This collection on American democracy challenges and complements blog posts and opinion pieces that are typical staples of the 24/7 news cycle in the lead up to US elections. You'll find reports about election and campaign administration, voting access and participation, government performance and perceptions, the role of the media in civil society, and more.

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"VOTE!" by Paul Sableman licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Unconfirmed: Why Reducing the Number of Senate-confirmed Positions Can Make Government More Effective

August 9, 2021

The federal workforce is composed of about 2 million civil servants who provide continuity across presidential administrations and another 4,000 political appointees who are selected by the president. About 1,200 of these political appointees require Senate approval. Despite presidential interest in filling positions across government to advance political and policy objectives, the number of Senate-confirmed positions, along with the complexity of the appointment process, has resulted in a slowdown of confirmations and an increase in vacancies. This situation limits agency operations and reduces the president's capacity to govern and the Senate's power to hold officials accountable.Using appointments data from the Political Appointee Tracker compiled by the Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post along with expert analysis, this report highlights key trends in filling Senate-confirmed positions and in the nomination and confirmation process. These trends generate serious barriers to government effectiveness, responsiveness and agility. The Senate, in collaboration with the executive branch, has occasionally taken steps to reduce the number of political appointees and make the confirmation process more efficient. However, the number of Senate-confirmed positions poses a daunting challenge for any president, often leading to vacancies that undermine the execution of responsibilities that Congress has established and the taxpayer's fund.This report offers seven potential approaches to streamline the political appointment process for those positions requiring Senate confirmation and assesses when each of these approaches could be most useful and feasible, setting the stage for a reduction or rescoping of Senate-confirmed positions in favor of longer term, nonconfirmed or career alternatives while preserving the Senate's constitutional role and oversight function.


America’s Hidden Common Ground on Renewing Democracy

July 19, 2021

This Public Agenda/USA TODAY Hidden Common Ground survey, which is also part of Public Agenda's ongoing series of Yankelovich Democracy Monitor surveys, was fielded in May 2021. The research updates and expands on findings from Public Agenda's two previous Yankelovich Democracy Monitor surveys, published in 2019 and 2020. The report concludes with reflections on the findings and implications for moving towards a less divisive, more collaborative, and healthier democracy.


It's Complicated: People and Their Democracy in Germany, France, Britain, Poland, and the United States

July 1, 2021

This in-depth study explores how citizens in five countries (Germany, France, Britain, Poland, and the United States) feel about democracy, their frustrations, and their demands, with a particular focus on those with an ambivalent relationship with democracy.

Civic Participation; Government

The Redistricting Landscape, 2021–22

February 11, 2021

This report looks at the upcoming redistricting cycle through the lens of four factors that will influence outcomes in each state: who controls map drawing; changes in the legal rules governing redistricting over the last decade; pressures from population and demographic shifts over the same period; and the potential impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the 2020 Census. In each state, the confluence of these factors will determine the risk of manipulated maps or whether, conversely, the redistrict[1]ing process will produce maps that reflect what voters want, respond to shifts in public opinion, and protect the rights of communities of color.


Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century

June 12, 2020

"Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century" is the work of the US national and bipartisan Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, convened by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. It presents 31 recommendations - across political institutions, political culture, and civil society - which are the product of two years of work and nearly 50 listening sessions with Americans around the country, which sought to understand how American citizens could obtain the values, knowledge, and skills to become better citizens. Collectively, the recommendations lay the foundation for an essential reinvention of the American democracy supported by the increasement of citizens' capacity to engage in their communities.


Survey Results: Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on 2020 Census Funders & Grantees

May 1, 2020

The 2020 Census is a building block for our democracy for the next decade, informing the fair distribution of political representation and federal resources, including for public health, community health centers, and emergency planning. Philanthropy relies on accurate census data to inform grantmaking, strategic planning, and evaluation.


Culture of Congress Evaluation Report

February 18, 2020

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Madison Initiative (MI) seeks to strengthen U.S. democracy and its institutions in a time of political polarization. The goal is to help create the conditions in Congress in which its Members can deliberate, negotiate, and compromise in ways that work for most Americans. Launched in 2014, this nonpartisan initiative supports nonprofit organizations across the ideological spectrum—academic researchers, advocacy groups, think tanks, and civic leadership organizations—that seek to understand and improve the political system so that elected representatives are better equipped to solve society's greatest problems and in turn, earn public trust and support. The Hewlett Foundation's board authorized MI to make $15-20 million in grants per year from 2014 to 2021, for a total commitment of $150 million.


Strengthening Democracy: What Do Americans Think?

August 23, 2019

Nearly every day, Americans are confronted with evidence that our politics are broken and our democracy is not working as it should. So what do Americans think we should do to improve our politics and renew our democracy? This is the question that Public Agenda, in partnership with the Kettering Foundation, is exploring in the Yankelovich Democracy Monitor.This report summarizes findings from the first Yankelovich Democracy Monitor, a nationally representative survey of 1,000 American adults 18 and older. The survey was fielded from September 14 through October 15, 2018, by telephone, including cell phones, and online. Respondents completed the survey in English. Before developing the survey instrument, Public Agenda conducted three demographically diverse focus groups with adults 18 and older in July 2018 in Hicksville, New York; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Earth City, Missouri. In total, 31 adults participated in these focus groups.


Census 2020 State Landscape Scan

January 1, 2019

In November of 2018, The Democracy Funders Collaborative Census Subgroup hired Grassroots Solutions to conduct a rapid Census 2020 landscape scan. The purpose of the high-level scan was to learn more about the role philanthropy is playing in census in six states: Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Washington. The states were selected to provide geographic diversity among those in which philanthropy was already active and offered differing approaches. Since launching this project, there have been newer philanthropic efforts, including in the South.Based on the information gleaned in the scan, Grassroots Solutions developed the case examples in this document that are intended to help more philanthropic organizations engage in census work to ensure a fair and accurate count. We hope that they can serve as inspiration, information, and possible models for funders and other stakeholders to consider in their own state. Grassroots Solutions conducted these scans primarily through one-on-one interviews followed by in-state reviews and follow-up research. The names of the interviewees and reviewers are at the end of each State Snapshot.


The Small-Donor Antidote to Big-Donor Politics

June 11, 2018

Americans are fed up with the influence of big money in politics—and the good news is that a growing number of citizens and lawmakers are doing something about it. In March, Washington, D.C., joined almost 30 other jurisdictions nationwide that provide public support to political campaigns financed by small donors. Moreover, Democratic leaders in Congress recently championed "A Better Deal for Our Democracy," a package of pro-democracy legislation that includes support for robust small-donor-funded campaigns. Much of the commentary on campaign fundraising—including publications from the Center for American Progress—focuses on the important goal of safeguarding representative government against corruption. Yet simply limiting undemocratic forces should not be the singular goal of democratic reform; any comprehensive effort to address what ails American democracy should also seek to strengthen the relationship between citizens and their representatives. In other words, at all levels of government—state, local, or federal—reformers should work to make elected officials more accountable to the people they represent, as well as more able to work effectively on their behalf.


The Humble Members of Society": Understanding Populism in the United States

June 1, 2018

This report traces the antiestablishment roots of populism, arguing that it is a manifestation of the principal problem inherent to representative government. In the Anglo-American political universe, it first appeared in the early 18th century in the ways the Country Whigs modified the English Commonwealth tradition to attack the economic policies of Robert Walpole. Migrating to America after the Seven Years' War, it manifested itself in the Anti-Federalist opposition to the Constitution, Jeffersonian complaints about Hamiltonian economics, and Jacksonian democracy. In all these instances, populist antiestablishment sentiment envisioned a kind of conspiracy of the wealthy, well-born, and connected to hijack republican government, denying the rightful rule of the people and ensconcing the elite in permanent power. As industrial capitalism facilitated vast inequalities of wealth and power, the ancient anxieties have been notably persistent—such as the agrarian Populists and Bull Moose Progressives, the George Wallace phenomenon, and finally the tea party and Trump movement. While the complaints of each faction are different in the specifics, the underlying grievance, that the privileged few have interfered with the connection between the people and their elected leaders, has been notably consistent.

Campaigns and Elections; Civic Participation; Government

Jumping to Collusions: Americans React to Russia and the Mueller Investigation

June 1, 2018

"Jumping to Collusions" is published by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group. It is based on the Voter Study Group's 2018 VOTER Survey (Views of the Electorate Survey). In partnership with the survey firm YouGov, the VOTER Survey interviewed 6,005 Americans between April 5 and May 14, 2018, 4,705 of whom have been interviewed previously and 1,300 of whom were part of an additional sample of 18 to 24-year-olds and Hispanics.