Political Violence & US Democracy

How does political violence impact the foundations of our democracy?

The Violence and Democracy Impact Tracker (VDIT) — a resource from Protect Democracy and the SNF Agora Institute — calculates the impact of political violence on eight distinct pillars of democracy in the United States. On a quarterly basis, the Tracker assesses political violence’s impact on the freedoms of expression and association, access to the vote, election administration, equality before the law, individual liberties, and the independence of the judiciary and legislature. VDIT also collects a global panel of experts’ insights into the most concerning emerging trends and top issues to watch.

VDIT began collecting data in July of 2023. The most recent tracking confirms that political violence is eroding American democracy on multiple axes — especially when it comes to the administration of elections. Here are the key takeaways from the latest results:

Latest Data

Threat Scores

Significant Threat Threat Level: 2.6 - out of 5
Low Threat Threat Level: 0 - out of 5
    • The capable, impartial, and transparent administration of elections (e.g., vote casting, tabulating, and certification) and the peaceful transfer of power based on their results.

    • Freedom in both law and practice from actual or threatened physical political harm (e.g., assault, restricted movement, murder, or torture), infringements of economic rights (including property rights and freedom from forced labor), and other freedoms widely understood to be protected by the Constitution.

    • Transparency in lawmaking, impartial administration of public functions, and individuals’ full and equal access to justice through law enforcement, the courts, and other administrative bodies.

    • The ability of political parties, civil society organizations, and public protest groups to operate freely and publicly, within the limits of reasonable and unbiased regulation.

    • Including freedom of the press and individual free speech in both law and in practice.

    • The effective ability of all adult citizens to register and vote freely, in both law and in practice

    • The legislature having the authority and capacity to provide oversight of the executive branch, doing so vigorously in practice, and providing a meaningful forum for free political opposition.
    • Transparency in lawmaking, impartial administration of public functions, and individuals’ full

What the Score Means

LevelLevel 1Level 2Level 3Level 4Level 5
DescriptionWithin range of a well-functioning democracyModerate violations atypical of a well-functioning democracy, but that don’t yet threaten breakdown of this element of democracy
Violations that signal significant erosion of democracy quality in this area and warn of high potential for breakdown in futureCritical violations that seriously threaten this element of democracy’s near-term survivalViolations severe enough to make this aspect of the system non-democratic

Overall…

The effect of political violence on American democracy is atypical of a well-functioning democracy, but not currently indicative of imminent democratic breakdown.

On Elections…

Elections remain the most urgent area of concern — according to VDIT, political violence’s impact on elections signals significant erosion and a high potential for the breakdown of election processes in the future. 

On Threats and Intimidation…

Threats and intimidation remain relevant to evaluating the effects of political violence on our democracy, not just physical harm.

Top Concerns

Right-wing and far-right violence ranked highest among experts’ concern about political violence in the United States. Other top concerns include:

About VDIT

Read the Full Report

Baseline levels of social violence are high in the United States, and violent threats and intimidation are not always accompanied by outright aggression. Amidst this complex landscape, where does our democracy stand?

Our Work

What Protect Democracy is doing to combat political violence