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

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.

Media

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.

Government

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

Distinguishing Between Factual and Opinion Statements in the News

June 18, 2018

In today's fast-paced and complex information environment, news consumers must make rapid-fire judgments about how to internalize news-related statements – statements that often come in snippets and through pathways that provide little context. A new Pew Research Center survey of 5,035 U.S. adults examines a basic step in that process: whether members of the public can recognize news as factual – something that's capable of being proved or disproved by objective evidence – or as an opinion that reflects the beliefs and values of whoever expressed it.

Media

American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy

January 16, 2018

Technological advances have made it easier for Americans to connect with each other and to find information, including details about the major issues facing the country. But those advances present both challenges and opportunities for individuals and U.S. institutions. Not only is more information readily available, but so is more misinformation, and many consumers may not be able to easily discern the difference between the two.Amid the changing informational landscape, media trust in the U.S. has been eroding, making it harder for the news media to fulfill their democratic responsibilities of informing the public and holding government leaders accountable. Results of the 2017 Gallup/Knight Foundation Survey on Trust, Media and Democracy show that most Americans believe it is now harder to be well-informed and to determine which news is accurate. They increasingly perceive the media as biased and struggle to identify objective news sources. They believe the media continue to have a critical role in our democracy but are not very positive about how the media are fulfilling that role.The research reported here is based on a nationally representative mail survey of more than 19,000 U.S. adults aged 18 and older. This project received support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Open Society Foundations.

Civic Participation; Media

After Citizens United: The Story in the States

October 9, 2014

Since 2010, outside spending in state elections has increased dramatically, according a report by the Brennan Center for Justice, a MacArthur grantee. In campaigns for state and local office, the difference between outside spending and that of candidates and campaigns is often even more porous than in federal elections. "After Citizens United: The Story in the States" investigates the prevention of non-candidate spending abuses in 15 states, revealing a pervasive set of poorly designed laws with a few states promoting tougher enforcement.

Campaigns and Elections

Who Pays for Judicial Races?

October 25, 2013

"In recent years, as the cost of judicial campaigns has soared, the boundaries that keep money and political pressure from interfering with the rule of law have become increasingly blurred", according to The New Politics of Judicial Elections, a MacArthur-supported report by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The report finds increased politicization and escalating spending in state judicial campaigns, as well as the growing role of special interest money. During the 2011-12 election cycle, many judicial races "seemed alarmingly indistinguishable from ordinary political campaigns" featuring everything from Super PACs and mudslinging attack ads to millions of dollars of candidate fundraising and independent spending.

Government

Can Nonprofits Increase Voting Among Their Clients,Constituents, and Staff? An Evaluation of the Track the Vote Program, Part 2: Case Studies

September 1, 2013

Twenty-five of the 94 Track the Vote program participants were selected for interviews, as well as two additional agencies that participated in similar voter engagement programs managed by Nonprofit VOTE partners.Fifteen of those interviews became the basis for the following case studies, designed to illustrate how a diverse group of nonprofi t organizations conducted voter engagement in 2012. Each case study includes descriptions of voter outreach activities, challenges that arose, and concrete takeaways from their experiences.

Campaigns and Elections; Civic Participation

Can Nonprofits Increase Voting Among Their Clients,Constituents, and Staff? An Evaluation of the Track the Vote Program, Part 1

July 1, 2013

The Track the Vote program sought to answer questions about the effectiveness of nonprofit service providers in promoting voter participation within their regular services and programs, and their potential for increasing voter turnout among nonprofit clients and constituents. To do so, the program tracked 33,741 individuals who registered to vote or signed a pledge to vote at 94 nonprofits. The nonprofits included a diverse set of community health centers, family service agencies, multi-service organizations, and community development groups across seven states.Using demographic and voting history data, we were able to determine whom the nonprofits reached and at what rate contacted voters turned out to vote in the 2012 general election, as compared to all registered voters in the seven states involved. The results showed the impact of personal voter outreach by nonprofit service providers in raising turnout rates among those least expected to vote and in closing gaps in voter participation across all demographics.To complement the voter turnout information, we conducted standardized interviews with 27 of the participating nonprofits to learn more about the capacity issues they faced and the tactics they used to engage voters. Fifteen of those interviews were turned into case studies, contained in Part II of this report.

Campaigns and Elections

Voting Law Changes in 2012

October 3, 2011

Analyzes trends in state legislation that make voter registration and voting difficult, including requiring proof of citizenship, eliminating same-day registration, restricting early and absentee voting, and stricter rules for restoring voting rights.

Campaigns and Elections; Government