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How Democracies Revive

April 28, 2022

In 2022, it is no longer difficult to envision the downfall of American democracy. To a growing number of commentators and analysts, this demise almost feels inevitable. If "January 6 was practice" for an authoritarian takeover (as the headline of a December Atlantic article warned us), next time could be for real.This essay makes the case for resisting the prevailing pessimism. While the threats are obviously real, the prevailing zeitgeist of a downward spiral should, counter-intuitively, be seen as a sign for optimism. Before we can rebuild our democracy, we first have to acknowledge that it is, in fact, falling apart. And we are indeed starting to realize this―hence the pervasive panic, that repeated prerequisite for reform. This is why I am ultimately optimistic. And why you should be, too.In this essay, I will seek out some lessons from history that should inform our optimism. Though much is unique about our current impasse, much is also familiar. All democracies have ups and downs. American democracy has had ups and downs. We are in a "down." And some "downs" last a long time. But they never last forever. Thus, the first lesson of history―"the inevitability of course change"―is perhaps the most obvious. Each generation is a reaction to the previous generation.But if the first lesson of history seems obvious, we keep forgetting it. Thus, the second lesson is "the illusion of course continuation." That is, just as course change is inevitable, so is it almost equally inevitable that we forget this, and delude ourselves into thinking we have somehow escaped the broader patterns of history.Time and again, we mistakenly predict that we have reached some new stage that will somehow last for centuries (e.g., we are at the "End of x" or "This time is really different" or Yale economist Irving Fisher's September 1929 conclusion that "stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau"). Time and again, we mistakenly make straight-line projections about markets or demographics or politics, assuming that whatever trends have led us to this moment, they will continue indefinitely. But they never do.

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.

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.

What We Know About Ranked-Choice Voting

November 10, 2021

As ranked-choice voting (RCV) gains momentum in American politics, a new body of research has emerged to examine the reform's effects on voters, candidates, campaigns, and policy. This report offers a systematic overview of the literature on RCV in the United States. Broadly, the research shows that RCV is an improvement over the more traditional single-vote plurality voting system, with clear benefits in some areas—especially campaign quality and descriptive representation—and more marginal or no apparent benefits in other areas. The research should also allay fears that RCV is too confusing or discriminatory: voters understand RCV, and learn to like it, too, particularly with experience.However, many promised benefits of RCV appear to be more modest than many had initially hoped and/or difficult to quantify based on limited usage thus far in the United States. It is possible that these benefits will take time to become apparent as candidates and voters learn and attitudes change. It is also possible that the adoption of RCV nationwide would be more transformative than city-by-city and even state-by-state adoption. But given the broader structural forces at play in our deteriorating national politics, stronger medicine may be needed.

What We Know about Congressional Primaries and Congressional Primary Reform

July 1, 2021

This report offers an analytical overview of recent scholarship on the effects of the primary election on politics and the effects of different primary rules on voters, candidates, and policy moderation. Though many studies have been conducted in recent years, this is the first time that they have been systematically brought together with the express purpose of drawing comprehensive lessons.

Theft Perception: Examining the Views of Americans Who Believe the 2020 Election was Stolen

June 3, 2021

This report utilizes survey data to better understand the viewpoints of Americans who believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen. The September and November 2020 VOTER Surveys (Views of the Electorate Research Survey) was conducted in partnership with the survey firm YouGov. In total, 5,900 adults (age 18 and up) took the survey online between August 28, 2020 and September 28, 2020. Of those 5,900 respondents, 4,943 were reinterviewed after the election between November 13, 2020 and December 7, 2020. Many of these respondents were long-term panelists originally interviewed by YouGov in 2011-2012 as part of the Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project (CCAP) and then again in the December 2016 VOTER Survey. In total, 3,750 of these long-term panelists participated in the September 2020 wave and 3,340 participated in the November 2020 wave.