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US democratic performance declines on most measures

May 2, 2018
women stanbds behind a row of voting boothsThe latest survey from Bright Line Watch, a non-partisan initiative that monitors democratic practices in the United States, finds that both the general public and political science experts rate the performance of US democratic institutions significantly lower than half a year ago. (Getty Images photo)

Both the general public and political experts rate the performance of US democratic institutions significantly lower than half a year ago. The performance declined on 23 of a total battery of 27 democratic standards, finds the latest Bright Line Watch survey  The largest declines were for the following three principles:

  • Government does not interfere with journalists or news organizations. Public belief that this standard is mostly or fully met dropped from 55 percent to 39 percent over the last six months.
  • The elected branches respect judicial independence. The assessment here dropped from 56 percent agreement in September 2017 to 42 percent in April 2018.
  • Government agencies do not punish. Belief that this principle was being upheld declined from 42 percent to 29 percent over the last six months.

Bright Line Watch is a non-partisan initiative that monitors democratic practices in the United States. It’s made up of four political scientists—Gretchen Helmke of the University of Rochester, Brendan Nyhan and John Carey of Dartmouth College, and Susan Stokes of Yale University.

The quartet notes that three additional principles stand out for their combination of high importance for a functioning democracy and low performance ratings by the public and political experts alike. All three principles are related to the accountability of public officials:

  • Law enforcement investigations of public officials or their associates are free from political influence or interference.
  • Government officials are legally sanctioned for misconduct.
  • Government officials do not use public office for private gain.

Founded in late 2016, Bright Line Watch found its raison d’être in the widespread concern over the possible erosion of US democratic institutions, says Helmke.

“Our goal was to bring what we know as academics—what we’ve learned from our scholarly work—and bring that perspective to public debates about the quality of democracy in the United States, its vulnerabilities as well as its sources of resilience,” says Helmke, who is the immediate past chair of the University’s Department of Political Science.

This survey is the fifth quarterly survey, or Wave 5, for Bright Line Watch. It consists of 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 the degree to which 27 democratic principles are currently being upheld in the United States.

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Category: Society & Culture

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