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Our Narrative Analysis Process

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Our VSD narrative analysis uses natural language processing enhanced by artificial intelligence to read and analyze the stories being told about potential threats to democracy in our news coverage. We believe our narrative 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 disinformation and lies 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 may be threatening the survival of democracy in America. However, there is no attempt to add up all the reporting on individual threats so there is a sense of the overall threat to democracy in America. The Vital Signs of Democracy narrative analysis and the VSD threat meter is our way of giving citizens a unique perspective on the level of 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 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 an individual state 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 analysis is the degree of impact that a particular news story is having on the national political discourse. One of the factors we measure looks at how an individual news story has scaled in our current political environment.


For example, a news story posted on a blog with 500 followers will not have the same impact as that same news story being picked up and re-tweeted to millions of people. The number of people that engage with any particular news story 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 story could be influencing our political choices.


Categories of News Impacting Democracy in America

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


  • Voting Rights and Results and 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, the Impacts of Immigration and Dark Money in Politics 

  • Enacting Gun Reform

  • America's Influence in the World 


The threat level we calculate and publish is based on our narrative ARC concerning the state of democracy in America. These five  threat levels represent five "narratives" that describe possible futures for America. Our threat level ratings for individual news articles are 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.

  • Immigration in and out of the country is tightly controlled.

  • Students are taught a state approved curriculum.

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

  • There are no recognized religions.

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

  • America does not engage in alliances with other democratic countries.


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.

  • Voting districts are gerrymandered to suppress votes in their opponents strong holds.

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

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

  • Most red states attempt to control educational curriculum.

  • Immigration is allowed for only certain groups of people.

  • Women and people of color struggle to find representation.

  • There is a "state" religion dominating the spiritual landscape.

  • 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 resulting in a dangerous stalemate.

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

  • The slightest political or cultural disturbance can push the needle towards democracy or autocracy. There is little margin of error.

  • Immigration regulations are very confusing resulting in inequities. 

  • There is no clear direction for the country moving forward. Voters feel paralyzed.

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

  • America’s stagnation and internal paralysis results in a loss of influence in the world concerning global issues like climate change, immigration and unwarranted aggression by autocratic 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.

  • There is a clear path to become an American citizen both for those outside the US and those already here.

  • Religious freedom is encouraged.

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

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

  • America is a force for good in the world.


Low Threat Level 1-2 America is a pure democracy 

  • Bi-partisan support for fair direct elections.

  • Ranked choice voting 

  • Supreme Court rulings based on non-partisan perspectives.

  • Political law breakers are held accountable by our system of justice in a reasonable period of time.

  • Low cost health care is available to everyone.

  • The immigration process is clearly and fairly structured for those arriving. 

  • Religious freedom is promoted. 

  • 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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