Perspectives September 21, 2023
Twelve Questions for US Presidential Primary Contenders
Amid a 17-year-long trend of global democratic decline, Freedom House poses these questions to the presidential primary candidates about how they’ll work to protect and defend fundamental freedoms.
For democracy and freedom to advance around the world, it needs strong champions. Historically, the United States has been among the most stalwart defenders of democracy, and American engagement remains crucial in the fight to create a world where democracy is the prevailing form of government.
But for the United States to be credible on the world stage, it must itself be a robust democracy with strong, functioning institutions; respect for the rule of law; legal protections for all citizens; a thriving civil society and media; and accountable leaders committed to protecting and strengthening democratic institutions and processes. It’s also in the United States’ interest for democracy and freedom to flourish globally, because a more democratic world is a more prosperous, secure, and just world for us all.
The 2024 election season will transpire against a backdrop of 17 years of democratic decline around the world, and in the United States for more than a decade. This election has the potential to test US democracy further, amid unsubstantiated claims that our elections aren’t secure, denial that the 2020 election was legitimate, and by the ongoing criminal and civil trials of former president Donald Trump, who is also the Republican frontrunner. It will also be characterized by a challenging information environment for voters who are bombarded with negative attack ads, some of which now feature fake or misleading AI-generated images.
When it comes to democracy, the next president will have to work to ease tensions among a divided electorate and in Congress, and convince Americans that democracies can deliver results for their people.
They will also have to rally the international community to support those under siege. Today, only 20 percent of the world’s population lives freely, according to our annual Freedom in the World survey. The rest are ruled by individuals who may deny them access to information from a free press, persecute them for their identity, ethnicity, religion, or gender, and repress their fundamental right to free expression. In some places, they are subject to arbitrary imprisonment, torture, forced sterilization, and murder.
As Americans consider which candidate can best address challenges at home and abroad, Freedom House poses these questions pertaining to democracy and human rights to the 2024 presidential primary candidates.
- What do you see as the greatest threats to democracy in the United States, and what will you do to reverse democratic decline at home?
- There has been a debate between those who argue for protecting electoral integrity and ensuring that voter fraud remains rare, and those who favor facilitating maximum participation by eligible voters. Both are core values for a free and fair election. Do you believe that both are important and worthy of pursuing?
- Will you commit to accepting and publicly defending the final results of the 2024 presidential election once any legal challenges have been duly adjudicated by state and federal courts? Would it ever be appropriate to deny the results or disrupt the transfer of presidential power after that point, or by extralegal means?
- Many challenges in recent elections around the world have been related to the spread of mis- and disinformation. What steps would you take to protect information integrity? Do you believe that the Federal Election Commission (FEC) should ban the use of AI-generated images in campaign materials?
- As our politics have become more polarized, there has been a lot of talk about the need for more civil debate between those with opposing views. Do you believe civility is a core value that we must embrace to make effective public policy in a diverse country?
- What do you view as the United States’ role in strengthening democracy and protecting human rights around the world?
- The United States has a complicated relationship with China. We have important strategic and economic interests with the country, but we also know that practices of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are shifting the global system away from democratic norms. As president, how would you navigate the complexity of this relationship? And, what is your position on the protection of democracy and freedom in Taiwan?
- Saudi Arabia is considered an important strategic partner of the United States. Like Chinese authorities, Saudi leaders have carried out human rights abuses and persecuted their critics abroad via transnational repression. What more do you think the United States should do to hold the Saudi government accountable?
- What do you think should be done to support the people of Ukraine as they fight for their democracy, their freedom, and their survival?
- The United States is losing influence in parts of Africa to China and Russia. What do you believe the United States should do to counter Putin’s and Xi’s influence and propaganda on the continent, and build stronger relations with African governments that are built on democratic values?
- India is the world’s most populous democracy, and like the United States, it has experienced democratic backsliding in recent years. Freedom House downgraded India from Free to Partly Free in 2021 because of attacks on minority populations, crackdowns on independent media, and suppression of free speech. As president, how would you approach partnership with India in light of these challenges?
- In 2022, political rights and civil liberties in Latin America declined in nine countries. The largest decline was in Nicaragua, where rule of law has collapsed and rights monitors have reported killings, disappearances, and torture. Mexico is the most dangerous place in the world to be a journalist. Peru’s rating fell from Free to Partly Free after the president was impeached and arrested for trying to illegally dissolve Congress and rule by decree. In El Salvador, a state of exception was declared and constitutional rights were suspended. What will you do to protect against more democratic backsliding in Latin America?