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

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.


Mapping and Analysis: New Hampshire’s Proposed U.S. House Districts Gerrymandering in the Granite State, Visualized

December 15, 2021

Last month, New Hampshire's Special House Committee on Redistricting released HB52, a bill proposing new Congressional district lines that substantively depart from the map that currently governs the selection of the state's US House delegation. In its current form, HB52 would cleave the current map into two non-competitive districts – a prospective District 1 highly favorable to Republican candidates and a District 2 heavily concentrated with Democratic voters.Elementary and straightforward calculations from publicly available 2020 Census population data and 2020 Presidential returns at the ward level show that the Majority's plan addresses the need for minor population reapportionment with a significant reshaping of New Hampshire's electoral map.Straightforward analysis indicates HB52 is consistent with a canonical "pack-and-crack" gerrymandering technique, wherein one district – ostensibly New Hampshire's District 2 in this case – is sacrificed, "packed" with the opponent's voters, with the aim of increasing the gerrymanderer's prospects in the other district – as is ostensibly the case with New Hampshire's prospective First District.


Dual Agents: Political Consulting Firms Working Jointly for Candidates or Political Parties and for Unregulated Outside Groups in the Same Elections Received $1.4 Billion in 2018 and 2020

December 15, 2021

The U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission made it legal for corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited sums from their treasuries to influence elections. Follow-up rulings by a federal court and the Federal Election Commission permitted third-party groups to accept unlimited contributions to pay for electioneering expenditures.The five justices who signed the Citizens United ruling based their decision on a view that political spending by outside entities does not pose a sufficient risk of causing corruption to warrant being restricted. Events soon showed that the court's confidence was misplaced.Shortly after the decision, third-party electioneering entities began springing up. These came to be known as "super PACs." In the 2012 elections (the first full two-year election cycle after the Citizens United decision), Public Citizen found that 52 percent of 143 super PACs active in the election devoted all of their money to assisting a single candidate. This evidence suggested that many super PACs were not truly independent of the candidates whose contests they sought to influence.Meanwhile, other super PACs were created with stated goals of electing Democratic or Republican majorities to the U.S. House and Senate. Federal law deems expenditures made by an outside entity in "cooperation, consultation, or concert" with a national party to be coordinated. A coordinated expenditure would violate the law if it exceeded contribution limits, which super PACs' expenditures usually do.These and other developments demonstrated that the Supreme Court was misguided in its assumption that outside entities would be independent of regulated campaign committees. In reality, the court had created a major incentive for candidates and party leaders to use outside entities to circumvent campaign contribution limits.


Unions are not only good for workers, they’re good for communities and for democracy

December 15, 2021

We know that unions promote economic equality and build worker power, helping workers to win increases in pay, better benefits, and safer working conditions.But that's not all unions do. Unions also have powerful effects on workers' lives outside of work.In this report, we document the correlation between higher levels of unionization in states and a range of economic, personal, and democratic well-being measures. In the same way unions give workers a voice at work, with a direct impact on wages and working conditions, the data suggest that unions also give workers a voice in shaping their communities. Where workers have this power, states have more equitable economic structures, social structures, and democracies.

Civic Participation