Democracy Check-up

The recent Bright Line Watch U.S. Democracy Survey collected the responses of 1,571 political science faculty at 511 U.S. institutions to help determine what qualities respondents found  most essential to democracy and  how respondents rate the current state of democracy in the United States. Despite an atmosphere of pessimism among the constituency, these members, as representatives of the political science community, hold an unwaveringly prideful view of certain aspects of democratic governance in the United States, but disdain for other very important aspects.

According to the respondents, the most essential facets of democracy are: fraud-free elections, equal voting rights, and equal legal/political rights. These political scientists rated the U.S. as performing “well” on only one of these criteria. Approximately, 86% said our democracy “mostly meets” the standards of free and fair elections and 80% said our democracy “mostly meets” the standards of protecting free speech and limiting executive power. In regard to both categories of equal rights, the respondents said the outlook is not as positive. Over 50% of respondents asserted that these rights are not met or only partially met by our current democratic system. These numbers are hardly surprising considering our nation’s history of gerrymandering, electoral exclusion, and socioeconomic inequality.

Overall, the sentiment is that our democratic system requires some improvement. Referring to the figure above, in only ten out of nineteen categories do 50% of respondents believe the U.S. democracy “fully or mostly meets” the specific standards.

If anything, this data “provides a baseline measure of how political science experts view the status of American democracy,” according to Bright Line Watch. They “...hope to [use this data to] foster informed debate among our profession and in the country at large about the health of American democracy.”


Anna Graff

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