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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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Public Media and the Future of Local Journalism

September 14, 2023

The dramatic decline of local newspapers has caused an information crisis in America. Today, 70 million people live without a credible source of local news. This vacuum weakens our communities and our democracy, leaving people without the information they need to play an active role in constructively shaping our world.This paper is intended as a shared statement about public media's collective commitment to play a strong role in helping to address America's information crisis.

Why Americans Crave Fake News: How Our Electoral System Drives Demand for Misinformation

August 21, 2023

Misinformation, or "fake news," has the power to undermine our democracy. This report offers a different way of thinking about what drives people to consume misinformation—and why it is a durable feature of our politics. While existing solutions to curb misinformation ignore the demand side of the problem, this report sheds light on how our political system may be driving our own desire for more fake news. It concludes by recommending new avenues for research.Key TakeawaysExplanations for misinformation have largely focused on the supply side of the problem: new technologies and social media platforms, partisan news outlets, and the ease of creating and circulating content, among other factors. Limited attention has been paid to the demand side of the problem.Common solutions to misinformation may prove insufficient to solve the problem because they overlook the influence of political systems in driving the demand for misinformation.The winner-take-all electoral system in the U.S. influences various social aspects that increase the demand for misinformation and facilitate its spread, including zero-sum elections, intense affective polarization, and identity-based politics.There is a need for more research on how changes to electoral rules could affect the demand for misinformation through their effects on social and identity-based factors.

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

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.

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

Media Ecosystems and Youth Voting: Profiles of County-Level Support for Civic Participation

June 27, 2023

A complex, interconnected web of conditions in a community shape young people's civic development, their access to information about politics and elections, and their ability to meaningfully participate in civic life. One major element of those conditions is the media, which includes not just formal news outlets but an ecosystem of institutions, information pathways, technological access, and online/offline behaviors.A new CIRCLE project examines that relationship by creating profiles of what media ecosystems look like in different communities across the U.S., the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of those profiles, and their connection to youth voter turnout in recent national elections. You can explore this research through a new interactive data visualization and a full report.

An Immigration Advocate's Need-to-know for Policy Change: A Conversation with the APA's Katherine B. McGuire

June 27, 2023

This policy brief is based on a conversation with Katherine B. McGuire, chief advocacy officer of the American Psychological Association (APA) and a special guest at the Baker Institute Migration Initiative's "Conversations on Immigration" event on April 25, 2023. McGuire suggested that, instead of losing sight of their goals, immigration reform advocates learn to navigate today's political environment and use opportunities to push for progressive legislation on immigration by engaging with policymakers on both sides of the aisle as well as their constituents. According to McGuire, immigration reform advocates should work toUnderstand the political landscape at both the federal and state levels.Find common ground with members of Congress.Soften resistance at the state level.Educate the American public on the harmful mis- and disinformation about immigrants through storytelling, a powerful tool to prime the political landscape for change — the key objective of advocacy work.

Civic Participation; Media

Reviving News Media in an Embattled Europe

June 21, 2023

For over a decade, a series of crises have undermined the media's ability to support democracy. Traditional business models have collapsed with the rise of the internet and social media platforms. Hyperpartisan news sites and disinformation have damaged readers' trust in online content. At the same time, illiberal leaders in several democracies have developed sophisticated methods for silencing and co-opting the media.Freedom House conducted in-depth research and interviews with nearly 40 media professionals and experts in six countries: Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Poland. The countries vary by market size and by the health of their democracy, but all are part of the European Union (EU), where members are debating important regulatory measures to protect media independence and pluralism under a proposed European Media Freedom Act. Freedom House examined four conditions affecting the playing field for independent news media and their role in democracy: their ability to sustain themselves financially, reach and engage diverse audiences, earn public trust, and play a watchdog role.

Media

Distorting Nigeria's Elections? How Disinformation Was Deployed in 2023

June 8, 2023

This report highlights key trends observed in the proliferation of disinformation before and during Nigeria's 2023 election. It argues that false and misleading information on social media has the potential to affect voter behaviour which in turn can lead to voter apathy, suppression, election interference, and a general distrust of the electoral system.It details the tactics used by political actors and supporters to get this distorted information into circulation. It argues that for the first time in Nigeria's recent electoral history, we saw the use of fact checks from credible organisations to campaign against their opponents, leveraging the trust the voting public has in fact-checkers to improve their chances at the polls. We also saw, in a continuation from previous polls, the use of synthetic and manipulated media to drive disinformation campaigns and an evolution of the sophistication of audio leaks was also observed, with manipulated audio used to construct conversations between politicians to push certain narratives. The report also documents an increase in the number of new online 'news' websites that propagated political and ethno-religious disinformation in the build-up to Nigeria's 2023 general elections.

Campaigns and Elections

Funding news: How Gen Z and Millennials pay for or donate to news

March 7, 2023

As the economics of journalism continue to evolve, a defining question about the future is whether the news media can create content that consumers are willing to pay for or donate to directly. Central to answering that question is understanding the behavior of what many publishers call the next generation of news audiences, those Americans that many legacy news organizations have found elusive: Millennials and Gen Z.Funding news examines in detail who among these audiences pay for or donate to news, how these payers or donors get news, and what topics or interests drive that behavior. This report, based on a representative sample of nearly 6,000 news consumers 16 to 40 years old, is part of a series of studies of these audiences conducted by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute.

Unlocking U.S. Audience Demand for International News

March 7, 2023

The quality of international journalism available to readers in the United States leaves much to be desired. Too often, media outlets send "parachute journalists" abroad to report on global communities. Lacking local context, their reporting often misrepresents those communities and defaults to well-trodden themes of war, famine, disease, and disaster. As a result, U.S. readers develop skewed perspectives about people and places abroad.But what if there were a market in the United States for higher-quality, comprehensive international journalism? This study establishes that there is a deep reservoir of untapped demand from readers in the United States—across a wide range of demographics, including noncitizen, diaspora, and migrant populations—for international journalism that is local, precise, and representative. It also resolves the puzzle of why U.S.-based audiences do not proactively seek out such journalism.

Media

American Views 2022: Part 2 - Trust, Media and Democracy

February 15, 2023

Democracy in America relies on an independent press to inform citizens with accurate information. Yet today, two forces pose significant challenges to this function: the growing struggle of news organizations to maintain financial independence and the growing distrust of news among the public.The past five years of Gallup/Knight studies on this topic have focused mostly on the practices of news organizations linked to trust. For example, many Americans say they care about transparency, objectivity and accuracy. But if many news outlets already have high journalistic standards in place, why does trust continue to diminish overall? The focus of the American Views 2022 Part 2 report is to expand understanding of the emotional factors that drive attitudes about the news.

Media