The months-long research project looking into threats and targeted harassment of San Diego's elected officials surveyed more than 300 officials, including members of school boards, community college boards, mayors, city councils and the County Board of Supervisors.

Researchers also conducted qualitative interviews and analyzed hundreds of thousands of tweets.

The findings reveal that harassment is a bipartisan issue that can have a chilling effect on those running or continuing to run for office, the researchers write.

''One of the most concerning aspects of this research is just how normalized many of our respondents said threatening and harassing language has become,'' said Rachel Locke, director of the VIP Lab. ''Elected officials expect healthy disagreement, they do not expect to be verbally abused, threatened or made to fear for their safety.

''It is crucial to fully understand just how widespread this kind of behavior has become in order to engage effective responses to prevent its continuation,'' Locke said.

The VIP Lab researchers, in partnership with the Institute for Civil Civic Engagement, found that women were more likely to be targets of harassment or threats than men, with 82% reporting such incidents compared to 66% for men. Additionally, women said they were more likely to leave public service than men accordingly, 61% to 32%.

A total of 47% of elected officials say they've receive threats or harassment on a monthly basis or more frequently. Types of threats and harassment ranged from aggressive or hostile language to physically restricting people's movement, death threats, and showing up at people's homes, the research found.

''As it is famously said, `all politics is local.' We must treat growing threats, directed at local officials as a direct threat to the legitimacy and effectiveness of our democracy across the board," said Carl Luna, director of the ICCE.

''San Diego as a community needs to have a serious discussion about ways we can protect freedom of speech, while also creating civil dialogue that allows elected officials to feel secure in their persons, know their families are safe and be able to direct their energies towards pursuing the public good, not watching their backs."

Besides driving more than half of the surveyed elected officials to consider leaving public service, respondents said threats and harassment also have led to negative consequences, including impacts on their mental health, and a ''stifled public engagement and discourse.''

A total of 23% of those surveyed said they are less likely to speak their minds about policy due to threats and harassment.

The full report is due to be released later this month, with input from community conversations about the findings and potential solutions.

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