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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The American Public Views the Spread of Misinformation as a Major Problem

October 8, 2021

This brief outlines the findings of a poll conducted by the Pearson Institute/AP-NORC between September 9-13, 2021. The research sought to determine the American public's views on the spread of misinformation and who should be held accountable.

Media

Government Misinformation: How Congress Can Get Agencies to Address the Problem

September 1, 2021

A great deal of attention has recently been paid to the dissemination of misinformation, especially by private actors. But what happens when the federal government is the one disseminating the misleading or inaccurate information? In 2000, Congress passed the Information Quality Act (IQA), a law that is supposed to ensure that federal agencies disseminate accurate and credible information. However, the IQA has not worked as intended, largely because there has been no way to effectively ensure that agencies comply with the law. By taking some simple steps, such as clarifying that IQA actions are judicially reviewable, Congress can significantly promote confidence in government information and the regulations issued by agencies that rely upon this information.

How the Biden Administration Can Tackle America’s Voter Turnout Problem

March 16, 2021

The United States has a substantial voter turnout problem. Approximately 79.4 million Americans who were eligible to vote last year did not cast ballots. And in 2018, about 120 million voting-eligible Americans did not participate in the midterm election, while about 100 million voting-eligible people did not vote in 2016. In fact, when compared with other democracies, the United States has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the Western world.Many factors contribute to low voter turnout in the United States. Voter suppression, for example, remains a significant problem nationwide, preventing countless Americans—particularly Black Americans and other Americans of color—from making their voices heard each cycle. Other factors affecting turnout include confusion over complicated voter registration and voting rules and disillusionment over the political process.Although the executive branch does not have a direct hand in overseeing voting processes, the Biden-Harris administration can be influential in tackling America's voter turnout problem. Through its recently signed executive order on promoting access to voting, the administration has already demonstrated its commitment to protecting American's right to the ballot box. But it can do more. The administration should convene a new National Task Force on Civic Engagement and Voter Participation, championing and building off the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—two transformative pieces of legislation that include pro-voter reforms.The task force's findings would provide voting advocates and state and local leaders with valuable insights and tools to champion additional policies that would improve voter participation.

Civic Participation

Young Americans and the Midterm Election

July 1, 2018

The next generation of potential voters can turn their political pessimism into action in the 2018 midterms, according to the latest wave of the MTV/AP-NORC Youth Political Pulse Survey.Young people age 15 to 34 express widespread pessimism toward the political system and discourse in the United States today. Fifty-seven percent say they are doubtful that people of different political views can come together and work out their differences, and less than 1 in 5 hold out hope that these political divisions will heal over the next five years. Just 1 in 10 have felt positive or excited about the state of the country in the past month, and about 7 in 10 say American politics are dysfunctional.

Campaigns and Elections

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.

Government

Congress Should Pursue a 2019 Budget for Reconciliation

May 23, 2018

America's current debt problem is the result of too much spending, not too little taxation. Mandatory or "auto-pilot" spending accounts for two-thirds of the federal budget. The Congressional Budget Office projects that by 2039 federal spending on Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and interest on the debt will outpace all revenues. The longer Congress waits to address reforms to these programs, the worse the fiscal situation will become. Social Security cannot be reformed through reconciliation, but all other mandatory programs can be. Congress should use reconciliation to begin reforming these programs now.

Government

Ban Committee-Related Campaign Contributions to State Legislators

April 25, 2018

Americans deserve elected officials who fairly represent them and fight for their interests, but too often they lose out to wealthy special interests who can make large campaign contributions to lawmakers. State leaders should fight for strong, clear anti-corruption solutions, including a policy that bars state lawmakers from accepting contributions from special interests with business before the legislative committees on which they sit. Voters overwhelmingly support breaking the link between committee membership and fundraising. 88 percent of voters—including 86 percent of Trump voters—said that they favor barring congressional committee members from raising money from corporations or special interests that fall under the jurisdiction of their committees.

Campaigns and Elections

Ban Lobbyists from Fundraising for Politicians

April 25, 2018

In Congress and state legislatures, special interest lobbyists are delivering large sums of money to politicians, which effectively prioritizes the private interests of their corporate clients over the interests of the general public. Former congressman Mick Mulvaney demonstrated this dynamic when he said, "We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress. If you're a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn't talk to you. If you're a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you." The only way for all Americans to have their voices heard is to restructure state and federal law to reduce the corrupting influence of big money so that the general public is fairly represented.

Campaigns and Elections

Democratic Representation: Americans’ Frustration with Whose Voices are Represented in Congress

February 23, 2018

With Americans' disapproval of Congress reaching record levels in recent years, the strength of the country's legislative system and America's faith in its outcomes have come into question. This study reveals a new explanation for Americans' dissatisfaction with their elected representatives by showing that people's approval of Congress is tied to their beliefs about how lawmakers are making decisions. The study—conducted by researchers from Stanford University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, in collaboration with The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research—shows that negative attitudes toward Congress relate to the gap between who people think members of Congress should pay attention to when voting on a law and who people think they do pay attention to when voting. The phenomenon cuts across partisan lines, and these perceptions of the decision-making process affect both Democrats' and Republicans' approval of Congress.

Government

Sharing the News in a Polarized Congress

December 18, 2017

This report describes findings from an analysis of all Facebook posts issued by members of the 114th and 115th Congresses between Jan. 2, 2015, and July 20, 2017. Researchers collected Facebook posts from members' officialFacebookaccounts using the social media platform's application programming interface (API) for public pages.

Government

Staring at the Sun: An Inquiry into Compulsory Campaign Finance Donor Disclosure Laws

December 14, 2017

Since the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, proponents of stricter campaign finance regulation have increasingly prescribed "disclosure" as an antidote to "dark money" in politics. Advocates of more extensive donor disclosure laws typically invoke Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis's famous maxim that "sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants," but they seldom acknowledge the harm of excessive sunlight. This paper urges a more critical and balanced look at the issue, especially concerning disclosure requirements for independent political speech (i.e., speech that is not coordinated with candidates). Of primary focus is the Court's jurisprudence in this area, which is often invoked to support additional compulsory donor disclosure laws but lacks coherence, especially as it applies to independent speech. Even assuming that the Court's jurisprudence in this area remains sound, many arguments being advanced for compulsory donor disclosure laws are untethered from the justifications the Court has articulated, rendering them especially susceptible to challenge in litigation. This paper concludes with recommendations on how, and how not, to enact disclosure laws. Specifically, disclosure laws should be changed to make sure they allow citizens to keep tabs on public officials rather than enable officials to oversee citizens. Current disclosure thresholds should be raised significantly. Disclosure requirements for independent speech should be limited significantly, given that such mandates do not serve traditional justifications for disclosure.

Campaigns and Elections; Government

Supreme Court Battle Against Ohio's Illegal Voter Purges Draws Support in Eighteen Amicus Briefs

September 25, 2017

A diverse set of stakeholders filed 18 amicus briefs urging the Supreme Court to strike down Ohio's Supplemental Process -- an illegal voter purge practice that removes eligible voters from the rolls for failure to vote, in violation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).

Campaigns and Elections; Government