A Partnership between Freedom House, the George W. Bush Institute and the Penn Biden Center The Democracy Project

Reversing A Crisis of Confidence 

Even as Americans remain committed to the ideals of democracy, a majority see democracy in the United States as weak and getting weaker, according to a national survey jointly commissioned by Freedom House, the George W. Bush Institute, and the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. With democracy and democratic institutions under attack globally, the three organizations engaged two polling firms, one Democratic and one Republican, to survey Americans’ attitudes about democratic principles and institutions at home and support for U.S. policies that advance democracy abroad.

What do Americans think about our democracy today?

The survey found that a clear majority—55 percent—see American democracy as “weak,” and 68 percent believe it is “getting weaker.” These statements drew majority support among all races, genders, age groups, levels of education, income brackets, and political parties, indicating that such concerns go well beyond personal party preference. 

A narrow majority (50–43 percent) agreed that America is in “real danger of becoming a nondemocratic, authoritarian country,” a concern significantly greater among nonwhite women (62 percent). Certain groups that perceive less benefit from living in a democracy, especially racial minorities and women, are notably less convinced of the merits of the democratic system, which was found across multiple issues raised in the survey. 

The poll and accompanying focus groups suggest that Americans’ frustrations with the health of their democracy are rooted in diverse and long-standing problems, especially perceptions of racism and discrimination and the role of big money in politics. 

  • poll 55 percent see American democracy as "weak"
  • people 68 percent believe democracy is "getting weaker"
  • public 50 percent agreed that America is in "real danger of becoming a nondemocratic, authoritarian country"
  • trending_up Among nonwhite women, 62 percent are concerned about becoming an authoritarian country

“We’re grateful to launch this major public opinion research study in collaboration with Freedom House and the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement,” President George W. Bush said. “Like our partners, the Bush Institute is proud to create a resource for others who share our commitment to democracy and freedom. We hope this work can be a step toward restoring faith in democracy and democratic institutions.” 

We hope this work can be a step toward restoring faith in democracy and democratic institutions.
President George W. Bush

“The findings of the Democracy Project confirm we can’t take our freedoms for granted—we have to work for them, and we have to defend them,” former Vice President Biden said. “It’s also a reminder that our democracy has never been perfect, and we can’t be complacent if we hope to continue to lead in the 21st century. By identifying key challenges, we can keep working—Democrats and Republicans, together—to strengthen and reinforce the values that form the foundations of our democracy.” 

The findings of the Democracy Project confirm we can’t take our freedoms for granted—we have to work for them, and we have to defend them.
Vice President Joe Biden

“Americans are deeply worried about the health of their democracy and want to make it stronger,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “There appears to be a crisis in confidence in the functioning of our democracy, and it is not a party-line issue. Intense concern about the health of democracy spans Republicans, Democrats, and independents; voters and nonvoters; the young, middle-aged, and older Americans; and people of every race and background.” 

Joe Biden Quote on the Democracy Project

The findings are drawn from 10 focus groups conducted with different segments of the American public in Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania between March 12 and April 18, 2018, and from a nationwide telephone survey of 1,400 adults, conducted between April 28 and May 8, 2018. The margin of sampling error on the random survey of 1,400 respondents is +/-2.6 percent. (For more on the methodology, visit the Report page). 

The Democracy Project survey was designed and conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic polling firm, and North Star, a Republican polling firm. The research received generous support from the Knight Foundation. 

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.

Democracy Project Partners 

Freedom House champions democracy worldwide by documenting threats to freedom, supporting frontline activists, and advocating for political rights and civil liberties. 

The George W. Bush Institute is an action-oriented, nonpartisan policy organization that develops leaders, advances policy, and takes action to solve today’s most pressing challenges. 

The Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania is founded on the principle that a democratic, open, secure, tolerant, and interconnected world benefits all Americans. 

The Democracy Project Student Poster Designs

Inspired by the Democracy Project, students from the University of Pennsylvania School of Design transformed key elements from the report into art. As their final project, they visualized the action-oriented messages that the Democracy Project tested to help galvanize support for democracy. These artists include Bei Zhang, Chuqi Liu, Elena Ruyter, Isabella Losada, Jason Barr, Jinah Oh, Justin Swirbul, Sofie Praestgaard, and Stara Wright. Read in their own words about the artwork they created by visiting @PennBiden on Twitter. To learn more about the Democracy Project findings, visit democracyprojectreport.org.

Isabelle Losada Poster Design