Political expert survey finds warning signs for American democracy

GW researchers in the political science department found “significant warning signs” for the breakdown of American democracy, according to a University release Tuesday.

Michael Miller and David Szakonyi, professors of political science, and Lee Morgenbesser, a research fellow at Griffith University in Australia, surveyed more than 500 political experts in August and respondents predicted that there is about a 14 percent chance of a breakdown of American democracy in the next four years. A percentage that is higher than the likelihood of India or Poland having a democratic breakdown, according to the release.

“These experts see significant warning signs for American democracy, especially involving political rhetoric and the capacity of political institutions to check the executive,” Miller said in the release.

The survey asked political experts to evaluate six areas of threats to American democracy including media, executive constraints, election and treatment of opposition, civil liberties, civil violence and rhetoric. It is part of a larger project called Authoritarian Warning Survey, which is a continuous survey that measures critical facets of American democracy by surveying experts on authoritarianism and democracy.

The political scientists started surveying experts in May of this year and this is their fifth published survey. The project partners with the nonprofit group United to Protect Democracy to provide daily numbers on the strength of democratic norms in the U.S. from these political expert surveys.

“Our goal is to be vigilant without being alarmist,” Miller said. “The only true safeguard of any democracy lies in the willingness of its citizens to identify and oppose non-democratic actions by the powerful. We aim to provide a credible warning if and when this happens.”

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