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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Featured

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.

Government
Featured

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

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

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.

Government

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.

Government

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.

Government

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.

Government

Voter Policies Are Nonexistent in Ohio Jails

December 14, 2021

In 2020, All Voting is Local Ohio teamed up with statewide advocates to assess how difficult it is for eligible voters in jail to cast a ballot. We wanted to know: Did county jails and boards of elections have policies and procedures to facilitate the voting and registration of eligible voters in jails, and did they cooperate with volunteers who sought to provide those services? We used data from public records requests to the boards of elections (BOEs) and jails in Ohio's seven major metropolitan counties. Boards and county jails responded with nothing more than references to the Ohio Revised Code — if they responded at all. Written policies and procedures to facilitate elections are missing throughout the state's largest counties.Each year, at least 150,000 people are booked into local jails in Ohio. If the state is not collecting basic information and the counties do not have universal policies and procedures to facilitate in-jail voting, people who are confined are likely experiencing de facto disenfranchisement.

Civic Participation

Ensuring that Eligible Voters in Florida Jails Have Access to the Ballot

December 14, 2021

All Voting is Local Florida and the ACLU of Florida teamed up to assess how difficult it is for eligible voters in Florida jails to cast a ballot. We wanted to know: Did county jails have policies and procedures to facilitate the voting and registration of eligible voters in jails, and did they cooperate with volunteers who sought to provide those services?We found that most counties have no written policies to facilitate elections in jail. Even for those that do have policies, important steps or details are missing.The right to vote does not end at the door of a holding cell. State laws require eligible voters in jail to be able to cast a ballot. People who are in jail are often awaiting trial, conviction, or are being held for misdemeanor crimes. In Florida, as in most states, these individuals are eligible to register and vote, and no eligible voter should be denied their right. Yet there is a sharp difference between being simply eligible to vote or register and being able to make one's voice heard.

Civic Participation

The Case for Enlarging the House of Representatives

December 9, 2021

This report makes the case for expanding the House of Representatives to bring the American people a little closer to their government, and their government closer to them. The Case for Enlarging the House of Representatives is an independent byproduct of Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century, the final report of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences' Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship. The Commission represents a cross-partisan cohort of leaders from academia, civil society, philanthropy, and the policy sphere who reached unanimous agreement on thirty-one recommendations to improve American democracy. The report takes as a premise that political institutions, civic culture, and civil society reinforce one another. A nation may have impeccably designed bodies of government, but it also needs an engaged citizenry to ensure these institutions function as intended. As a result, Our Common Purpose argues that reforming only one of these areas is insufficient. Progress must be made across all three. To build a better democracy, the United States needs better-functioning institutions as well as a healthier political culture and a more resilient civil society.

Government

Designing for Community Engagement

December 8, 2021

The programs and rules that affect Americans' daily lives and security are profoundly shaped by the regulatory and rule-making process within the Executive Branch of government. While federal regulation touches thousands of issues, from employment rights to environmental health, the process of creating these regulations is shrouded in bureaucratic mystery, disconnected from Americans' daily experiences, and rarely covered outside specialized media.The Biden-Harris administration has sought to broaden the role of public engagement in the process of government decision-making, with a particular focus on equity. In January of this year, the administration issued two Executive Orders (EOs) that called for modernizing regulatory rule-making and for advancing equity. In November, the administration put forth a management vision which includes three priority areas for building a more equitable, effective, and accountable Federal Government. One priority area is to improve the design of services and provide digital access in ways that reduce burdens, address inequities, and streamline processes.A key source of expertise on improving public engagement and informing execution of the EOs and the management vision are local leaders and organizers who, in cooperation with state and local government, have developed and tested more effective and equitable methods of participation. Local organizers, deeply rooted in the challenges and experiences of their communities, possess distinctive expertise. They offer not only illustrative examples of best engagement practices, but also approaches to designing processes that engage diverse communities effectively. These insights and practices include building concrete feedback loops into participatory processes, incorporating continuous consultation and engagement, and identifying ways to promote transparency and inclusion into the review process.

Civic Participation