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.

American Views 2020: Trust, Media and Democracy

August 1, 2020

This report is based on data collected between Nov. 8, 2019, and Feb. 16, 2020, just before the novel coronavirus became a global pandemic and the burgeoning movement for racial justice swept the nation. The low levels of public trust in the nation's polarized media environment have left open the possibility for dangerous false narratives to take root in all segments of society during these emergent crises. At a time when factual, trustworthy information is especially critical to public health and the future of our democracy, the striking trends documented in these pages are cause for concern. American Views offers new insights into how the public is responding to these challenges in their own media consumption and their thoughts about how to address them.

Freedom and Accountability: A Transatlantic Framework for Moderating Speech Online

June 16, 2020

The Transatlantic High Level Working Group on Content Moderation Online and Freedom of Expression was formed to identify and encourage adoption of scalable solutions to reduce hate speech, violent extremism, and viral deception online, while protecting freedom of expression and a vibrant global internet. The TWG comprises 28 political leaders, lawyers, academics, representatives of civil society organizations and tech companies, journalists and think tanks from Europe and North America. We reviewed current legislative initiatives to extract best practices, and make concrete and actionable recommendations. The final report reflects views expressed during our discussions and charts a path forward. We did not seek unanimity on every conclusion or recommendation, recognizing that diverse perspectives could not always be reconciled.

Media

Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century

June 12, 2020

"Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century" is the work of the US national and bipartisan Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, convened by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. It presents 31 recommendations - across political institutions, political culture, and civil society - which are the product of two years of work and nearly 50 listening sessions with Americans around the country, which sought to understand how American citizens could obtain the values, knowledge, and skills to become better citizens. Collectively, the recommendations lay the foundation for an essential reinvention of the American democracy supported by the increasement of citizens' capacity to engage in their communities.

Government

Free Expression, Harmful Speech, and Censorship in a Digital World

June 1, 2020

The internet has brought with it seemingly unbridled opportunities for personal expression to mass audiences, thanks to social media apps like Facebook and Twitter and blog sites like Medium. However, with freedom of expression come opportunities for people to share false, offensive, harmful and even injurious content on digital platforms. As more aspects of our lives increasingly move online, we must contend with operating in a digital public square owned by private entities — one where freedom of expression falls not under the purview of the First Amendment, but under emergent standards being shaped by technology companies. Such challenges have taken on an increased urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Americans turning to social media for interaction and information and finding the platforms awash in false claims and conspiracy theories that threaten health.

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

It's not you, it's the internet: Navigating the changing landscape of communications and organizing

December 12, 2017

Fake news is now a thing we fight about every day. The following things have been declared dead: marketing, message control, political rules of the game, print, traditional media, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party. An emboldened, unapologetic segment of the electorate trumpets hate speech under the guise of "real talk" and opposition to political correctness. The combination of the Internet, social media, and mobile devices ushers in an era of mass collaboration. These new technologies allow anyone to connect to anyone and everyone, at any time --and there are already signs that the relationships we have with ourselves, with each other, and with our institutions are changing in response. With this paper, the Center for Community Change attempts to define a new generation of best practices. We do so with the understanding that today's disruptive landscape resists established strategies for social change; as we look toward the future, successful navigation will require a compass, not a map.

Campaigns and Elections; Media

Supreme Court Battle Against Ohio's Illegal Voter Purges Draws Support in Eighteen Amicus Briefs

September 25, 2017

A diverse set of stakeholders filed 18 amicus briefs urging the Supreme Court to strike down Ohio's Supplemental Process -- an illegal voter purge practice that removes eligible voters from the rolls for failure to vote, in violation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).

Campaigns and Elections; Government

Large Majorities See Checks and Balances, Right to Protest as Essential for Democracy

March 2, 2017

Large majorities of the public, Republicans and Democrats alike, say open and fair elections and a system of governmental checks and balances are essential to maintaining a strong democracy in the United States. However, there is less consensus about the importance of other aspects of a strong democracy -- notably, the freedom of news organizations to criticize political leaders.

Campaigns and Elections; Government

We the People': Five Years of Online Petitions

December 28, 2016

Americans are most likely to petition the White House on health care, veterans' issues, illnesses, immigration, animal rights, holidays and criminal investigations, but the actual impact of petitions was modest and varied.

Civic Participation

The Trump Effect: The Impact of The 2016 Presidential Election on Our Nation's Schools

November 28, 2016

In the first days after the 2016 presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance project administered an online survey to K-12 educators from across the country. Over 10,000 teachers, counselors, administrators and others who work in schools have responded. The survey data indicate that the results of the election are having a profoundly negative impact on schools and students. Ninety percent of educators report that school climate has been negatively affected, and most of them believe it will have a long-lasting impact. A full 80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families.

Civic Participation; Government

Changes of Address and the National Voter Registration Act

November 23, 2016

Under the NVRA, when you change your address at the DMV, it's supposed to update your voter registration as well. Too many states are failing to comply with this law. This new report summarizes the scope of the problem, and offers solutions.

Campaigns and Elections; Civic Participation