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Our Narrative Threat Analysis Process

VSD Meter-Sept6.jpg

Our VSD narrative threat analysis uses natural language processing enhanced by artificial intelligence to read and analyze the stories being told about threats to democracy in our news coverage. We believe our narrative threat analysis process is particularly relevant in this moment because more citizens are making their political decisions based on stories they are being told and NOT on a candidates qualifications or policy positions. 

​A democracy depends on a common set of facts from which citizens can debate the way forward. In the last five years our news "facts" have become distorted by partisan cable news outlets and social media platforms promoting intentional disinformation to make more profits. A variety of narratives now claim to be the true story of what is threatening democracy in America and what could make it GREAT again.


Our cable news outlets and social media news feeds report on the events of the day through the lens of one of these narratives. Hours of coverage are allotted to examining individual stories that are threatening the survival of democracy in America. However, there is no attempt to add up all this reporting on individual threats so that it provides a sense of the overall threat to democracy in America. The Vital Signs of Democracy narrative threat analysis and the VSD meter is our way of giving citizens a unique perspective on the master level threat to democracy in America every two weeks.


How It Works

The stories we tell ourselves in our news coverage impact how we feel, think and act in the world. Neuroscience tells us that our brains can’t tell the difference between a story and “lived” experience. When we listen to, read, watch or tell a story, the same areas of our brains activate as when we are actually experiencing something in the real world. Images, sounds, smells, and body sensations are activated by a story as much as they are by actual events.


Our narrative threat analysis process searches out and analyzes news stories reporting on the many factors impacting democracy in America and the people, places, events, relationships, and sentiment involved. Our method analyzes the language used in news articles, social media posts and podcasts, identifies the main themes of the reporting and rates the content of those narratives as either increasing or lessening threats to democracy in America. The news stories and social media feeds we analyze yield a type of early warning detector concerning the threat level to democracy in America based on the hidden narratives that are emerging.


For example, a news story about individual states passing radical anti-abortion bills threatens our democracy because the “state” is dictating what a woman can do with her body based on a particular belief system, not fact. In comparison, a news story about the US Justice Department indicting participants in the January 6th insurrection would be rated as promoting democracy because individuals who were responsible for attempting a “coup” in 2021 are being held accountable based on actual legal evidence.


One of the most important metrics identified by our narrative threat analysis is the size of the impact that a particular news narrative is having on the national political discourse. One of the factors we measure concerns the degree an individual news narrative has scaled in our current political environment.


For example, a news narrative posted on a blog with 500 followers will not have the same impact as that same news narrative being picked up and re-tweeted to millions of people. The number of people that engage with any particular news narrative does not necessarily mean it is right or wrong or even if the narrative is true or not. It simple means the larger the audience that engages with it, the more that news narrative could be influencing our political choices.


Categories of News Impacting Democracy in America

Each individual news article we collect and analyze through our NLP AI platform is rated for its threat level in one of ten key factor categories we think will decide whether democracy survives after the 2024 election or not. They are:


  • Voting Rights/Election Legislation Passed by Congress and State Houses

  • Who is Winning the Political Culture Wars?

  • Ensuring a Women’s Right to Choose

  • The Effectiveness of Our System of Justice

  • The Independence of Our System of Checks and Balances

  • The Political Impact of Cable and Social Media News Feeds on Our Democracy

  • Combating Climate Change 

  • The US Economy and Dark Money in Politics 

  • Enacting Gun Reform

  • America's Influence in the World 


The threat level we calculate and rate is based on our narrative ARC concerning the state of democracy in America. These five  threat levels represent five "stories" that describe possible futures for America. Our threat level rating scale for individual news articles and the VSD master threat level rating is as follows:


Extreme Threat Level 9-10 – America is an autocracy.

  • One party maintains absolute power and offers only rigged elections.

  • Political dissent and freedom of choice are suppressed.

  • Climate change is denied.

  • The judicial system issues rulings that reinforce autocratic governance.

  • News and social media platforms post only approved stories.

  • Students are taught a state approved curriculum.

  • Women and people of color are regarded as second class citizens.

  • Corruption is rampant at all levels of government from local to national.

  • America pulls back from defending freedom around the world and contributing to mitigating climate change.


Very High Threat Level 7-8 America is leaning towards autocratic rule.

  • One party seeks to make it impossible for the other party to win an election by gerrymandering voting districts and suppressing votes in their opponents strong holds.

  • Supreme Court rulings are made because of pre-set political positions as opposed to non-partisan deliberations.

  • America’s system of justice is ineffective in holding political law breakers accountable.

  • Most states attempt to control educational curriculum.

  • Women and people of color struggle to find representation.

  • The impacts of climate change are ignored.

  • America only engages with global challenges when it benefits the United States.


High Threat Level 5-6 Stalemate

  • America’s political orientation is a tossup.

  • Efforts of both parties mostly cancel each other out.

  • The difference between potential democratic and autocratic governance is narrow.

  • The slightest political or cultural disturbance can push the needle either way. There is no margin of error.

  • No clear direction for moving forward.

  • Little progress is made on important issues like health care, education reform and economic disparity.

  • America’s stagnation and internal paralysis also results in a potential loss of influence in the world concerning global issues like climate change, immigration and aggression towards other countries.

Moderate Threat Level 3-4 America is leaning towards democracy.

  • Voting and non-partisan election certification are working for the most part.

  • Supreme Court rulings are mostly based on non-partisan interpretations of the constitution.

  • Health care is a right not a privilege.

  • Congress passes laws the benefit the majority of Americans.

  • Women have the right to choose.

  • Minorities make progress towards acquiring real economic and political power.

  • The impacts of climate change are beginning to be addressed.

  • America is a force of good in the world.


Low Threat Level 1-2 America is a pure democracy 

  • Bi-partisan support for fair election.

  • Supreme Court rulings based on non-partisan perspectives.

  • Political law breakers held accountable by our system of justice.

  • Low cost health care is available to everyone.

  • Climate change is addressed as an existential threat.

  • There is a safety net for financially challenged citizens.

  • America is fully involved with its allies in mitigating immigration and opposing illegal invasions of free nations.

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