APRIL 2023 SURVEY REPORT: Introducing CPOST’s New “Political and Violent Dangers to Democracy” Tracker Chicago Project on Security and Threats
Robert A. Pape  |  April 30, 2023

With this report, CPOST is pleased to introduce its new “Political and Violent Dangers to Democracy” Tracker, the most comprehensive and rolling picture of the key trends in the magnitude of anti-democratic (and pro-democratic) sentiments in the US adult population related to the future of American democracy now available.  In recent years, CPOST and other scholars have called attention to various political and violent dangers to democracy related to the deep distrust of democratic institutions, dangerous political conspiracy theories, expressed support for political violence for a range of grievances on both the political Right and Left, and public yearning for bipartisan political solutions to protect American democracy going forward.   With CPOST’s new tracker, these critical issues can now be presented as a comprehensive picture of state of the public mind on dangers to democracy, measured in a unified, high quality, reliable nationally representative survey conduct by CPOST and NORC at the University of Chicago, fielded March 31-April 6, 2023, N= 4046 adults age 18+, and margin of error of +/- 2.15% and compared to previous CPOST/NORC surveys in September 2022 and January 2023, N= 3000, MOE = 2.95.

Above all, the “Dangers to Democracy” Tracker shows a truly disturbing picture of the landscape of attitudes on democracy in the US general population.   Beyond any one individual issue, the composite of the full range of political and violent dangers to democracy and their trajectory shows that public attitudes on these issues are not improving -- indeed about half of the measures are more disturbing since fall of 2022.   This means that despite the resounding public rejection of “election deniers” and politicians viewed as threatening democracy in the 2022 mid-term national elections and numerous “election integrity” policies, the state of American democracy remains fragile.  

This broad approach to understanding support for political violence from the right and the left is essential to anticipating flashpoints and critical for developing effective strategies to address and mitigate risks from wherever they arise to threaten the health and stability of American democracy.

The great strength of America's democracy is resilience in the face of serious challenge, resilience that starts with informed public debate.   The "dangers to democracy" tracker shows there is tremendous work to do -- and that it is important to get to work as we begin to head into the 2024 election season.

Beyond the new tracker, this report also delves more deeply into numerous crucial issues explored in the April 2023 survey and finds:

  1. The size of the pro-Trump “Insurrectionist Movement” remains highly stable.In September 2022, 5% of Americans believed force was justified to restore Trump to the presidency.Today that number is the same, at 5%.In our new survey, we also asked those who neither agreed nor disagreed about their leaning, and found 12% of these or 4 million lean toward agreeing that force is justified to restore Trump.This suggests our previous surveys have underestimated the true level of force for Trump by effectively counting all the ambivalent as not agreeing.When we add these 4 million from the ambivalent to the explicit support for force to restore Trump, we now have a more accurate estimate of the size of the insurrectionist movement – as of April 2023, about 17 million.
  2. Support for violence in addressing causes on the Left is also stable from September 2022 to April 2023 across a variety of grievances (restore abortion rights, protect minority voting rights, prevent police brutality against minorities), remains sizable, and comes predominantly from Democrats. Overall, support for political violence continues to extend across party lines.
  3. Support for political violence against members of Congress and on government officials grew from 9% (equivalent of 23 million adults) n January 2023 to 12.5% or (the equivalent of 32 million adults) in April 2023 and continues to come almost equally from the Right and Left.The 32 million breaks down as 10 million Republicans, 8 million Democrats, and 5 million Independents.
  4. Our new survey asked questions about commitment of the public to the US Constitution and remaining politically united as a nation and found disturbingly:12% or 31 million adults agree that the “US Constitution should be ignored” (about evenly across parties), while 16% or 41 million adults favor the “United States having a national divorce.”Importantly, support for national divorce remains at disturbing levels when high consequences are added, with 7% (18 million adults) favoring a national divorce even if “thousands of people are injured or killed” and 7% (18 million adults) even if it means “China would replace the United States as the world’s only superpower.”Republicans are more than twice as likely to favor national divorce across all these questions.
  5. There is also good news.Our April 2023 survey found that 77% of the public supports bipartisan solutions to American political violence, a stable level since January 2023 and indicating that Americans are not polarized on this crucial issue and pointing the way forward for political leaders to work together to prevent political violence in the future.

Click download to read the full report.