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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Enhancing Accessibility in U.S. Elections

July 8, 2021

In 2020, voters with disabilities turned out in force in one of the most consequential elections in U.S. history. According to data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 62 percent of disabled voters cast a ballot in the November 2020 election, compared with just about 56 percent of disabled voters who participated in the 2016 presidential election. 2020's high turnout is demonstrative of disabled voters' unwavering resolve to make their voices heard and to fully participate in American democracy. While all voters—regardless of disability status—experienced difficulties in registering to vote and casting ballots last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, disabled voters faced particularly significant challenges. This report examines the barriers disabled voters face when participating in elections and proposes solutions for improving the voting experience and encouraging voter participation.

Campaigns and Elections; Civic Participation

Black Women Did That: A Call to Invest in the Civic Health of Black Women in America

June 1, 2021

Strong civic participation is key to facilitating democratic responsiveness and advocating for a more equitable society. While Black women have recently begun to receive recognition for their contributions to the democratic process, discourse is often limited exclusively to election cycles. Additionally, previous research and political discourse had examined civic participation by race or gender, but has failed to address the unique position of Black women in politics and civil society. Thus, this report uses various civic health metrics, including electoral and non-electoral civic participation, as well as policy analysis rooted in BGV's three policy pillars (educational improvement, economic development, and healthcare access). In doing this, the report highlights the degree to which Black women's political participation and efficacy can manifest. Our findings and analysis illuminate the importance of identifying the unique struggles of Black women in America through an intersectional lens.

Civic Participation

NewsLens 2020: How Americans Process the News

May 26, 2021

A shift toward online news consumption, combined with greater political polarization, has altered the media landscape. As part of its Trust, Media and Democracy initiative, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation partnered with Gallup to create NewsLens — an experimental platform and news aggregator first developed in 2017 to facilitate novel research on how people interact with the news online in a manner that offers insights to academics, technology policymakers and journalists.In theis report, Gallup examines data gathered through NewsLens during the 2020 presidential campaign to assess how much partisanship influences the way people engage with news content and whether common ground still exists over which stories are considered good journalism.

Campaigns and Elections; Media

The Threads of Texas: A story of enduring identity in a changing state

April 26, 2021

The Threads of Texas is a research project launched by More in Common to understand change in Texas: the divergent views toward change that are pulling Texans apart, and the shared identity and dreams for the future that can bring Texans together.Texas is continuously in a state of change — economically, politically, demographically. As Texas grapples with major changes, how do Texans across age, race, and political parties hold onto what they perceive as "truly Texan?" How does Texas replicate its DNA to maintain its sense of identity as new people, new ideas, and new industries make their homes in the state? These questions have become more urgent as the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2021 winter storm challenge the Texas social and economic landscape.These are the questions that inspired More in Common to launch a landmark study of the state of Texas. In 2020 and 2021, we heard from over 4000 Texans from across the state, including experts in Texan culture and leaders of Texas industries. We capture the striking and ultimately hopeful attitudes of Texans: We find that although Texans on far ends of the ideological spectrum feel exhausted by political divisions, most Texans say that the ties that bind us are stronger than what divides us. They believe in a changing Texas where everyone feels they belong.

Fueling the Fire: How Social Media Intensifies U.S. Political Polarization — And What Can Be Done About It

September 9, 2021

This report analyzes the evidence bearing on social media's role in polarization, assesses the effects of severe divisiveness, and recommends steps the government and the social media industry can take to ameliorate the problem. We conclude that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are not the original or main cause of rising U.S. political polarization, a phenomenon that long predates the social media industry. But use of those platforms intensifies divisiveness and thus contributes to its corrosive consequences. This conclusion is bolstered by a close reading of the social science literature, interviews with sociologists and political scientists who have published studies in this area, and Facebook's own pattern of internally researching the polarization problem and periodically adjusting its algorithms to reduce the flow of content likely to stoke political extremism and hatred.


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.


What We Know about Congressional Primaries and Congressional Primary Reform

July 1, 2021

This report offers an analytical overview of recent scholarship on the effects of the primary election on politics and the effects of different primary rules on voters, candidates, and policy moderation. Though many studies have been conducted in recent years, this is the first time that they have been systematically brought together with the express purpose of drawing comprehensive lessons.

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

Which Women Can Run?: The Fundraising Gap in the 2020 Elections’ Competitive Primaries

June 9, 2021

Women ran, donated and voted in record numbers during the 2020 elections, despite a global pandemic and the ensuing recession that has fallen on overt gender and racial lines. Still, intersectional racial and gender fundraising gaps persisted when women, particularly women of color, ran in 2020 primary and general elections. Campaign finance remains a barrier of entry for many demographic groups of women, especially in primary elections. OpenSecrets' new gender and race report, Which Women Can Run? The Fundraising Gap in the 2020 Elections' Competitive Primaries, examines the variables that create barriers early on for women, especially women of color, and the variables that lead these candidates toward successful campaigns. Our goal is to address and document how gender and race impact primaries.

Campaigns and Elections; Civic Participation

Improving the Voting Experience After 2020

April 6, 2021

A report by the Bipartisan Policy Center's Task Force on Elections that outlines ways to enhance local election administration in light of issues surrounding the 2020 U.S. election. The authors list twelve recommendations on topics ranging from emergency election procedures to ballot return standardization to expanding early voting and more, with the goal of meaningfully improving voters' access to a secure ballot.

Campaigns and Elections

Preliminary Report: Impact of Differential Privacy & the 2020 Census on Latinos, Asian Americans and Redistricting

April 5, 2021

The Constitution requires a census every ten years in order to determine the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives. In addition to determining this reapportionment of House seats, Census data are also used for purposes of redistricting, distribution of federal funding, and assisting policy makers, businesses, and other interested stakeholders in assessing and addressing community needs.The Census Bureau has utilized different methods to meet its federal-law statutory mandate to protect respondents' privacy and confidentiality in published statistics. For the 2020 census, the Census Bureau will use a new methodology for this purpose – "differential privacy." Differential privacy is a mathematical method that uses statistical noise, or false information, to alter data so that the link between the data and specific persons or households cannot be ascertained. How the Census Bureau implements differential privacy could negatively affect civil rights enforcement for the next decade, including with respect to redistricting and voting rights.This preliminary report – the first such report from civil rights organizations on this topic – compares the demonstration products (which tested different configurations of differential privacy using 2010 Census data) to published 2010 Census data in an effort to assess the impact of differential privacy on a) total population and racial/ethnic populations and b) redistricting.