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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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Local Lockout in Georgia: Why Underrepresentation in County-Level Governments Persists

November 28, 2023

All politics is local, but local institutions often evade national scrutiny. City and county governments make policy decisions that impact daily life and animate political identity: how to run just and effective police forces, how to maintain roads and deploy emergency services, and how to operate public schools that educate and enrich future generations. They have also become cultural flash points in social movements for racial equity and LGBTQ+ rights. Local elections offer critical opportunities for communities to address the issues that most directly affect them, participate in the political process, and cultivate political talent for higher office.Since 2010, rapidly growing communities of color have reshaped Georgia's demographic and political makeup, yet the state's county governing structures have been slow to reflect that change. Many factors contribute to these disparities, among them the electoral practices shaped by the Republican-dominated state legislature that create structural barriers to elected office. Compounding this problem are the legislature's unprecedented efforts to intervene in local redistricting precisely where communities of color are tipping political scales.This report draws on 2023 state voter file data to analyze the racial and gender identity of current members of Georgia's 159 county commissions and their respective school boards. People of color are dramatically underrepresented among Georgia's county government officials. They constitute nearly 50 percent of the state's population, yet as of February 2023, only 27 percent of county commission seats and 29 percent of county school board seats statewide were held by people of color. The average Georgia county has about half as many people of color on its county commission and school board as would be predicted given its population and school enrollment composition, respectively. Underrepresentation is more pronounced in these local offices than in state or federal ones. 

Advancing a People-First Economy

November 3, 2023

In the United States today, too many families cannot achieve the life they want, too many communities have not benefited fully from national economic growth, and too many Americans believe the economy does not work for them.Advancing a People-First Economy is the final report of the Commission on Reimagining Our Economy, a project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The interdisciplinary and crosspartisan Commission comprises scholars, journalists, artists, and leaders from the faith, labor, business, nonprofit, and philanthropic communities. The Academy convened the Commission to address the problems facing the American political economy, problems the Commission believes are inextricable from the challenges facing American democracy and American institutions more generally.This report argues that too much attention is devoted to how the economy is doing and not enough to how Americans are doing. An economy should be judged not only on its efficiency and productivity but on its ability to improve people's well-being. In listening sessions across the country with people from different walks of life and from across the political spectrum, the Commission heard about the challenges people are facing and how current economic arrangements often do not prioritize their needs. A lack of economic security and opportunity fosters distrust of the political and economic system, a distrust that threatens the nation's social fabric, its institutions, and the ability of those institutions to provide security and opportunity for Americans.

24 for ’24: Urgent Recommendations in Law, Media, Politics, and Tech for Fair and Legitimate 2024 U.S. Elections

September 13, 2023

Recognizing the need for multifaceted and cross-ideological solutions to the issue of the legitimacy and acceptance of fair election results in the United States, Richard L. Hasen, Professor of Law and Political Science and director of UCLA Law's Safeguarding Democracy Project, convened both a conference and an ad hoc committee made up of 24 diverse, prominent scholars and leaders to tackle these issues from an interdisciplinary perspective.After public meetings and further online deliberations, this Committee makes the following 24 recommendations for immediate change that should be implemented to increase the fairness and help bolster the legitimacy of the 2024 elections. These recommendation are aimed collectively at assuring access to the ballot for all eligible voters, protecting election integrity, and enhancing the public's confidence in the fairness of the election and the accuracy of the results.The recommendations listed below call for specific action from legislators on the federal, state, and local levels; journalists and editors; tech companies; and civic leaders, nonprofit organizations, citizens, and social media influencers. 

Campaigns and Elections

Online hostility towards local election officials surged in 2020

August 1, 2023

In this chapter, we measure the social media environment within which local election officials operate to inform voters about elections, build trust in election integrity, and insulate voters from election misinformation. We examines the content and sentiment of responses to over 250,000 tweets by local election officials over the course of a decade, from 2012 through the end of 2022. Beyond concerns about LEO turnover and impact on engagement with constituents, negativity towards LEOs on social media is of particular importance, partly because of the notable patterns in the demographics of LEOs that are targeted. Women and people of color may face distinctive types of online hostility, and negativity is especially focused on officials from jurisdictions or states where claims of voter fraud during the 2020 election were more prominent.

Understanding the Partisan Divide: How Demographics and Policy Views Shape Party Coalitions

February 6, 2023

To win congressional majorities, Democratic and Republican parties must stitch together coalitions that are broad enough to accommodate their stronghold districts and swing districts, but distinct enough to differentiate themselves from each other. How each party builds these coalitions depends, in part, on the demographic characteristics and policy views of voters in districts where they garner most support and how these overlap with voters in competitive districts.In this report, we show how Democratic and Republican districts differ from each other and where they overlap with competitive districts. Democratic districts tend to be more affluent and more diverse than Republican districts, which are mostly poorer and predominantly white. Competitive districts comprise roughly equal shares of districts that are more and less affluent than the district average, but they tend to be whiter than the average district. The winner-take-all electoral system accentuates these differences and reduces the diverse constellation of districts to a binary. This results in an inadequate representation of voters in districts that are far from the median Democratic or Republican district.

Undecided Voters: Who They Are, What They Want, and How They Decide Our Politics

November 7, 2022

Every election cycle, campaigns try to persuade undecided voters to support their side. Whether undecided voters are receptive to campaigns and how they end up voting—if they turn out at all—often proves pivotal in deciding elections. But who are these undecided voters and what policies do they want? Using a rich public opinion dataset, we analyze the demographics and policy preferences of undecided voters and how they differ from partisan voters. Undecided voters tend to be younger, have lower levels of educational attainment, and lower household incomes compared to Democratic and Republican voters. Undecided voters are also less interested in politics and largely equivocal about the Democratic and Republican parties. In terms of policy, undecided voters are not unified by shared positions towards social and economic issues. Instead, they have many different combinations of policy preferences, making it challenging to determine what they want from politics. Reforms like fusion balloting or proportional representation could allow for the emergence of new parties that could find ways to engage and provide better representation for these voters.

Information Gaps and Misinformation in the 2022 Elections

August 2, 2022

The problem of election misinformation is vast. Part of the problem occurs when there is high demand for information about a topic, but the supply of accurate and reliable information is inadequate to meet that demand. The resulting information gap creates opportunities for misinformation to emerge and spread.One major election information gap developed in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic drove many states to expand access to voting by mail. Inadequate public knowledge about the process left room for disinformation mongers to spread false claims that mail voting would lead to widespread fraud. Election officials could not fill information gaps with accurate information in time. As is now well known, no less than former President Trump promoted these false claims, among others, to deny the 2020 presidential election results and provoke the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.In 2022, false narratives about a stolen 2020 election persist, even as an unprecedented spate of restrictive voting law changes across the country has created fresh information gaps and, thus, fresh opportunities for misinformation. Since 2020, at least 18 states have shrunk voting access, often in ways that dramatically alter procedures voters might remember from the past. Meanwhile, lies and vitriol about the 2020 election have affected perceptions of election administration in ways that complicate work to defend against misinformation.This paper identifies some of the most significant information gaps around elections in 2022 and new developments in elections oversight that will make it harder to guard against misinformation. Ultimately, it recommends strategies that election officials, journalists, social media companies, civic groups, and individuals can and should use to prevent misinformation from filling gaps in public knowledge. Lessons from other subjects, such as Covid-19 vaccine ingredients and technologies, show how timely responses and proactive "prebunking" with accurate information help to mitigate misinformation.

Campaigns and Elections; Media

The Case for Enlarging the House of Representatives

December 9, 2021

This report makes the case for expanding the House of Representatives to bring the American people a little closer to their government, and their government closer to them. The Case for Enlarging the House of Representatives is an independent byproduct of Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century, the final report of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences' Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship. The Commission represents a cross-partisan cohort of leaders from academia, civil society, philanthropy, and the policy sphere who reached unanimous agreement on thirty-one recommendations to improve American democracy. The report takes as a premise that political institutions, civic culture, and civil society reinforce one another. A nation may have impeccably designed bodies of government, but it also needs an engaged citizenry to ensure these institutions function as intended. As a result, Our Common Purpose argues that reforming only one of these areas is insufficient. Progress must be made across all three. To build a better democracy, the United States needs better-functioning institutions as well as a healthier political culture and a more resilient civil society.

Government

Tempered expectations and hardened divisions a year into the Biden presidency

December 1, 2021

Joe Biden entered the presidency in January aiming to strengthen American democracy by delivering popular policies and reducing partisan enmity. A year later, he convened a democracy summit to address the challenges that rising authoritarianism poses around the world. Here at home, however, the promise of unity has faded and our democratic vulnerabilities remain.In this report, we describe the findings from parallel surveys we conducted November 5–19, 2021 among political science experts and the public to gauge the status of our democracy and the prospects for reforms that might improve it.

Government

America’s Electoral Future The Coming Generational Transformation

October 19, 2020

A report building on a previous 2018 report issued by the authors as part of the States of Change project. The 2018 report examined various future presidential election scenarios (from 2020 through 2036) that could occur due to demographic changes at the state and national level over the next several decades. This revised 2020 report updates the scenarios with new demographic projections based on the latest census data, explicitly incorporates gender into the projections and scenarios for the first time, and examines the likely evolution of generational cohorts over the next several decades. 

Campaigns and Elections

Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy

January 22, 2020

Across our entire history, access to economic and political power has been unforgivably shaped by racial and gender discrimination, as well as by discrimination based on immigration status, by sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, and by ableism. And, truth be told, the American labor movement has itself often failed to insist upon a genuinely inclusive and equitable America.What we need, then, is a new labor law that is capable of empowering all workers to demand a truly equitable American democracy and a genuinely equitable American economy. This report contains many recommendations for how to construct such a labor law, but all of the recommendations are geared toward achieving this overarching goal. In fact, while the policy recommendations are detailed and at times complex, the theory of Clean Slate is simple: When labor law enables working people to build organizations of countervailing power, the people can demand for themselves a more equitable nation.

Civic Participation

America's Electoral Future: Demographic Shifts and the Future of the Trump Coalition

April 1, 2018

The 2016 election was an election that defied most expectations. An unorthodox candidate put together an unexpected coalition of states to win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote by almost 3 million votes. As the nation's demographics change, questions remain about whether this coalition can hold together for Republicans in 2020 and beyond, and how the shifting views and increased diversity within millennial and post-millennial generations will impact the future of U.S. politics.

Civic Participation