Photo credit: U.S. Marine Corp/Cpl. Christina O’Neil
The peaceful transfer of power between presidential administrations is a hallmark of American democracy. While the United States ultimately transitioned to a new president on Inauguration Day 2021, the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the unwillingness of the outgoing president to accept the results of the election demonstrated that a peaceful and orderly transfer of presidential power is not guaranteed.
We are almost two years out from a presidential transition to a new administration—should a new candidate win the 2024 election—or a transition to a second term. In either case, orderly transitions succeed with the cooperation of Congress along with years of planning by civil servants, sitting administrations and teams associated with the campaigns of presidential hopefuls. This work can only be effective if the public trusts that the people involved will honor the results of democratic elections and value the need for new administrations to prepare to govern even before taking office.
Following the tough transition of 2020-21, the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition® sought to understand the country’s views on the custom of presidential transfers of power. When we surveyed the public in 2022 about whether they agreed a peaceful transition would take place if a different candidate wins in 2024, 56% said they expected such a transition to be peaceful. At the same time, 25% said they disagreed a transfer would be peaceful and another 19% said they were unsure. Combined, that means 44%—almost half—of Americans were uncertain that a possible 2024 transition to a new president would go smoothly.
The respondents’ uncertainty should serve as a call to action and an opportunity. Government leaders and organizations such as the Center for Presidential Transition must support public understanding of the importance of peaceful transitions as a critical function of our democracy. They must also make certain that safeguards are in place to ensure election results are observed. The more people who expect an orderly and peaceful transfer of power, the more that all groups involved in transitions will devote valuable resources to the planning and execution in the best interests of the country.