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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Featured

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.

Government
Featured

Engaging New Voters: If Nonprofits Don’t, Who Will?

May 30, 2019

One of the most compelling questions asked after every election year is "what will it take to get young voters to head to the polls?" Every year is an important year for voters. Which means every year the important question to ask is, how do we ensure the most eligible citizens turn out to vote?Nonprofit VOTE's updated "Engaging New Voters" report tackles that question and proposes a simple but hard-fought answer: "contact." The report looks at 64 nonprofits across six states who reached out into the communities they serve via nonpartisan voter engagement activities and found amazing results:Voters contacted by nonprofits are TWICE as likely to be nonwhite, TWICE as likely to be under 25 and TWICE as likely to have $30,000 in household income. These voters were also MORE likely to vote – 11 percentage points more likely. Asian, Latino and Black voters contacted by nonprofits show up 13-16 percentage points higher than those who weren't; those under 25 turned out 20 percentage points higher.

Campaigns and Elections

The 100 Million Project: The Untold Story of American Non-Voters

February 19, 2020

In 2016, nearly 100 million eligible Americans did not cast a vote for president, representing 43% of the eligible voting-age population. They represent a sizeable minority whose voice is not heard in our representative democracy. Most of our attention, in politics and in research, tends to fall almost exclusively on "likely" voters perceived to make the most difference in the outcome. As a result, relatively little is known about those with a history of non-voting. Yet their non-participation is a key feature of our democracy, and raises important questions about the basic health of a participatory society.To help understand this large segment of the population, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation commissioned Bendixen & Amandi International to develop a comprehensive study of those who do not vote. This study surveyed 12,000 chronic non-voters nationally and in 10 swing states, soliciting their views, attitudes and behaviors on a wide range of topics. For comparison purposes, a group of 1,000 active voters who consistently participate in national elections and a group of 1,000 young eligible voters (18-24 years old) were also surveyed. Findings were further explored through in-depth conversations with non-voters in focus groups held around the country.

Campaigns and Elections

Putting a Price Tag on Local News: Americans’ Perceptions of the Value and Financial Future of Local News

November 17, 2019

A crisis faces local newsrooms across the nation. News publishers have, for over a decade, competed with search engines and digital platforms, not only for their readers' attention, but also for advertising revenue. At the same time, we have seen decades of growing distrust and partisan antipathy toward institutions of all kinds, including journalism. Local newspapers are especially vulnerable to these trends. As a result, there have been waves of consolidation, often resulting in fewer newsroom jobs. Particularly controversial have been acquisitions of newspapers by private equity investors, often followed by debate about how the newsroom is managed by its new ownership.This Gallup/Knight Foundation study seeks to better understand whether Americans care about the fate of local news organizations, what they value about these organizations and what could be done to make more of these organizations financially sustainable. The results are sobering, but they also point toward potential solutions for addressing some of the economic challenges facing many local news organizations.

Media

Young Adults' News Behaviors and Beliefs

July 9, 2019

This report examines trust in media, showing that many young adults use news media to make decisions on policies and voting. It reveals that a majority of young adults are concerned about the impact of news on democracy and unity in the country, expressing that news organizations might divide and polarize citizens. Conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, the report analyzes the findings of a survey of 1,660 adults between the ages of 18 and 34. It also surveyed large samples of African American and Hispanic participants to explore beliefs and behaviors across races and ethnicities. The study shows that young people believe some news sources are actively hurting democracy and corroding national unity. Sixty-four percent of young adults say their least-liked news source hurts democracy and 73 percent say their least-liked news source divides the country. Only 47 percent say their favorite news source helps unite it. When comparing partisan attitudes, 51 percent of Democrats say their favorite source unites the public, while 42 percent of Republicans say the same. 

Media

Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape

March 22, 2019

This report lays out the findings of a large-scale national survey of Americans about the current state of civic life in the United States. It provides substantial evidence of deep polarization and growing tribalism. It shows that this polarization is rooted in something deeper than political opinions and disagreements over policy. But it also provides some evidence for optimism, showing that 77 percent of Americans believe our differences are not so great that we cannot come together.

Major Internet Companies as News Editors

August 15, 2018

As part of its ongoing Trust, Media and Democracy initiative, the John S. and James L.Knight Foundation partnered with Gallup to ask a representative sample of U.S. adults for their views on the news editorial functions played by major internet companies. 

Media

American Democracy in Crisis: The Challenges of Voter Knowledge, Participation, and Polarization

July 17, 2018

"American Democracy in Crisis: The Challenges of Voter Knowledge, Participation, and Polarization"— the first of a series of surveys from PRRI/The Atlantic examining challenges to democratic institutions and practices— finds an alarming number of Americans do not know what factors qualify people for or disqualify people from voting. The survey also finds large divides by political party, race, and ethnicity regarding the biggest problems facing the U.S. electoral system. At the same time, there is strong, bipartisan support for a range of policies that increase access to the ballot.

Campaigns and Elections; Civic Participation

"My" Media Versus "The" Media: Trust in News Depends on Which News Media You Mean

June 18, 2018

For years, studies have shown Americans' trust in the news media is steadily declining. In recent months, the rise of so-called fake news and the rhetoric of President Donald Trump about journalists being "the enemy of the people" have made the question of trust in a free press an even more prominent issue facing the country. At the same time, data show that over the past decade, people have been consuming more news than ever. How are we to explain the apparent paradox? New research released today by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, suggests public attitudes about the news media are more complex and nuanced than many traditional studies indicate, with attitudes varying markedly depending on what media people are asked about.

Media

AEI Political Report: Election 2018 preview

May 30, 2018

In the June issue of AEI's Political Report, we look at early 2018 polls ahead of this year's congressional elections and how they relate to polls in previous midterms. We also use exit polls to see how key groups voted in past off-year elections.

Campaigns and Elections; Civic Participation

The Public, the Political System and American Democracy

April 26, 2018

At a time of growing stress on democracy around the world, Americans generally agree on democratic ideals and values that are important for the United States. But for the most part, they see the country falling well short in living up to these ideals, according to a new study of opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of key aspects of American democracy and the political system. The public's criticisms of the political system run the gamut, from a failure to hold elected officials accountable to a lack of transparency in government. And just a third say the phrase "people agree on basic facts even if they disagree politically" describes this country well today. The perceived shortcomings encompass some of the core elements of American democracy. An overwhelming share of the public (84%) says it is very important that "the rights and freedoms of all people are respected." Yet just 47% say this describes the country very or somewhat well; slightly more (53%) say it does not. Despite these criticisms, most Americans say democracy is working well in the United States – though relatively few say it is working very well. At the same time, there is broad support for making sweeping changes to the political system: 61% say "significant changes" are needed in the fundamental "design and structure" of American government to make it work for current times. The public sends mixed signals about how the American political system should be changed, and no proposals attract bipartisan support. Yet in views of how many of the specific aspects of the political system are working, both Republicans and Democrats express dissatisfaction. To be sure, there are some positives. A sizable majority of Americans (74%) say the military leadership in the U.S. does not publicly support one party over another, and nearly as many (73%) say the phrase "people are free to peacefully protest" describes this country very or somewhat well. In general, however, there is a striking mismatch between the public's goals for American democracy and its views of whether they are being fulfilled. On 23 specific measures assessing democracy, the political system and elections in the United States – each widely regarded by the public as very important – there are only eight on which majorities say the country is doing even somewhat well. The new survey of the public's views of democracy and the political system by Pew Research Center was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 13 among 4,656 adults. It was supplemented by a survey conducted March 7-14 among 1,466 adults on landlines and cellphones.

Government

Free Expression on Campus: What College Students Think about First Amendment Issues

March 12, 2018

First Amendment freedoms continue to be tested on U.S. college campuses as higher education institutions strive to achieve goals that can occasionally come into conflict. These include encouraging the open discussion of ideas and exposing students to people of different backgrounds and viewpoints while making all students feel included and respected on campus. In 2016, Gallup, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Newseum Institute conducted a landmark, nationally representative study of college students. The survey found that students believed First Amendment freedoms were secure, and they generally preferred that campuses be open environments that encourage a wide range of expression. However, students supported restrictions on certain types of speech, such as hate speech, and many were sympathetic to students' attempts to deny the press access to campus protests, such as those that occurred over race-related issues in the 2015-16 school year.

Civic Participation; Government