About the Authoritarian Threat Index

The Authoritarian Warning Survey has polled democracy experts on threats to democracy from American political leaders since 2017.

Respondents are academic scholars who study democratic decline, political institutions, American politics, or countries that have recently experienced democratic erosion.

The index currently surveys a randomly selected sub-sample of the respondent pool (~1,000 scholars) each weekday. Each month, we calculate a rolling average of these responses as the Authoritarian Threat Index. This is a live measure of democracy scholars’ views on threats to American democracy. The method weights responses by time and also continually analyzes the data for discrete breaks in threat levels that may indicate major events. You can read more detail about how the index is constructed here.

For comparison, we asked the same questions in November, 2022 for a set of other countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, India, Poland, and Japan. Separate respondents were chosen for each. All are experts on their respective country, with a rough balance of experts based in the country and living abroad.

We acknowledge there are important concerns about ideological balance in academic surveys of this kind. See below for three aspects of the survey that help to mitigate this potential bias.**

Survey Questions

​Drawing on common patterns of recent democratic erosion, we ask about six categories of threats to democracy.

  • Treatment of Media: Leaders’ treatment of media, respect for free press, and transparency
  • Executive Constraints: Effective constraints of executive against abuses of power; leaders’ respect for judiciary, legislature, and rule of law
  • Elections and Treatment of Opposition: Respect for free and fair elections and legitimacy of opposition
  • Civil Liberties: Respect for core freedoms (such as speech, assembly, religion, and privacy)
  • Civil Violence: Use of violence, intimidation, or paramilitary organizations for political ends
  • Rhetoric: Speech by political leaders indicating democratic erosion or weak normative attachment to democracy

For each category, respondents can choose among five responses:

  • Within range of a normally functioning consolidated democracy
  • Moderate violations atypical of a consolidated democracy, but that don’t yet threaten breakdown
  • Violations that signal significant erosion of democracy quality and warn of high potential for breakdown in future
  • Critical violations that seriously threaten near-term survival
  • Violations severe enough to make system non-democratic

For the Authoritarian Threat Index, the responses averaged both within category and across categories.

We also ask respondents about (1) the likelihood of democratic breakdown, (2) whether democratic quality and stability has improved or declined over the last 10 years, and (3) what recent events or actions (if any) they consider most threatening to democracy.

19.2%

Current likelihood of democratic breakdown

Hover For More

According to survey respondents in November, 2022.

Click here for the exact text of the survey.

Click here for the full survey results from May 2017-July 2021 (anonymized).

Results for Other Countries

For each country, we list the average rating across the six threat categories, the percentage of all responses indicating behavior outside the norm for consolidated democracies (2+), the average predicted likelihood of democratic breakdown, and the percentage saying democratic stability and quality has declined.

United States Threat Level: 2 – Significant Threat
Germany Threat Level: 1.1 – Low Threat
Poland Threat Level: 2.4 – Significant Threat

Contact the survey at [email protected] with any questions. For more background, read the welcome blog post here.

Main Contributors

Michael K. Miller, George Washington University

Michael K. Miller is an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at GW. His research focuses on democratization, democratic survival, and elections in autocracies.

David Szakonyi, George Washington University

David Szakonyi is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at GW and a Research Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Institutions and Development at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. His research is devoted to understanding how elites translate economic power into political influence, with a focus on Russia and the former Soviet Union.

You can find coverage of the monthly survey in Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog here and in The Atlantic here.

Disclaimers

All contributors’ views are their own opinions and do not represent the views of other participants, Authoritarian Warning Survey as a whole, or any groups or organizations the contributors are affiliated with. This website is for educational purposes only. This website claims no credit for images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. All such images are copyright to their respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this site that belongs to you and you do not wish for it to appear here, please e-mail with a link to or description of said image and it will be promptly removed.

* All survey results are anonymous. The survey was supported by IRB certification #051706 (29200) at George Washington University.

** First, survey authors made an effort to include conservative academics in the sample. Several answers indicate conservative participation (e.g., one respondent claims that “the real threats to American democracy took place during the Obama administration”). Second, the five other countries serve as credible comparison points, as four of these countries have right-of-center governments and all have academics that tilt left. Thus, any ideological bias should be roughly held constant. Third, they survey employs reasonably concrete questions. Rather than ask about general approval of current politics, we ask respondents to compare to other consolidated democracies and evaluate whether events threaten democratic survival. As a positive sign, only two responses (0.3% of total) had the value 5 (the greatest threat) in 2019, indicating that respondents are not amplifying the threat for effect.