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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Revitalizing Civic Engagement through Collaborative Governance: Stories of Success From Around the United States

December 16, 2022

A growing level of political dysfunction and hyper-partisan polarization has led us to a critical point in the way we govern. With democracy under threat and deep distrust of democratic institutions, how can we instill innovative reforms centered around real influence and decision-making power? At a moment of extreme vulnerability, communities and civic organizations need to have genuine political agency by directly influencing policy decision-making. Collaborative governance—or "co-governance"—offers an opportunity to create new forms of civic power. This report offers lessons from across local, city, state, and federal policymaking and highlights effective models of co-governance from community leaders and those in government.

Civic Participation

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.

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.

The Case for Fusion Voting and a Multiparty Democracy in America: How to Start Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop

September 29, 2022

American democracy is stuck in a hyper-partisan "doom loop" of escalating division and polarization. Fusion balloting is an extremely promising way to break this doom loop because it gives voters the ability to clearly signal: "stop the hyper-partisan fighting and work together." Without the ability to vote for a moderate party, voters can only vote for the Democrat or the Republican, but without any direction. Because of the single-member district system with plurality voting, a moderate party is unlikely to emerge on its own. Only fusion balloting can give that party an opportunity to represent the growing number of homeless voters in the political middle, who can then leverage their power in key elections.

Campaigns and Elections

What We Know About Redistricting and Redistricting Reform

September 19, 2022

This report offers a systematic analysis of redistricting and redistricting commissions, and finds that truly independent redistricting commissions are superior to partisan legislatures across any number of measures. However, there are significant limits to "fair" maps, even with independent commissions. While gerrymandering is undoubtedly a major concern, many of the problems attributed to gerrymandering are actually problems with districting, and more specifically with the use of the single-member district. Therefore, while independent redistricting commissions do perform better than partisan state legislatures, the improvements are typically more marginal than the conventional wisdom would suggest. They fall short of ideal conditions—especially when it comes to the share of districts that are competitive in a general election.

Campaigns and Elections; Government

Strengthening Models of Civic Engagement: Community-Informed Approaches to Inclusive and Equitable Decision-Making

July 22, 2022

For too long the federal policymaking process has been mysterious and inaccessible to everyone but the most sophisticated, elite stakeholders. Not only has this made the policymaking process exclusive to long-standing players with connections and resources, but it has also made it extremely difficult for most Americans, especially those from underrepresented communities, to be engaged in authentic ways with federal agencies and institutions.When the Biden-Harris administration took office, one of their very first acts was to issue an executive order to advance equity and racial justice throughout federal agencies and institutions. This was quickly followed by orders intended to transform the experience of interacting with government, modernize the federal regulatory process, and strengthen tribal consultations and nation-to-nation relationships. Together, these efforts push the executive branch to improve equity and racial justice through more inclusive policy processes.In this spirit, New America's Political Reform program and Harvard University's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation hosted a series of listening sessions to help government officials identify methods of stakeholder engagement among traditionally underrepresented and marginalized communities to inform policy even beyond the current administration.

Civic Participation

Misleading Information and the Midterms: How Platforms are Addressing Misinformation and Disinformation Ahead of the 2022 U.S. Elections

July 20, 2022

Since 2020, misinformation and disinformation related to election and voter suppression have continued to spread at a growing rate across online platforms. While internet platforms ramped up attempts to combat such information during the 2020 elections, many of these efforts appear to have been temporary measures. In anticipation of the 2022 U.S. midterm elections, this report evaluates how online platforms are combating misleading election information against a selection of recommendations made by the Open Technology Institute in 2020. Using this data, the report demonstrates which platforms have made the most progress on tackling misleading election information, which platforms are falling behind, and where companies need to invest more resources.


Opportunities for Accountability-Related Conversations: Understanding Americans’ Views toward January 6

June 8, 2022

Despite the national unity that initially followed the January 6 Capitol insurrection, conversations surrounding the attack quickly became politicized, the subject of heated disinformation, and polarizing as divergent narratives about "what happened" entrenched.Developing a shared narrative of and ensuring accountability for–political violence is critical for its non-recurrence. In partnership with Over Zero and Protect Democracy, we conducted polling to understand how Americans are thinking about the events of January 6th, and identify alternative inroads for engaging cross-partisan Americans in conversations surrounding January 6 and related accountability efforts. This report is the first in a series of publications summarizing our findings.We conducted this research via YouGov in January 2022 on a nationally representative sample of 1,274 Americans.

Civic Participation

Alt-Finance for Alt-Tech: Monetizing the Insurrection Online Before and After January 6

May 5, 2022

This brief maps the financial tools and techniques employed by alt-tech industry leaders like Gab's CEO Andrew Torba, high-profile members of the Proud Boys, and others implicated in the January 6 Capitol attack and the far-right's assault on American democratic institutions. For many in this milieu, Amazon's decision to pull hosting for Parler following the Capitol attack was a clarion call to the need for a parallel web, and prominent players have since flocked to the task of building it. 


Evaluating the Effects of Ranked-Choice Voting

March 30, 2022

As ranked-choice voting (RCV) continues to spread across America, activists, voters, election officials, and state lawmakers want to know more about the effects of adopting RCV and other voting systems on participation, processes, partisanship, policy, and power. Recognizing the need for more—and more publicly accessible—research on electoral reform, New America's Political Reform program formed the Electoral Reform Research Group (ERRG) with partners at the American Enterprise Institute, the Unite America Institute, and Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law.This collection of ERRG research includes 15 original studies, presented here as a series of briefs. The full papers are available to download for free on the Social Science Research Network website.

Campaigns and Elections

Parler and the Road to the Capitol Attack: Investigating Alt-Tech Ties to January 6

January 5, 2022

The January 6, 2021 mob assault on the U.S. Capitol exposed deep fissures between Americans and shook the very foundations of the country. The violence that day and the tech industry's response to the tsunami of polarizing content triggered a major public debate over how social media and tech companies manage their platforms and services and the impact of content moderation policies on polarization, extremism, and political violence in the United States. That debate is also now playing out in Congress where the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol is now underway. One big question is: How did niche social media sites geared toward far-right audiences, like Parler, contribute to polarization around the 2020 presidential election and to what extent did Parler and other platforms factor into the January 6 attack? The first in a series of investigations into the impact of the alt-tech movement on U.S. national security, this report provides an initial snapshot of observations culled from an ongoing analysis of open source data related to the Capitol attack.Based, in part, on an early assessment of a cache of an estimated 183 million Parler posts publicly archived after Parler was temporarily deplatformed, the analysis in this report offers unique insights into online and offline early warning signs of the potential for election-related violence in the year-long run up to the Capitol attack. On the streets and online, the networked effects of poor platform governance across the internet during the 2020 presidential election were notable on mainstream and fringe social media sites. Nevertheless, the combined impact of Parler's loose content moderation scheme as well as data-management practices and platform features—either by design or neglect, or both—may have made the social media startup especially vulnerable to strategic influence campaigns that relied heavily on inauthentic behavior like automated content amplification and deceptive techniques like astroturfing.


Violence—Proofing U.S. Democracy: Immediate Priorities For Philanthropy

December 15, 2021

U.S. philanthropy is keenly focused on re-invigorating and renovating democracy, supporting a wide range of actors and approaches. Successful strategies to strengthen formal and informal institutions, and reverse polarization, will need to include strategies to prevent and build resilience against political violence. International experience teaches that the risks of violence endure—and sometimes reach their heights—amidst efforts to reform dysfunctional systems and address democratic backsliding.In other words, rising risk of political violence is not just an outcome of democratic failure, but a side effect of efforts at democratic renewal. As such, philanthropy needs to prepare to minimize and mitigate violence as part of longer-term efforts to renew U.S. institutions and build bridges among American communities.This working paper for philanthropy, written with our partners Over Zero and Thought Partnerships, briefly summarizes current trends that, in light of global experience, suggest heightened risks of violence. Against this worrisome backdrop, we propose six funding strategies and specific recommendations to integrate violence prevention and mitigation into existing strands of work on polarization, institutions, or justice issues:Bolstering democracy and institutionsAddressing the threat of extremismAddressing the harmful communications landscapeResetting norms at the elite and community levelsCreating accountabilityLaying the groundwork for coordinated response to immediate risks