Frank Church Institute’s groundbreaking 5-state research: Democracy on the Brink

A large bi-partisan majority of Americans in a five-state swath of the Mountain West are on edge about the health of democracy in the U.S. (85%) and yet two-thirds of them believe politicians should find common ground rather than just stand their ground.    Those are the headline findings from groundbreaking new research released today by the Frank Church Institute at Boise State University.

Other jarring themes from current events that emerged from the polling data include:

  • A serious lack of trust in the federal government, much less so for local and state government
  • An overwhelming concern about misinformation and its spread on social media, a subject of increased scrutiny in Congress
  • A strong sense that Americans in rural communities feel left out of policy that affects them in their everyday life
  • Who to blame for violent protests that laid siege to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021
  • Though a majority back the ballot rather than violence, a concerning 1 in 5 believe that violence can be justified

Working with Boise State University’s Idaho Policy Institute, the Frank Church Institute commissioned a leading Washington, D.C.-based research firm, Morning Consult, to gather public opinions of approximately 1,900 adults in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming in the fall of 2021.  Findings were released today, immediately ahead of the Frank Church Institute’s virtual conference scheduled November 17, 2021 – Democracy on the Brink:  The View from the Mountain West.  The poll has a margin of error of two percentage points.   The full survey is available here..

“Signs of optimism or hope are hard to detect in this extensive new research from the Rocky Mountain states.  Fear, alienation and mistrust characterize the minds of these Americans,” said Peter Fenn, a Frank Church Institute board member who for decades has served as a Washington, D.C.-based consultant/political analyst and a longtime co-host with Pat Buchanan of a political talk show on MSNBC.  “The worry barometer is elevated so high that one of the world’s most successful democracies is vulnerable to political hyper-partisanship, disinformation and dysfunction. The good news is that people expect elected officials to work together to repair the damage.”

Rod Gramer, a member of the Frank Church Institute board and a longtime newspaper reporter and editor and network TV affiliate news director, said that this new research will provide a multi-year opportunity for the institute to understand the alienation expressed in the polling as fully as possible and do its part to restore civil discourse and problem-solving in a region of the country known for  relatively conservative voting and beliefs.

“This research underscores how important the work is for the Frank Church Institute to champion democracy and to establish creative ways to help Americans speak constructively, sends the message to elected officials that people want them to work together to solve problems, and seek real understanding of others’ political views,” Gramer said.  “That is important work in a population where one-fifth of adults believe violence is sometimes justified in driving political outcomes.”

Among the key findings:

  • Fully half of adults in the five states surveyed say they are “very concerned” for the health of democracy in the U.S.  A total of 85% of people in the five states surveyed say they are very concerned or somewhat concerned about the health of U.S. democracy; 57% express that view about their own state.
  • Most adults in the five states surveyed (55%) agree with the statement, “The federal government works to benefit other groups of people, but not people like me.”
  • Respondents were more than three times as likely to say they want their elected officials to work to find “common ground” (66%) rather than to “stand their ground for their party” (17%).
  • Majorities of adults say the spread of misinformation (64%), money in politics (56%) and politically motivated violence (54%) are “very concerning” for democracy in the U.S.
  • Less than one in 10 adults has a “very favorable” view of the federal government and Congress in each of the states surveyed.  And less than one in ten adults in the five states has “a lot” of confidence in the federal government and Congress to act in the best interest of the public.

The Frank Church Institute was established in 1982 to honor the achievements and to carry forward the principles of Senator Frank Church of Idaho.  Senator Church chaired the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees in the 1970s and was credited with uncovering abuses by U.S. intelligence agencies at home and abroad.

The non-partisan Frank Church Institute strives for open and informed discussion of vital issues, looking for a consensus based on civility, tolerance, compromise and the public good.  The Frank Church Institute fulfills this mission and vision through the annual Frank Church Conferences and other public forms.

Wednesday’s Frank Church Institute Conference, “Democracy on the Brink: the View from the Mountain West”, is free to the public and accessible at: Full conference information is linked here.  It will begin the work of examining the trove of data from the Rocky Mountain States about the perception Americans have of the health of their democracy.  

Keynote speaker Celinda Lake, a respected pollster and leading strategist for national political groups and candidates, including President Biden, is scheduled to present her remarks at 11 a.m. (MT) on Wednesday, Nov. 17th.

Other conference highlights:

·        Peter Fenn, former Church Chief of Staff and Democratic strategist, and former Church aide and financial services executive Bill Fish, and Morning Consult senior director Jen Macdonald will facilitate a morning panel “The View from the Mountain West” dissecting the results of the new polling.

·        Rod Gramer, President of Idaho Business for Education, Vanessa Fry, interim director of  Boise State’s Idaho Policy Institute, and Morning Consult’s Jennifer Macdonald will facilitate an afternoon panel entitled “The View from Idaho.”

In its methodology, Morning Consult conducted interviews online and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of adults in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming based on gender by age, educational attainment, race and ethnicity and 2020 presidential vote choice (including not voting.)

Morning Consult ( owns a proprietary platform with access to more than 100 million people worldwide, enabling over 20,000 daily interviews in the 15 largest economies and custom projects in over 100 counties.  The company has established partnerships with institutions such as the U.S. Federal Reserve; Bloomberg; the New York Times; the European Central Bank, Politico and Bank of Japan.

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