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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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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.

Defending Democracy: The Charles F. Kettering Foundation 2023 Annual Report

February 12, 2024

Throughout its history, the Charles F. Kettering Foundation's focus has always been on innovation. Our founder, Charles F. Kettering, believed that "our imagination is the only limit to what we can hope to have in the future."In summer 2023, Kettering announced its new strategic plan, In Defense of Democracy, the result of the foundation's staff flexing their imagination to better meet the needs of democracy. It introduced our new vision, mission, guiding beliefs and values, and outlined five new strategic focus areas that are designed to utilize our resources effectively in the defense and advancement of democracy.Defending Democracy: The Charles F. Kettering Foundation 2023 Annual Report chronicles this journey of transformation, highlighting a year of reflection, dialogue, and action. It is our answer to the question, "What can the Charles F. Kettering Foundation uniquely offer the democracy field at this moment of crisis?" In 2023, we took the first step in our commitment to strengthening existing partnerships, forging new collaborations, broadening our reach and influence through innovative communication strategies, and exploring new lines of research.

Growing Voters in Rural Communities: Supporting Youth, Creating Opportunity, and Strengthening Democracy

January 9, 2024

Starting in the spring of 2023, CIRCLE and Rural Youth Catalyst kicked off a nonpartisan learning community with anchor organizations from a diversity of rural places that provide support to young people. The goals of the learning community were to learn from one another about experiences working with youth in rural communities, wrestle with the systemic challenges in rural communities and elections, and to co-create a vision for efforts to increase civic participation, including voting, across diverse rural communities in the United States.This brief, produced in partnership with the Rural Youth Catalyst Project, is informed largely by the Learning Community's insights and reflections. It outlines our collective findings and offers ideas for rural organizations to begin to center youth civic engagement as an integral part of their work.

Concern for Climate Change Directly Informs Youth Civic Engagement

December 14, 2023

In December 2023, nations from around the world gathered at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28). The climate issue has been a central concern of young activists and voters in recent years, and ranked among the top 5 issues for youth in the months leading up to COP28.Youth concern about climate presents an important opportunity to engage a diverse group of youth and support their leadership. However, we need to better understand the relationships different youth have to the issue and how their distinct attitudes and experiences, as well as differences in their backgrounds and access to resources, shape what it takes to involve them in meaningful action.This report, based on new data from CIRCLE's nationally representative survey of young people (ages 18-34) ahead of the 2024 election, examined patterns in young people's relationship to climate change in order to inform how organizations communicate with and reach youth with an understanding of how different youth approach this critical global issue. Our analysis identified four groups of youth whose connection—or lack thereof—to the climate issue can influence future efforts to engage them.

Civic Thought: A Proposal for University-Level Civic Education

December 11, 2023

Key PointsThere is widespread, bipartisan concern that American universities are not adequately preparing students for citizenship. The most ambitious efforts to attend to this problem to date have been undertaken by Republican-led state legislatures, which have mandated that state universities create new academic units for civic education.While this innovation has been undertaken to meet political needs, its success or failure will be determined by academic standards. To meet those standards, these new academic units will need to define and execute a distinctive intellectual mission.An intellectual mission in the fullest sense requires a coherent program of teaching and research in a specific and demanding discipline. This report sketches the outlines of such a program, which we call "Civic Thought." As its core elements are derived from a consideration of the intellectual demands of citizenship, it may be useful to all those working toward the renewal of university-level civic education.

Community Redistricting Report Card

October 13, 2023

The Community Redistricting Report Card reflects on this redistricting cycle, rating each state's redistricting process based on community feedback. This report is the product of hundreds of on-the- ground interviews and surveys conducted by CHARGE. By engaging with organizations, advocates, and organizers from communities in every state, this report represents a holistic view of the redistricting experience—what worked, what did not work, and what can be done differently in the future.Each interview and survey asked questions surrounding each state's redistricting process, including the transparency and accessibility of the process, the role of community groups, the organizing landscape, and the use of communities of interest criteria.This report contains a background on each state's redistricting scheme, the successes and challenges, and lessons learned to improve future redistricting cycles. The letter grade given to each state reflects the aggregate feedback and grades given by our interviewees—how they viewed their state's redistricting process.

Mitigating Online Misleading Information and Polarization in Conflict-Sensitive Contexts: Experimental Evidence from Côte d’Ivoire

August 3, 2023

As misinformation and polarization increase, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) faces new challenges in its support for electoral integrity, party development, democratic governance, and citizen participation. Our Global Design, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (G-DMEL) team, in partnership with NDI's Côte d'Ivoire program, aimed to answer the following question: What kinds of democracy interventions - separately or in combination – can impact online misinformation uptake and dissemination among youth, and reduce affective polarizations across partisan divides? With funding from the NED and in collaboration with leading academic researchers from Evidence in Governance And Politics (EGAP), NDI experimentally tested the impacts of four types of intervention hypotheses: one based on capacity building (training on digital literacy) and three designed to mitigate socio-political motivations to consume and disseminate misinformation. The findings revealed that traditional digital literacy interventions alone did not change youth capacity to identify misinformation, nor their behavior in knowingly sharing misinformation. Surprisingly, social identity interventions did have impacts, but in unexpected directions. These critical insights are paving the way for NDI to rethink strategies to combat misinformation in highly polarized environments.

Campaigns and Elections; Civic Participation; Media

Kleptocratic Cooperation in Africa: How Russia and China Undermine Democracy

August 1, 2023

The two essays in this report highlight ways in which two global authoritarian powers, Russia and China, provide surge capacity to kleptocratic networks in Africa. In his essay, "Criminal States, Militarized Criminals, and Profiteers: Russia, Africa, and the Evolving Ecosystem of Transnational Kleptocracy," J.R. Mailey (senior expert at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime) dissects the Wagner Group's illicit activities in key parts of Africa. The Wagner Group's activities are complex, but Mailey zeroes in on the fact that the military support offered to African kleptocrats has little to do with providing security and stability for the African people. Rather it is focused on extracting resources, advancing geopolitical goals, and serving as a brutal cog in the authoritarian mutual support machinery. Even if the ultimate fate of the Wagner Group remains unclear, these trends are unlikely to abate. The opaque economic relationships that the Wagner Group has developed on the continent no doubt are too lucrative for the Kremlin to surrender.China's party state and its proxies are entrenched in corrupt networks in Africa as well. Chinese-linked kleptocratic networks are tapping into likeminded networks on the continent, helping to embolden and empower local kleptocrats seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of their populations. Andrea Ngombet Malewa's (activist and founder of the Sassoufit Collective) essay, "How China Fuels African Kleptocratic Networks: The Case of Congo-Brazzaville," highlights the ways in which Beijing facilitates Congo-Brazzaville's deeply kleptocratic regime. In addition to long-standing Chinese involvement in the timber and extractive industries, Ngombet's analysis spotlights the establishment of a Sino-Congolese Bank for Africa that could allow kleptocrats to bypass the transparency requirements of Western-linked banks, thereby affording opportunities to launder money with impunity. This development has significant implications for accountability norms worldwide.Civil society and independent media seeking to identify and expose kleptocratic networks in Africa face enormous challenges. They often lack the resources, specialized knowledge, and skills needed to track illicit financial flows, and the complex vehicles kleptocrats use to move money around the world. Resourcerich regimes in countries such as Congo-Brazzaville, Sudan, and the Central African Republic already suffer from gaping deficits in accountability and transparency. Despite these odds, both authors identify critical steps to elevate civil society's essential work exposing and combatting kleptocracy.

The Retreat of Influence: Exploring the Decline of Nonprofit Advocacy and Public Engagement

July 18, 2023

Key findings:A significantly lower proportion of nonprofits report advocating or lobbying compared to 20 years ago.Mission plays the largest role in determining nonprofit advocacy and lobbying.Today, significantly fewer nonprofits know advocacy activities they are legally allowed to do compared to 20 years ago.Although a majority of nonprofits have a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statement, only 36% of them engage in policy activities to create more equitable systems.Nonprofits that belong to collaborative groups advocate at higher rates than those that are not members.Only 13% of nonprofits conduct nonpartisan activities to help people vote.

Civic Participation

Could News Bloom in News Deserts?

July 12, 2023

Key PointsDue to the steady decline of print news in America, many Americans now live in news deserts, where there is no newspaper covering local issues. The absence of information on local news and local politics weakens our communities and our political process.Despite this trend, over 100 new papers or online local news sites have opened within the past several years. To stay in business, they have experimented with new approaches to staffing and funding.It may be time to expand the role of government or philanthropy in supporting local news, which produces countless benefits for communities but is rapidly disappearing.

Media

More Parties, Better Parties: The Case for Pro-Parties Democracy Reform

July 3, 2023

Political parties are the central institutions of modern representative democracy. They must also be at the center of efforts to reform American democracy. To redirect and realign the downward trajectory of our politics, we must focus on political parties. We need them to do better. And in order to create better parties, we need more parties.This paper makes the case for pro-parties reform both generally, and then for two specific reforms that would center parties: fusion voting and proportional representation. Fusion voting allows for multiple parties to endorse the same candidate, encouraging new party formation. Proportional representation ends the single-member district, making it possible for multiple parties to win seats in larger, multi-member districts, in proportion to their popular support. The goal of these reforms—fusion in the short and medium term and proportional representation in the long term—is to move us toward a more representative, effective, and resilient democracy for the twenty-first century.

Government

Building the Democracy We Need for the Twenty-First Century

June 21, 2023

This toolkit situates collaborative governance, also known as "co-governance," within a framework for building community that sees civic education, relationship building, and leadership development as essential first steps toward an effective and sustained participatory process. It offers key takeaways and best practices from effective, ongoing collaborative governance projects between communities and decision makers. The best of these projects shift decision-making power to the hands of communities to make room for more deliberation, consensus, and lasting change. Building on the lessons of successful case studies from across the United States, including Georgia, Kentucky, New York, and Washington, this toolkit aims to support local leaders inside and outside government as they navigate and execute co-governance models in their communities.

Civic Participation