New Data on Threats and Harassment in Local Government: Analysis shows consistently high baseline of harassment

September 26,  2023

Princeton, NJ – Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative (BDI) and CivicPulse released a new report detailing the experiences of around 1,400 local elected leaders with threats and harassment. The report offers findings from across four rounds of nationally representative surveys, offering sobering observations on the rate at which local elected leaders are experiencing insults, harassment, threats, or physical attacks for the last twelve months. The research is part of an ongoing effort to better understand and support local officials facing these challenges – ultimately setting an initial measure that can help detect new changes or spikes in the coming year, not only monitoring trends in threats and harassment over time but informing locally-driven solutions leading into the 2024 election cycle.

“The surveys and interviews with local officials across the country help to set an important baseline for tracking threats, harassment, and attacks over time as part of our broader efforts to understand the threats faced by officials in communities,” noted Shannon Hiller, BDI’s Executive Director. “It also sparks tangible progress towards ensuring that new and existing solutions reach local leaders in communities across the United States.”

Key findings across four rounds of surveys include:

  • Threats and harassment of local officials are at a consistently high baseline. In any given 3-month period nearly half of all officials have been insulted, a third have been harassed, and nearly one in five threatened.
  • Threats and harassment are even more common for racial and ethnic minorities and for women. Women and racial or ethnic minorities in local elected offices were 5-10% more likely to experience both threats of violence and ongoing harassment while serving as local elected officials over the past year.
  • Worry about threats, harassment, and attacks is even higher. For example, while actual reports of attacks are relatively rare, they can create an atmosphere of fear: 14% of local officials report being worried about being attacked. Fully, 1 in 5 women officials worry about attacks on them or their families.

“In our groundbreaking survey, we discovered that an alarming number of local policymakers are facing threats and harassment,” said Nathan Lee, Managing Director at CivicPulse. “While actual violence is rare, a significant proportion express safety concerns for themselves and their families. Addressing this issue is crucial for a safer, more inclusive political environment where everyone feels encouraged to contribute. By quantifying the extent of the challenge, we are taking the first step towards that goal."

CivicPulse and BDI will continue to conduct quarterly surveys of local municipal, county, and township officials, with the next results released in the last quarter of 2023. Additional analysis of partisan, ethnic, and locality-based characteristics will be included in that report. Ongoing 1-1, confidential interviews will form the basis for additional insights, in follow-up from BDI’s Initial Qualitative Report.

A public version of these data from the four initial surveys will be made available upon request for appropriate use and citation. Taken together, ongoing Threats and Harassment in Local Government Benchmarking Reports will provide a key new empirical foundation to quickly understand and respond to changes in the threat and harassment landscape in the U.S.

For inquiries please copy both organizations:


CivicPulse produces research reports and benchmarks on critical issues facing local governments, and works diligently to deliver these insights back to local governments and their communities. CivicPulse generates data-driven insights about local government through a range of research initiatives.

The Bridging Divides Initiative (BDI) is a non-partisan research initiative based at Princeton University that tracks and mitigates political violence in the United States. BDI supports efforts to grow and build local community resilience throughout elections and other periods of heightened risk, laying a foundation for longer-term work to bridge the divides we face as a nation.