Our Work

Publications are organized by survey reports and academic pub­li­ca­tions. The survey reports serve as the core of our work and are based on surveys we admin­is­ter to the public and political science experts. You can find all data necessary to replicate our work in the tab above “Data.”

Survey Reports

Wave 20 Public and Expert Survey Report
March 2024

The 2024 campaign promises to be like nothing the United States has seen before. Normally, spring of a presidential election year is dominated by a competitive campaign for the nomination of at least one major party. This year, neither the Democratic nor Republican primary contest is competitive. Instead, the coming months appear set to be dominated by legal machinations, with Republican front-runner Donald Trump facing four sets of criminal indictments and his legal team deploying appeals and procedural objections to delay trials for as long as possible. In this context, and with attention to the potential implications of these developments for the performance of American democracy, we fielded parallel surveys of 678 political scientists and a representative sample of 2,798 Americans from February 15–23, 2024. Given the importance of precisely measuring Republican perceptions of topics such as the 2020 election and prosecutions of Trump, the public survey included an oversample of Republicans. It is, however, weighted to be representative of the American public as a whole.

Wave 19 Public and Expert Survey Report
July 2023

American politics finds itself at a crossroads in both the Biden presidency and the aftermath of the Trump administration. Last November’s midterm elections delivered a Republican House majority, reestablishing divided government and curtailing the burst of legislative activity that marked the end of 2022. The field of Republican presidential candidates has mushroomed but formal debates will not begin until late summer. Most notably, former president Donald Trump’s legal morass has deepened as investigations into his conduct advance. In April 2023, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted Trump on charges related to his payment of hush money to an adult film star during the 2016 election campaign. In June, Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith charged Trump on his handling of classified documents after leaving office. In mid-July, Trump received a “target letter” from Smith pointing toward a likely indictment related to the aftermath of the 2020 election and the events at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The investigation by Fulton County, Georgia district attorney Fani Willis into Trump’s efforts to alter that state’s 2020 election results could result in further criminal charges. In this context, and with attention to the potential implications of these developments for the performance of American democracy, we fielded parallel surveys of 569 political scientists and a representative sample of 2,776 Americans from June 29-July 11, 2023.

Wave 18 Public and Expert Survey Report
November 2022

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.

Wave 17 Public and Expert Survey Report
October 2022

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.

Wave 16 Public and Expert Survey Report
November 2021

Joe Biden entered the presidency in January aiming to strengthen American democracy by delivering popular policies and reducing partisan enmity. A year later, he convened a democracy summit to address the challenges that rising authoritarianism poses around the world. Here at home, however, the promise of unity has faded and our democratic vulnerabilities remain. In this report, we describe the findings from parallel surveys we conducted November 5–19, 2021 among political science experts and the public to gauge the status of our democracy and the prospects for reforms that might improve it.

Wave 15 Public and Expert Survey Report
June 2021

As the country turns 245 years old, Americans have reasons to worry about the state of their democracy. In June 2021, we surveyed a representative sample of Americans and an expert sample of political scientists on the performance of U.S. democracy, the threats it faces, and how their political representatives should address these matters.1 We find deep partisan polarization in perceptions of what is right and wrong with American democracy and the steps that should be taken to fix it. In addition, experts express reservations about current changes to election law at the state level. Still, we find some signs that Americans regard partisan attacks on election administration with skepticism.

Wave 14 Public and Expert Survey Report
January-February 2021

U.S. democracy passed a milestone on January 20, 2021 with the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Donald Trump’s presidency presented unprecedented challenges to this country’s democratic norms and practices. His role in a violent insurrection, sparking a second impeachment has fueled further debate over how to preserve American democracy and prevent further erosion. In this context, Bright Line Watch conducted its 14th expert survey and 11th public survey.

Wave 13 Public and Expert Survey Report
November 2020

The 2020 election and its aftermath presented severe challenges to U.S. democracy. The election was conducted during a pandemic that required fundamental changes in how Americans cast and counted ballots. The incumbent president refused to commit in advance to a peaceful transition of power if he lost, and continues to refuse to recognize that defeat as legitimate (though he has finally relented to letting the transition begin and signaled that he would accept an Electoral College defeat). During this process, many GOP leaders have endorsed the president’s baseless claims of electoral fraud, even publicly suggesting that state legislatures could override the popular vote in awarding electors. Yet the election ultimately succeeded in ways few dared hope. Most notably, polling places and mail balloting operated effectively and mostly uneventfully under unprecedented conditions. And despite a barrage of accusations and litigation, no evidence has surfaced of systematic malfeasance or mismanagement.

Wave 12 Public and Expert Survey Report
October 2020

As the 2020 election approaches, news stories with implications for U.S. democracy have dropped at a dizzying rate. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died and President Trump quickly announced he would seek to confirm a replacement “without delay.” The New York Times published new details of Trump’s tax and financial history. The country endured a presidential debate called the “worst in living memory” in which the president frequently refused to let his opponent speak uninterrupted, failed to condemn white supremacist groups when asked to do so, falsely attacked the integrity of the election, and refused to commit to accepting the election’s result if he lost. Then the country learned that President Trump had tested positive for the novel coronavirus along with numerous other executive branch staff and elected officials who attended a White House event announcing the president’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

Wave 11 Expert Survey Report
August 2020

Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed Americans’ lives and the practice of politics in this country. To date, more than 180,000 Americans have died. Many schools and workplaces have closed. Campaigns for the presidency, Congress, and other public offices are taking place in largely virtual form. During this period, protests against the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the government responses to those protests have also highlighted deep challenges to democratic governance. What effects have these dramatic events had?

Wave 10 Public and Expert Survey Report
March 2020

President Trump’s impeachment riveted the country in late 2019 and early 2020, but the consequences of his trial and acquittal for American democracy remain unclear. Bright Line Watch’s Wave 10 surveys, which were fielded March 12-April 15, 2020, reveal that the expert and public perceptions of the health of American democracy declined during…

Wave 9 Public and Expert Survey Report
October 2019

The October surveys provide insights into current challenges to American democracy that we have not explored previously. We presented both our public and expert respondents with a series of actions and behaviors and asked respondents to evaluate how democratic, or undemocratic, they regard…

Democratic values and perceived performance: Comparing the public with elite donors and local officials
March 2019

On whose support does democracy depend? One answer is the public, which may be required to defend “bright line” violations of key democratic norms and principles. However, research indicates that political elites often play a key role in preserving — or undermining — democratic stability. In this report, we therefore assess the perceived importance of democratic principles and U.S. performance on those principles among two key sets of elites, political donors and government officials, and contrast their views with those of the public…

Wave 8 Public and Expert Survey Report
March 2019

Prior to the release of the Mueller report and subsequent escalation of conflict between the executive and legislative branches, Bright Line Watch conducted a new wave of surveys on the quality of democracy in the United States. From March 12–21, 2019, we fielded our eighth survey of academic experts and sixth survey of the general…

Party, policy, democracy and candidate choice in U.S. elections
October 2018

How committed is the American public to democracy? Are there any democratic principles that, if violated by politicians, would generate resistance from the public? Are citizens of all political stripes equally willing to punish candidates for such violations? Building on cutting-edge research by Graham and Svolik (2018), Bright Line Watch conducted an experiment that asked people to choose between pairs of hypothetical candidates. We use a conjoint design, which allows us to estimate the relative importance of candidate traits, partisanship, policy positions, and support for democratic principles in voters’ decisions…

Wave 7 Public and Expert Survey Report

October 2018

Our mission at Bright Line Watch is to distinguish what is novel and unprecedented from politics as usual in the United States — a difficult task in the current news environment. To do so, we conducted our seventh expert survey, and fifth public survey, in October 2018. Our goal was to assess the state of American democracy just before the first midterm elections of President Trump’s…

Wave 6 Public and Expert Survey Report

August 2018

Donald Trump is a disruptor. Few would disagree that his actions and style of political combat set him apart from past presidents. There is less consensus about the implications of Trump’s distinctive governing style for the health of American democracy, however. To understand how Americans rate their democracy…

Wave 5 Public and Expert Survey Report

May 2018

In April 2018, Bright Line Watch conducted its fifth expert survey, and its third public survey, on democracy in the United States. Between April 9 and 22, we surveyed an expert sample of 935 political science faculty at American universities and a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults. Respondents in both surveys assessed…

Wave 4 Public and Expert Survey Report

February 2018

In January 2018, as Donald Trump completed his first year as president, Bright Line Watch conducted its fourth expert survey on the state of U.S. democracy. At the same time, we conducted an identical public survey – our second – with a nationally representative sample of Americans. This approach allows us to assess…

Wave 3 Public and Expert Survey Report

October 2017

Given widespread concern about the possible erosion of democracy in the United States, Bright Line Watch has conducted expert surveys since early 2017 asking thousands of professional political scientists to identify the dimensions of democracy they see as most important and to rate how well the U.S. is performing on them. But does the public agree with those assessments?

Wave 2 Expert Survey Report

May 2017

From May 11–20, 2017, Bright Line Watch conducted its second expert survey of political scientists assessing the state of democracy in the United States. BLW’s first survey (Wave 1) was conducted at the outset of the Trump administration in February 2017. This report presents…

Wave 1 Expert Survey Report

February 2017

BLW conducted its first U.S. Democracy Survey from February 13–19, 2017. We invited 9,820 political science faculty at 511 U.S. institutions to participate and received 1,571 responses (a response rate of 16 percent). The set of invitees was constructed…

Academic Publications

The Effect of Electoral Inversions on Democratic Legitimacy: Evidence from the United States”
Authors: John Carey, Gretchen Helmke, Brendan Nyhan, Mitchell Sanders, Susan Stokes, and Shun Yamaya.
Pre-print (link)

Who Will Defend Democracy? Evaluating Tradeoffs in Candidate Support Among Partisan Donors and Voters”
Authors: John Carey, Katherine Clayton, Gretchen Helmke, Brendan Nyhan, Mitchell Sanders, and Susan Stokes.
Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties (2020): pp. 1–16 (link)

Searching for Bright Lines in the Trump Presidency”
Authors: John Carey, Gretchen Helmke, Brendan Nyhan, Mitchell Sanders, and Susan Stokes.
Perspective on Politics Vol. 17, No. 9. (2019): pp. 699–718 (link)