New UMass Amherst Poll of Nearly 300 Former Members of Congress Shows Rising Concerns About Threats of Political Violence

“Combining the methodological and substantive expertise of the scholars at the UMass Poll with the FMC’s vast network and stellar reputation among former members has yielded a first-of-its-kind deep, systematic look at what is likely the most elite survey sample ever collected,” says Alex Theodoridis, associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and co-director of UMass Amherst Poll. “These data give us a window into the experiences and opinions, on a wide range of topics, of a group of individuals with first-hand knowledge of the highest levels of American politics and governance. The opinions expressed by both Democrats and Republicans in our sample warn of a five-alarm fire threatening to engulf American democracy and the institutions upon which our republic rests.”


47% of Former Members indicated that they or their families received threats while in Congress, with the frequency increasing to 69% for Former Members who are woman and/or people of color

“There is nothing new about people criticizing or disliking certain members of Congress, but the uptick in violent threats towards our politicians is incredibly disturbing,” says L.F. Payne, FMC president and a former Democratic member of Congress who represented Virginia from 1988-97. “Partisan disagreements should not lead to violence or threats. The results of this survey showcase a need for drastic action.”

Theodoridis notes a “stark contrast” between the opinions expressed by Republican former members in the survey’s sample and the public positions of most current GOP elected officials.

“The stark contrast between the opinions expressed by Republican former members in our sample regarding Election 2020 and the public positions of most current GOP elected officials is striking,” Theodoridis says. “The Republican members in our sample skew quite conservative, but it seems they largely do not buy Trump’s claims that the election was rigged. More than 80% say that Biden’s victory was legitimate and about two-thirds believe Trump’s efforts to claim he won threaten American democracy. Does this mean the Republican Party has changed over time, with those who formerly represented the GOP inherently less inclined to side with Trump than the current standard bearers? Or, would the opinions of current GOP members of Congress look more like our sample if they faced no electoral pressure? There’s no way to know for sure, but chances are both things are at least somewhat true.”


30% of Former Members reported that their staff had received threats during their time in office, and 45% of Former Members who identified as women, African American, or Latino had staff who received threats

Tatishe Nteta, director of the UMass Poll and provost professor of political science at UMass Amherst agrees. “More than three years after the 2020 presidential election, a large swath of Republican voters continue to believe in the ‘Big Lie’ that Joe Biden and the Democratic Party, through a wide range of electoral machinations, stole the election from former President Donald Trump,” Nteta says. “While the Big Lie is alive and well among the Republican rank and file, among former members of Congress, 90% believe that Biden’s election was legitimate with over 80% of Republican former members supporting Biden’s legitimacy.”

When asked to describe the current state of Congress in a few words, among the top responses in the new survey were the words “dysfunctional,” “polarized,” “partisan” and “divisive.” The views of the former members of Congress appear to reflect those of the American public, of which a UMass Amherst Poll in June found just 28% approved of the job currently being done by Congress.

FMC is a voluntary alliance of more than 800 Former U.S. Senators and Representatives working to strengthen Congress in the conduct of its Constitutional responsibility through promoting a collaborative approach to policymaking and deepening the public’s understanding of our democratic system.

FMC members were recruited via e-mail to participate in the survey. The sample frame was the e-mail list maintained by the FMC, which includes valid addresses for just under 700 former members; 293 former members responded and 237 completed the survey, yielding a response rate of over 40%. The resulting data includes responses from former members representing 44 states and one territory. Both legislative chambers are represented, with 55% of respondents Democrats and 45% Republicans. Seventeen percent of respondents were women, and African American and Latino former members each represented 3% of responses. The year in which respondents were first elected ranges from 1962 through 2022, and every Congress from the 88th through the 117th is represented in the data. The modal Republican in the sample described his or her ideology while serving in Congress as “conservative,” while the modal Democrat describe his or her ideology as “middle of the road.” The median respondent spent 47 minutes on the survey.

Highlights of the UMass Amherst Poll of former members of Congress, as well as the survey’s complete results, can be found on the FMC website.

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