Authoritarian Threat Index

We’ve partnered with the independent experts at Authoritarian Warning Survey (@AuthWarning) to evaluate the current level of threat to American democracy.

The score from 1 (healthy democracy) to 5 (total dictatorship) compiles ratings from democracy experts across the country and political spectrum on six key metrics that are related to our priority work areas.

Threat Scores

United States Threat Level: 2 - Significant Threat
    • Strong democracies have a strong, independent press who alerts the public when those in power are abusing their positions. Autocratic movements and regimes tend to weaken not only freedom of speech and the press, but the influence of any public voices—often media or civil society—that could serve as vocal counterpoints to the autocratic faction. Read more.

    • Authoritarian projects cannot succeed without the cooperation or acquiescence of legislatures, courts, and other institutions designed to provide checks and balances. In some cases, authoritarians explicitly rewrite the rules to strengthen executive power and weaken legislatures, while in others they simply stack these competing institutions with lackeys and compliant allies. Read more.

    • The biggest innovation of 21st-century authoritarians has been to maintain the facade of democratic elections while at the same time tilting the rules against their opponents. They do this by suppressing votes and biasing, distorting, falsifying, or even overturning the results — either through capturing the referees or by manipulating the electoral rules in their favor. Read more.

       

    • Democracy in diverse societies depends on protecting the rights of minorities. This includes political minorities who have lost at the ballot box and groups who identify as different from traditionally dominant majoritarian groups along the lines of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Read more.

    • While healthy democratic actors always eschew civil violence, autocrats either deliberately look the other way or even intentionally inflame politically useful violence. Read more.

    • All politicians engage in spin, and many outright lie (at least occasionally). But authoritarians propagate and amplify falsehoods with abandon and ruthless efficiency. Often, this disinformation is spread through coordinated networks, channels, and ecosystems, including politically aligned or state-owned media. Read more.

United States Threat Level: 0 - Low Threat
    • Strong democracies have a strong, independent press who alerts the public when those in power are abusing their positions. Autocratic movements and regimes tend to weaken not only freedom of speech and the press, but the influence of any public voices—often media or civil society—that could serve as vocal counterpoints to the autocratic faction. Read more.

    • Authoritarian projects cannot succeed without the cooperation or acquiescence of legislatures, courts, and other institutions designed to provide checks and balances. In some cases, authoritarians explicitly rewrite the rules to strengthen executive power and weaken legislatures, while in others they simply stack these competing institutions with lackeys and compliant allies. Read more.

    • The biggest innovation of 21st-century authoritarians has been to maintain the facade of democratic elections while at the same time tilting the rules against their opponents. They do this by suppressing votes and biasing, distorting, falsifying, or even overturning the results — either through capturing the referees or by manipulating the electoral rules in their favor. Read more.

       

    • Democracy in diverse societies depends on protecting the rights of minorities. This includes political minorities who have lost at the ballot box and groups who identify as different from traditionally dominant majoritarian groups along the lines of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Read more.

    • While healthy democratic actors always eschew civil violence, autocrats either deliberately look the other way or even intentionally inflame politically useful violence. Read more.

    • All politicians engage in spin, and many outright lie (at least occasionally). But authoritarians propagate and amplify falsehoods with abandon and ruthless efficiency. Often, this disinformation is spread through coordinated networks, channels, and ecosystems, including politically aligned or state-owned media. Read more.

Experts predict a 19.2% four-year likelihood of democratic breakdown in the United States.

Canada Threat Level: 1.7 - Low Threat
Germany Threat Level: 1.1 - Low Threat
India Threat Level: 2.4 - Significant Threat
Poland Threat Level: 2.4 - Significant Threat
United Kingdom Threat Level: 2.1 - Significant Threat

What the scores mean

  1. 1 • Low Threat

    Within range of a normally functioning consolidated democracy

  2. 2 • Significant Threat

    Moderate violations atypical of a consolidated democracy, but that don't yet threaten breakdown

  3. 3 • Severe Threat

    Violations that signal significant erosion of democracy quality and warn of high potential for breakdown in future

  4. 4 • Critical Threat

    Critical violations that seriously threaten near-term survival

  5. 5 • Catastrophic Threat

    Violations severe enough to make system non-democratic

Timeline of U.S. Scores

Our democracy is in danger. But the threat is not consistent over time. Tracking the changing nature of the threat can help calibrate and shape a response to authoritarianism.

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Timeline line graph showing the U.S. threat scores over time.
  • AUG 2017
  • Score: 2.5
  • Significant Threat

Charlottesville violence

Survey respondents report a sharp increase in concern about political violence following the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Respondents also cite President Trump’s anti-democratic rhetoric, including about Charlottesville, as a significant concern.

  • MAR 2018
  • Score: 2.7
  • Significant Threat

McCabe fired

Attorney General Jeff Sessions fires FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who had been regularly attacked by President Trump and right wing media figures as “corrupt” and a member of the “deep state.”

  • AUG 2018
  • Score: 2.7
  • Significant Threat

Security clearances threatened

President Trump publicly threatens to revoke the security clearances of several high-level officials who criticized his refusal to confront Russia over its interference in the 2016 election.

  • AUG 2019
  • Score: 3
  • Severe Threat

Ukraine pressured to investigate Biden

The Index spikes following a July 2019 phone call to President Zelensky of Ukraine, during which President Trump pressures Zelensky to investigate his opponent, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and his son.

  • DEC 2019
  • Score: 3.1
  • Severe Threat

Impeachment

The House of Representatives holds televised hearings into the Zelensky affair in November. It then impeaches President Trump on two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

  • SEP 2020
  • Score: 3.6
  • Severe Threat

Trump hedges on accepting election results

Index scores reached an all-time high after President Trump declined to say he would accept the results of the upcoming presidential election if he were to lose.

  • JAN 2021
  • Score: 3.2
  • Severe Threat

January 6th insurrection

On January 10, 2021, the Index reaches threat levels higher than the those recorded for Hungary and Poland in 2017, as respondents report a serious risk of democratic erosion and even breakdown following the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Read More

  • NOV 2022
  • Score: 2
  • Significant Threat

2022 midterm elections

The 2022 midterm elections altered the threats to democracy in the United States, but did not eliminate them. In key races for offices that will oversee the 2024 election in battleground states, election deniers were defeated and the authoritarian threat was dealt a significant setback.

Read more

How we are improving the U.S. Scores

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Calculating the scores

This index surveys a randomly selected sub-sample of the respondent pool (~1,000 scholars) each weekday. Every day, we calculate a rolling average of these responses. This is a live measure of democracy scholars’ views on threats to American democracy. The index 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 we construct the Index here.

About the index

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.