Giving Compass’ Take:
• The Democracy Project has identified the extent of the crisis of confidence that is undermining American democracy and how to reverse it.
• How can philanthropists form bipartisan efforts to follow through on these recommendations?
• Find out how Independent Sector (and published by Stanford Social Innovation Review are working to build civil society dialogue.
- A large majority of Americans consider it important to live in a democracy, but most also believe U.S. democracy is weak and getting weaker.
- Certain groups that may perceive less benefit from the current system—notably nonwhite Americans—are less convinced of the importance of living in a democracy.
- Americans are frustrated with racism and discrimination and with the influence of money in politics.
- Most Americans believe that protecting the rights of individuals and small groups should be a priority in our democracy.
- Americans support the idea that democracy and human rights should play a role in U.S. foreign policy.
- Poll results show which messages about democracy resonate most with the public.
- Call to action: Lean into calls for civic engagement and activism as a means of bolstering American democracy. The phrase “there is a great need for us all to act as responsible citizens—things like voting, volunteering, taking time to stay informed, and standing up for what’s right” was part of the most persuasive message tested in the survey.
- Risks of inaction: When speaking about threats to democracy in the United States, emphasize that Americans risk losing what they value in our system, though not in language so extreme that people forfeit hope. In the survey, the message that generated the most favorable feelings about America’s system of democratic government used the phrase “so that the freedoms and rights we cherish don’t get whittled away.”
- Civic education: Champion a stronger public understanding of democratic principles—especially among young people, who showed less enthusiasm for democracy in the survey. This could be achieved in part through improved and expanded civic education, including the teaching of democracy’s basic concepts. Nearly 90 percent of poll respondents favored a proposal to “ensure that schools make civic education a bigger part of the curriculum.”
- Success stories: Cite individual success stories as much as possible. Survey respondents expressed greater approval for specific past cases of American support than for the concept of such support in the abstract.
Democracy is facing its most significant challenge of recent years. Worldwide, the uneven distribution of economic progress and unrelenting pace of change have tested the capacity of democratic institutions and their leaders to deliver. At the same time, authoritarian regimes and populist national movements have seized the opportunity to undermine democracy and the example of freedom it represents. The phenomenon has not spared the United States, where confidence in our governing institutions has been weakening over many years and key pillars of our democracy, including the rule of law and freedom of the press, are under strain. These trends have raised questions about whether the public has begun to lose faith in basic democratic concepts and what can be done to strengthen popular support.