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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The Great Reset: Public Opinion, Populism, and the Pandemic

January 18, 2022

In this report, we provide the first global overview of how the pandemic has changed political attitudes and beliefs. We use data collected by YouGov from 27 countries and 81,857 individuals during the 2020-21 pandemic, together with data compiled by the HUMAN Surveys project from 79 sources and over 8 million individuals since 1958. We find strong evidence that the pandemic has reversed the rise of populism, whether measured using support for populist parties, approval of populist leaders, or agreement with populist attitudes. However, we also find a disturbing erosion of support for core democratic beliefs and principles, including less liberal attitudes with respect to basic civil rights and liberties and weaker preference for democratic government.


The Exit Polls: A History and Trends Over Time, 1972–2020

January 11, 2022

This study looks at how key demographic groups have voted over time. This compilation covers 13 presidential elections, and it will be invaluable for scholars, journalists, and others interested in how voting patterns have changed over time. To complement the data, the editors interviewed Joe Lenski (cofounder and executive vice president of Edison Research), who has been involved with the national exit poll since 1988 and who now, with a small army, conducts the exit poll for the four networks called the National Election Pool. Karlyn Bowman and Samantha Goldstein conducted the interview in June 2021. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Campaigns and Elections

Free Expression in America Post-2020 A Landmark Survey of Americans’ Views on Speech Rights

January 6, 2022

Free expression and the freedom of speech are cornerstones of American democracy. Yet the interpretation of the First Amendment continues to be a flashpoint in the 21st century as the nation debates how to apply these rights to our society. For the 2021 "Free Expression in America Post-2020" report, Knight Foundation commissioned Ipsos to conduct a survey with a nationally representative sample of more than 4,000 American adults, including an additional sample of 1,000 undergraduate college students. The Knight Foundation-Ipsos study provides a comprehensive look at American attitudes toward freedom of speech in a post-2020 environment, building on Knight Foundation's long-standing work studying free speech views among students since 2004. The findings described in this report cover many but not all of the rich insights possible from this complex dataset. We invite the public and researchers to explore this publicly available resource in further detail. This study finds that all Americans hold to the ideal of free speech, but putting free expression into practice reveals significant differences in experiences and attitude. It examines how Americans view free expression issues, events and the application of our First Amendment rights in an increasingly digital, diverse, and politically driven society. 

Civic Participation

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.


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.


Redistricting: A Mid-Cycle Assessment

January 19, 2022

As mandated by the Constitution, every 10 years congressional seats must be reapportioned and each state must redraw its congressional map. With the 2021–22 redistricting cycle now well underway, slightly more than half the states have completed the process. Already, this cycle appears to be one of the most abuse laden in U.S. history. There are a few notable bright spots, but in many states, racial discrimination and extreme gerrymandering are once again prolific.Predictably, many of this round's biased maps achieve their skew at the expense of communities of color. Over the past decade, communities of color accounted for nearly all of the country's population growth. But in redrawing boundaries, Republican map drawers, especially in the South, haven't just declined to create any new electoral opportunities for these fast-growing communities; in many instances they have dismantled existing districts where communities of color won power or were on the verge of doing so. This brazen attack is unprecedented in scale. In state after state, Republicans are claiming that they are drawing maps on a "race-blind" basis and then defending the resulting racially discriminatory maps on the basis of partisanship, cynically exploiting the loophole left when the Supreme Court declared that federal courts were off-limits to constitutional challenges to partisan gerrymandering. If courts are not willing to carefully probe the intersection of race and politics, the ruse may just succeed.Democrats have tried to counteract Republican gerrymandering with aggressive line drawing of their own, but the playing field is not level. Republicans control the drawing of 187 congressional districts in this redistricting cycle; Democrats just 75. If, in the end, the cycle does not end up a wholesale disaster for Democrats, this will largely be attributable to three factors: the unwinding of gerrymanders in states like Michigan with reformed processes, court-drawn maps in states where the redistricting process has deadlocked, and litigation in states where state courts, unlike their federal counterparts, will hear partisan gerrymandering claims.However, the story of the 2021–22 redistricting cycle isn't yet written in stone. As bad as many of the maps drawn thus far are, Congress could upend gerrymandering and racial discrimination by passing the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. If Congress acts quickly enough, it may even be possible to make changes to maps in time for the 2022 midterms. The bill would transform a broken map-drawing process by giving voters powerful new tools to fight both racial and partisan discrimination, including a statutory ban on extreme gerrymandering that would eliminate the loophole states are using to defend racially discriminatory maps. But time is running out. The 2022 primaries soon will be well underway in much of the country, and in short order courts will likely conclude that it is simply too late to make changes to maps for this election cycle.

Policy to Advance Good Faith Election Observation

January 10, 2022

This report outlines policy best practices for election observers and challengers. The set of recommendations is unanimously endorsed by the Bipartisan Policy Center Task Force on Elections, a diverse group of state and local election officials from across the country. Election officials have the best perspective for how election policy works when put into practice. To secure the integrity of the 2022 and 2024 elections, we need look no further than the dedicated professionals long committed to our democracy.The recommendations made in this report stand to ensure accountability and transparency in the administration of elections. For maximum effectiveness, the recommendations should be considered as a unified set. Election administration is a complex ecosystem: Changes to one policy have upstream and downstream impacts for countless other parts of the process. This set of recommendations anticipates those impacts and works cohesively to address them.

Campaigns and Elections

Analysis of Reported Voting Behaviors of US Physicians, 2000-2020

January 10, 2022

Physicians' engagement with the political process, particularly through voting, plays an important role in shaping public policy, affecting patient health and clinical practice. Historically, physicians in the US voted at lower rates than the general population in elections. However, physician voter engagement may have evolved, particularly given the changing political landscape and importance of US health care reform, as highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic and differing policy proposals between the 2 major political parties. We assessed the trends in physician-voter turnout and reported reasons for not voting from 2000 through 2020.

How To Save American Democracy

January 4, 2022

This issue brief aims to clarify how future elections are threatened and how public policy can address those threats. But it is important to clarify at the outset: There is no silver bullet. A large segment of the American public has decided they do not trust the electoral system—at least not when their favored candidate loses. Changing those hearts and minds is a long-term challenge that is going to require thoughtful, long-term solutions.In the meantime, however, policymakers ignore the short-term problem at their peril. Election officials might refuse to certify the next election. Bad actors might try to tamper with the results of the election—or prevent their opposition from voting—under the pretense of preventing fraud. And, even when the election is over and done, members of Congress might refuse to respect the Electoral College results.This issue brief explores each of these threats below, along with the ways that public policy can address them. Legislation alone is not going to restore faith in democracy, but it can strengthen the guardrails that—at least in the short run—keep democracy intact.


Is democracy failing and putting our economic system at risk?

January 4, 2022

The rule of law and democracy are crucial to capital markets. A free market balanced by a democratically elected, transparent and capable government, and a strong civil society ("an inclusive regime") yield stable growth rates and greater social welfare. Conversely, threats to democracy are threats to the private sector, which is why business leaders and institutional investors cannot afford to remain on the sidelines when such threats emerge.This paper explores the state of American democracy and whether it constitutes a systemic risk that impacts fiduciary duties. The paper proceeds in three parts. In the first, we assess the question of whether American democracy is backsliding towards failure, and argue that it is. In the second, we will examine whether democratic failure represents a systemic risk, and conclude that it does. In the third part, we offer some preliminary thoughts about what steps major private sector actors may undertake as part of their fiduciary responsibilities given the threats to U.S. democracy and markets.


Joe Biden’s First Year in Office: Nominations and Confirmations

December 30, 2021

The Partnership for Public Service's Center for Presidential Transition has been tracking Senate-confirmed presidential appointments since late 2016. This year, we tracked and analyzed how President Joe Biden's first year in office compares with the previous three presidents, examining his nominations and confirmations from Jan. 20, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2021. The following data analysis represents nominations for all civilian positions including ambassadors, judges, marshals and U.S. attorneys.


CIRCLE at 20: Striving Toward a More Equitable Democracy

December 29, 2021

In 2001, motivated by a desire to better understand and to strengthen young people's civic participation, the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement was founded at the University of Maryland's School of Public Affairs. Over the years, our work has changed: we've gone from funding research to undertaking it, we've broadened our focus to include myriad aspects of young people's civic life, and we're now based at Tufts University's Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. But our guiding purpose remains the same: to ensure that all young people have the ability and the opportunity to engage in democracy.In 2021 we celebrated CIRCLE's 20th anniversary and produced CIRCLE at 20: Striving Toward a More Equitable Democracy. This chronicle of our work over the past two decades highlights our impact and lays out a roadmap for the work we will continue to undertake to address major challenges to equitable youth participation in civic life.

Civic Participation