presidential election on October 30. The first round of the election, on October 2, had produced a closer-than-expected contest between challenger (and former president) Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro. During our prior survey, Bolsonaro was publicly criticizing Brazil’s election administration and signaling that he would not recognize or accept the second-round outcome if he did not win. In the intervening month, da Silva narrowly defeated Bolsonaro, 51%-49%, who, after a 48-hour silence, grudgingly instructed his administration to begin an orderly transition of authority.

  • China’s Communist Party held its 20th party conference in late October, culminating with the confirmation on the 22nd that Xi Jinping will serve as party chairman for a third consecutive term. After the party conference, the centralization and personalization of authority in China appears higher than at any time since the era of Mao Zedong.

  • Israel held a parliamentary election on November 1 – its fifth in the past four years – and appears set to return Benjamin Netanyahu to the prime ministership, leading a coalition that may include greater representation than any previous government has from parties of the religious right. Netanyahu’s potential return to the chief executive role, however, is complicated by the unresolved status of legal charges against him for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust during previous terms as prime minister.

  • Russia suffered its most prominent battlefield setback since the early days of its Ukraine invasion with its retreat, in the second week of November, from the southern city of Kherson. As Ukrainian forces reoccupied the city, they discovered and publicized evidence of Russian human rights abuses during the months of its occupation.

  • The United Kingdom experienced a sudden change of government when Liz Truss resigned as prime minister on October 20 after only six weeks in the office and was replaced five days later by Rishi Sunak. 

The next figure shows mean ratings by country from the expert and public samples in the November survey (left panel) and changes from October to November for each group (right panel).

As the figure shows, ratings increased the most for Brazil after Bolsonaro’s accep­tance of the election results there, increas­ing by 10 points in the expert sample and 3 points in the public sample compared to October. We also observe small but mar­gin­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant decreases in ratings of democracy in China among experts and among the public (by 2 and 3 points, respec­tive­ly). For the other countries included, we detect no appre­cia­ble change – democracy ratings were not unmoved by Truss’s res­ig­na­tion in the United Kingdom, the return of Netanyahu to office in Israel, or Russia’s ongoing military travails in Ukraine.


Bright Line Watch conducted its eigh­teenth survey of academic experts from November 21-December 2nd, 2022 and its fifteenth survey of the general public from November 22-December 2nd, 2022. Our public sample consisted of 2,750 par­tic­i­pants from the YouGov panel who were selected and weighted to be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the U.S. adult pop­u­la­tion. We also surveyed 707 political science experts across a diverse range of subfields (6.0% 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 18 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.

The figure below plots belief that Joe Biden is the rightful winner of the 2020 election among Democrats, Republicans, and the American public as a whole since November 2020:

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

Events list

  1. Republican can­di­dates for Secretary of State who denied the results of the 2020 election lost in eight of eleven states, including the bat­tle­grounds of Arizona, Michigan, and Nevada.
  2. Establishment Republican can­di­dates who lost in the midterm elections admit defeat and concede.
  3. Most Trump-aligned Republican can­di­dates who lost in the midterm elections admit defeat and concede.
  4. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping meet and agree to resume bilateral climate talks. 
  5. In the midterm elections, the Republicans retake control of the House of Representatives and win the popular vote. 
  6. After losing the guber­na­to­r­i­al election in Arizona, Republican nominee Kari Lake refuses to concede. 
  7. Former president Donald Trump lashes out at Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a potential rival for the 2024 Republican nomination. 
  8. Former president Donald Trump announces his bid for the pres­i­den­cy in 2024, just one week after the midterm elections. 
  9. Partisan control of the House of Representatives and the Senate is not clear until days after Election Day due to delays in counting ballots in multiple states.

Additional Figures

The figures below plot changes in demo­c­ra­t­ic per­for­mance on specific prin­ci­ples since our prior survey in October 2022 for experts, the American public as a whole, and Democrats and Republicans separately. 

  1. Democratic control of the Senate was not assured until four days after the election and the Republican House majority was confirmed eight days afterward.
  2. Estimates for con­fi­dence that respon­dents’ own vote was counted as intended are cal­cu­lat­ed among respon­dents who par­tic­i­pat­ed in both the October and November surveys and reported being “sure” that they voted in November.
  3. Republican recog­ni­tion of Joe Biden as the rightful winner of the pres­i­den­cy also remained stable (33% in October, 35% in November), albeit at a higher level than in 2021 (when it was 26–27%).
  4. Using the coun­ter­fac­tu­al question format developed by Graham and Coppock, we also tested for changes in per­cep­tions that law enforce­ment inves­ti­ga­tions of public officials or their asso­ciates are free from political influence or inter­fer­ence attrib­ut­able to the special counsel appoint­ment. Consistent with the polar­iza­tion reported above, we estimate a sig­nif­i­cant improve­ment in perceived per­for­mance on this principle among Democrats (comparing per­for­mance ratings asked in the standard fashion with a coun­ter­fac­tu­al in which people are asked how they would respond if the special counsel had not been appointed) but no mea­sur­able change for Republicans.
  5. Following standard practice, we char­ac­ter­ize as inde­pen­dents those respon­dents who declare no partisan affil­i­a­tion and also say they do not lean toward either party. We group “leaners” with their respec­tive parties in pre­sent­ing results.
  6. Tallying responses across the full public sample is not straight­for­ward because we asked partisan inde­pen­dents to express pri­or­i­ties for both the Democratic and Republican nom­i­na­tion. Nevertheless, given the top priority for democracy expressed by partisans, and its high priority among inde­pen­dents (who con­sti­tute less than one-fifth of the sample), we can say that pro­tect­ing democracy is the top priority of more respon­dents than either other option.