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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Freedom in the World 2021: Democracy under Siege

March 1, 2021

Freedom in the World 2021 evaluates the state of freedom in 195 countries and 15 territories during calendar year 2020. Each country and territory is assigned between 0 and 4 points on a series of 25 indicators, for an aggregate score of up to 100. The indicators are grouped into the categories of political rights (0–40) and civil liberties (0–60), whose totals are weighted equally to determine whether the country or territory has an overall status of Free, Partly Free, or Not Free.The methodology, which is derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is applied to all countries and territories, irrespective of geographic location, ethnic or religious composition, or level of economic development. Freedom in the World assesses the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals, rather than governments or government performance per se. Political rights and civil liberties can be affected by both state and nonstate actors, including insurgents and other armed groups.

The 2018 Voting Experience

July 9, 2020

This report documents the results of a nationwide study that the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted in 3,119 individual polling places across the country to measure wait times at the polls during the 2018 midterms. It provides the type of fine-grained analysis of voters' reality as they waited to cast ballots that survey data cannot replicate.

Survey Results: Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on 2020 Census Funders & Grantees

May 1, 2020

The 2020 Census is a building block for our democracy for the next decade, informing the fair distribution of political representation and federal resources, including for public health, community health centers, and emergency planning. Philanthropy relies on accurate census data to inform grantmaking, strategic planning, and evaluation.

Government

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.

Census 2020 State Landscape Scan

January 1, 2019

In November of 2018, The Democracy Funders Collaborative Census Subgroup hired Grassroots Solutions to conduct a rapid Census 2020 landscape scan. The purpose of the high-level scan was to learn more about the role philanthropy is playing in census in six states: Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Washington. The states were selected to provide geographic diversity among those in which philanthropy was already active and offered differing approaches. Since launching this project, there have been newer philanthropic efforts, including in the South.Based on the information gleaned in the scan, Grassroots Solutions developed the case examples in this document that are intended to help more philanthropic organizations engage in census work to ensure a fair and accurate count. We hope that they can serve as inspiration, information, and possible models for funders and other stakeholders to consider in their own state. Grassroots Solutions conducted these scans primarily through one-on-one interviews followed by in-state reviews and follow-up research. The names of the interviewees and reviewers are at the end of each State Snapshot.

Government

The Humble Members of Society": Understanding Populism in the United States

June 1, 2018

This report traces the antiestablishment roots of populism, arguing that it is a manifestation of the principal problem inherent to representative government. In the Anglo-American political universe, it first appeared in the early 18th century in the ways the Country Whigs modified the English Commonwealth tradition to attack the economic policies of Robert Walpole. Migrating to America after the Seven Years' War, it manifested itself in the Anti-Federalist opposition to the Constitution, Jeffersonian complaints about Hamiltonian economics, and Jacksonian democracy. In all these instances, populist antiestablishment sentiment envisioned a kind of conspiracy of the wealthy, well-born, and connected to hijack republican government, denying the rightful rule of the people and ensconcing the elite in permanent power. As industrial capitalism facilitated vast inequalities of wealth and power, the ancient anxieties have been notably persistent—such as the agrarian Populists and Bull Moose Progressives, the George Wallace phenomenon, and finally the tea party and Trump movement. While the complaints of each faction are different in the specifics, the underlying grievance, that the privileged few have interfered with the connection between the people and their elected leaders, has been notably consistent.

Campaigns and Elections; Civic Participation; Government

Jumping to Collusions: Americans React to Russia and the Mueller Investigation

June 1, 2018

"Jumping to Collusions" is published by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group. It is based on the Voter Study Group's 2018 VOTER Survey (Views of the Electorate Survey). In partnership with the survey firm YouGov, the VOTER Survey interviewed 6,005 Americans between April 5 and May 14, 2018, 4,705 of whom have been interviewed previously and 1,300 of whom were part of an additional sample of 18 to 24-year-olds and Hispanics.

Government

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

Monetary Competitiveness in Gubernatorial Elections, 2001-2016

April 24, 2018

Candidates competing against a top fundraiser stand a much better chance if they are competing in a monetarily competitive race. Incumbents, who typically attract the most money, are more vulnerable in monetarily competitive elections. States with public financing programs clearly foster competition in gubernatorial races.

Government

Would a Citizenship Question on the 2020 Census Reduce Response Rates?

March 26, 2018

What systematic evidence is there that people have become more unwilling to cooperate with Census surveys? We can gain some limited insight into this question by looking at the willingness of people to participate in the American Community Survey (ACS). The bureau publishes the share of people each year who refuse to take part in the ACS. If more people are refusing to be interviewed by the Census Bureau each year it could indicate a rise in concern about confidentiality. Of course, it may indicate other social trends such as a decline in civic-mindedness.

Government

Re-engineering Politicians: How Activist Groups Choose Our Candidates -- Long Before We Vote

December 7, 2017

Political analysts sometimes refer to the process by which candidacies emerge and test their viability as the "invisible primary": activities like candidate recruitment, training, networking, grassroots cultivation, and more. The practice has changed drastically in recent years, with far-reaching effects. This paper examines these alterations and their effects on American democracy, especially focusing on the role of independent groups in shaping the primary battlefield.

Campaigns and Elections