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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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Growing Voters in Rural Communities: Supporting Youth, Creating Opportunity, and Strengthening Democracy

January 9, 2024

Starting in the spring of 2023, CIRCLE and Rural Youth Catalyst kicked off a nonpartisan learning community with anchor organizations from a diversity of rural places that provide support to young people. The goals of the learning community were to learn from one another about experiences working with youth in rural communities, wrestle with the systemic challenges in rural communities and elections, and to co-create a vision for efforts to increase civic participation, including voting, across diverse rural communities in the United States.This brief, produced in partnership with the Rural Youth Catalyst Project, is informed largely by the Learning Community's insights and reflections. It outlines our collective findings and offers ideas for rural organizations to begin to center youth civic engagement as an integral part of their work.

Civic Thought: A Proposal for University-Level Civic Education

December 11, 2023

Key PointsThere is widespread, bipartisan concern that American universities are not adequately preparing students for citizenship. The most ambitious efforts to attend to this problem to date have been undertaken by Republican-led state legislatures, which have mandated that state universities create new academic units for civic education.While this innovation has been undertaken to meet political needs, its success or failure will be determined by academic standards. To meet those standards, these new academic units will need to define and execute a distinctive intellectual mission.An intellectual mission in the fullest sense requires a coherent program of teaching and research in a specific and demanding discipline. This report sketches the outlines of such a program, which we call "Civic Thought." As its core elements are derived from a consideration of the intellectual demands of citizenship, it may be useful to all those working toward the renewal of university-level civic education.

Options for U.S. Federal Involvement in Elections

November 9, 2023

Amid growing threats to election infrastructure and the increased complexity of administering elections, legislators have an opportunity to reassess how the federal government helps state and local officials ensure secure, accessible, and trusted elections. Over the past few decades, the federal government has acted to protect elections from malign foreign actors, passed legislation to change state voter registration processes, and established the first federal agency solely devoted to election administration. The federal government's role in election infrastructure is at an inflection point that warrants reevaluation to better prepare for the challenges to come.This report lays out several options for federal involvement in elections and describes the security, accessibility, and trust trade-offs of each option. The Bipartisan Policy Center consulted with more than 40 election stakeholders in the creation of this report, including representatives from federal agencies, state and local election offices, nonprofit election groups, academic researchers, and philanthropic organizations.

Shining a Light on Censorship: How Transparency Can Curtail Government Social Media Censorship and More

October 3, 2023

Endeavoring to address high-profile instances of censorship by proxy during the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 election, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act. If enacted, this legislation would broadly prohibit federal employees from censoring with respect to social media. The problem with this and other prohibition-based approaches to censorship by proxy is that it is practically impossible to precisely define what conduct should be prohibited.In matters of national security, law enforcement, and beyond, government officials regularly make statements that encourage private actors to suppress information, and not all of this is objectionable. Consider, for example, an FBI agent who requests that a newspaper delay publishing certain details about an ongoing criminal investigation because doing so could undermine attempts to capture the suspect. Any practically workable prohibition will be far too narrow, and any prohibition broad enough to cover the field will inevitably prove unworkable when it sweeps in routine government activities.There is an easier and more effective way to address censorship by proxy: transparency. Federal officials should be required to publicly report attempts to suppress Americans' exercise of speech and associational rights. Censorship by proxy, as practiced today, depends on secrecy and practical obscurity to evade public and legal accountability. Forcing attempted censorship out of the shadows stands to deter the worst abuses and ensure that officials who aren't deterred can be held to account. At the same time, a transparency-based approach avoids the difficulties inherent to prohibition because it dispenses with the need to precisely define the prohibited conduct; in this context, over-inclusiveness in disclosure is no vice. 

Public Media and the Future of Local Journalism

September 14, 2023

The dramatic decline of local newspapers has caused an information crisis in America. Today, 70 million people live without a credible source of local news. This vacuum weakens our communities and our democracy, leaving people without the information they need to play an active role in constructively shaping our world.This paper is intended as a shared statement about public media's collective commitment to play a strong role in helping to address America's information crisis.

Mitigating Online Misleading Information and Polarization in Conflict-Sensitive Contexts: Experimental Evidence from Côte d’Ivoire

August 3, 2023

As misinformation and polarization increase, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) faces new challenges in its support for electoral integrity, party development, democratic governance, and citizen participation. Our Global Design, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (G-DMEL) team, in partnership with NDI's Côte d'Ivoire program, aimed to answer the following question: What kinds of democracy interventions - separately or in combination – can impact online misinformation uptake and dissemination among youth, and reduce affective polarizations across partisan divides? With funding from the NED and in collaboration with leading academic researchers from Evidence in Governance And Politics (EGAP), NDI experimentally tested the impacts of four types of intervention hypotheses: one based on capacity building (training on digital literacy) and three designed to mitigate socio-political motivations to consume and disseminate misinformation. The findings revealed that traditional digital literacy interventions alone did not change youth capacity to identify misinformation, nor their behavior in knowingly sharing misinformation. Surprisingly, social identity interventions did have impacts, but in unexpected directions. These critical insights are paving the way for NDI to rethink strategies to combat misinformation in highly polarized environments.

Campaigns and Elections; Civic Participation; Media

An Immigration Advocate's Need-to-know for Policy Change: A Conversation with the APA's Katherine B. McGuire

June 27, 2023

This policy brief is based on a conversation with Katherine B. McGuire, chief advocacy officer of the American Psychological Association (APA) and a special guest at the Baker Institute Migration Initiative's "Conversations on Immigration" event on April 25, 2023. McGuire suggested that, instead of losing sight of their goals, immigration reform advocates learn to navigate today's political environment and use opportunities to push for progressive legislation on immigration by engaging with policymakers on both sides of the aisle as well as their constituents. According to McGuire, immigration reform advocates should work toUnderstand the political landscape at both the federal and state levels.Find common ground with members of Congress.Soften resistance at the state level.Educate the American public on the harmful mis- and disinformation about immigrants through storytelling, a powerful tool to prime the political landscape for change — the key objective of advocacy work.

Civic Participation; Media

Improving Youth Online Safety without Sacrificing Privacy and Speech

June 20, 2023

Policymakers at state and federal levels have called for regulation of social media and other technology for children and teenagers. Many in the public are worried about young people being exposed to harmful content, the effect of social media on teenage mental health, and the amount of time young people are spending on new technology. Yet regulations are being proposed (and in some cases have been enacted) that would use blunt tactics that raise serious issues for the privacy and speech of children, teens, and adults and fail to address the proponents' often well‐intentioned concerns even truly.

Civic Participation; Media

Coercion and Control: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Decline of Democracy, and Rise in Authoritarianism

June 1, 2023

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are essential components of human rights, gender equality, and public health. However, in many parts of the world, these rights are under threat from restrictive laws and policies, as well as social norms that stigmatize them, threatening bodily autonomy and civil liberties. Treaties and laws, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), recognize the right to make decisions about one's own sexual and reproductive health and well-being, including the right to access safe and legal abortion and contraception, as a fundamental human right. There is broad agreement that sexual and reproductive health and rights are essential to gender equality. Officials in the Biden-Harris administration have stated that "gender equality is a prerequisite for democracy" and that "the status of women is the status of democracy." Some experts have even warned that "a rollback in abortion access is indicative of backsliding democracy."This brief explores the connection between restrictions on SRHR, the decline of democracy, and the rise of authoritarianism and provides recommendations for U.S. policymakers as they work to promote and protect these rights through U.S. foreign policy.

Economic Democracy Explained: Reimagining Public Goods

May 16, 2023

For decades the federal government has invested insufficient resources into the essential goods and services that communities depend on to survive and thrive. A notable exception was the investments made at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which illustrated both that government can invest in community well-being even though it has typically declined to do so, and the extent to which public goods have been hollowed out over time, making emergency measures necessary. Public goods—the goods and services produced and distributed by government—are the critical scaffolding that help ensure that communities can thrive.By distributing the costs—and benefits—across the broader population, they strengthen our economy by guaranteeing access to basic needs like education, care, critical infrastructure, and more. Public goods can also finally help begin to level the playing field for those who have been structurally stripped of wealth and wealth building opportunities. Moreover, access to robust public goods ensures that power is not concentrated among the wealthy few, which in turn strengthens our democracy.

Government

Democracy in the Digital Wild: Can Democracy and Digitization Co-Exist?

May 3, 2023

Nearly 35 years after the World Wide Web's inception, the relationship between the internet, emerging technology, and democracy has never looked more uneven or uncertain. On the one hand, digital connectivity has been a boon for democratic speech and participation, allowing people all around the world to organize, scrutinize governments, and make their views heard. On the other hand, the digital domain appears to be an increasingly fractious and wild frontier where threats to human security and anti-democratic practices are on the rise.Digital governance is now an urgent global priority but there is no one size fits all solution or set of solutions. We need to keep in mind that neither governments nor tech corporations are monoliths; conflict between states and technology firms over regulations is as much a reflection of internal tensions as it is external pressures. Pragmatism and a sense of perspective can go a long way toward improved digital governance. Tensions are inevitable, we just need to remember that democracy is a generational process not an idyll destination.

Economic Democracy Explained: Deconcentrating Corporate Power

April 6, 2023

Our economy is increasingly defined by deep and rising inequality that exists across race, income, power, and wealth. Over the last few decades, corporations have lobbied to weaken laws and policies governing antitrust, environmental protections, worker rights and protections, and more—all to further consolidate their own power. The effect of this consolidation has been particularly acute for Black and brown communities who, as a result, face deep and persistent economic insecurity and inequality. Rising corporate consolidation has helped channel power further away from these communities and into the hands of a wealthy few. Addressing this imbalance requires more than policy changes. Power must shift away from corporations and back to the people—particularly Black and brown communities.According to the Center for Economic Democracy, an economic democracy brings more people to the decision-making table to "collectively decide how to use land, labor, and capital to serve the public good." This brief outlines the consequences of corporate actors consolidating their power to act against the public good, and how Black and brown communities can collectively envision and advance a just, inclusive economy.