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How hostility is affecting both parties

“I don't know how we get back to where business is conducted and opposition is voiced in a respectful manner, but the impacts to our government at all levels if we fail to do so are terrifying. Sane people would not put themselves in these leadership positions, and if sane people aren't running for office, where does that put us?” - October 2023 Survey Respondent

In partnership with the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University, CivicPulse is conducting recurring national surveys of local elected officials on their experiences of threats and harassment dating back to August 2022. In doing so, we have developed a quantifiable assessment of an issue that has garnered a great deal of attention but eluded clear measurement until now.


Persistence of hostility as election nears

The picture that has been revealed is stark. Despite a modest dip in late 2022, the rate at which local officials are experiencing harassment and threats of physical violence is now as bad as it has ever been in the thirteen months that we have been collecting data. This is particularly concerning as we head into another election season.


A problem across the aisle

As you can see from the graph below, this is an issue that afflicts local government officials of all different political affiliations. While Democratic officials are more likely to report experiencing insults and harassment, the most serious events—threats of physical violence and actual physical attacks—are experienced at similar rates across parties. These findings hold even when controlling for other characteristics associated with the respondents.

Beyond the quantitative data, the bipartisan impact of this issue also revealed itself in the open-ended comments from elected officials of both major parties. For example, one Republican official from Michigan wrote, “We have an openly hostile group of residents that make life miserable. They have scared off new businesses and residents.” Likewise, a Democratic official from Wisconsin told us, “I am concerned about doing door-to-door. Last time there were very aggressive stances from some folks, first time in 25 years.”

The prospect of receiving threats or being harassed has also changed the way that both Democratic and Republican officials operate their governments. For instance, a Republican elected official from California noted that their local government had to change their security protocols, including changing the podium“from wood to clear in order to see hands of public speakers.” Similarly, a Democratic official from New Jersey emphasized the increased police presence near elected officials' homes due to growing online threats, stating, “In response to increased threats online, police have increased their patrols near, and presence in front of, elected officials' homes.” Regardless of their political affiliations, local elected officials around the country are reporting having to spend public resources on dealing with potential violence.


Could bipartisan woes lead to bipartisan action?

That this problem transcends party lines both demonstrates the pervasiveness of this problem but also points to a potential source of hope. In an era characterized by deep political polarization, the fact that this is a shared experience may also provide a ray of hope that all sides could come together to address the issue.



Survey Background

The research underlying this brief was built on data from a national random-sample of over 500 elected policymakers from local governments (i.e., township, municipality, and county governments) with a population of 1,000 or more. The survey was developed in collaboration with Bridging Divides Initiative and was implemented by CivicPulse.


Below is the question wording for the survey item that was used:


In your capacity as a public official, please indicate whether you have experienced any of the following types of incidents in the last three months or so. If you have held your office for less time than that, please answer for the amount of time you have held your position. If appropriate, you may select ‘Yes’ to multiple items for the same experience.

In the last three months or so, have you been...

Rows:

  • Insulted verbally, in writing, or online

  • Harassed verbally, in writing, or online

  • Threatened verbally, in writing, or online

  • Attacked physically

Response Options:

  • Yes

  • No



Media Contact

Nathan Lee, PhD

Managing Director of CivicPulse

(618) 319-3404

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