Our Approach to supporting an Informed Electorate

March 22, 2013

Previously in this space, Joe introduced our grantees working on making the political system more responsive and fostering bipartisan problem solving. In this post I’d like to talk about some of the initial grants we have made towards creating a more informed electorate, a number of which also support our other objectives. Government “by the people” depends on voters having the information and skills needed to govern. Media must combat misinformation, expose voters to different points of view, and inform the public debate. New technology must provide the public with better access to information and better filters for making sense of the news. Our education system must equip citizens with the skills required to decipher the messages they hear from political leaders and through the media. In order to begin to develop our approach in this area, the Democracy Fund has supported research along with a small number of other projects to create a more informed electorate. The research we have supported through the New America Foundation has focused on how the media can correct misinformation and hold political leaders accountable for what they say. Additionally, the New America Foundation research has experimented with how media can expose people to alternative points of view and increase the civility of public engagement online. Parallel to this research, we have supported the following projects:

  •’s Good Fight project, cultivates respectful dialogue across ideological divides by inviting prominent journalists and intellectuals to take part in civil dialogues and places the videos of these dialogues on the websites of partisan media outlets. The objective of the Good Fight is to break people out of ‘echo chambers’ and to model civil discourse. We have just passed the mid-way point in this grant and are learning a lot about the different ways audiences respond to such dialogues.
  • CJR’s United States Project (formerly the Swing States Project) helps local reporters do a better job covering politics and policy. During the 2012 campaign, CJR placed media critics in key states across the country to encourage local media to improve their coverage of the campaigns. Now that the election is over, they have added national correspondents to the team. This work has been well received by the community of political journalists and editors across the country and the external assessment we have commissioned indicates that it has encouraged journalists to improve how they cover issues.
  • Face the Facts, a collaboration between GW University and America Speaks, has sought to insert exhaustively researched and vetted facts into the national conversation through partnerships with online media outlets, radio, and television stations. This has been supported by a set of public engagement tools (quizzes and dialogue tools) to engage the audience more deeply. While the integration of public engagement practices, online technology, and broadcast television is at a relatively early stage we expect to learn a lot from this project about how to incorporate such innovations into our future work.
  • Flackcheck, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, has sought to identify deceptive and misleading advertising, while supporting television stations and others to counter these deceptions. Among other things, Flackcheck has produced parody videos to raise public awareness about the types of deceptions that are taking place. It has also worked directly with local stations to encourage them to reject deceptive 3rd party ads. In parallel, Flackcheck has provided guidance to stations to support news reporting that educates viewers about deceptions within ads that are being broadcast.
  • The Healthy Democracy Fund has developed an innovative reform to ensure that voters can make more informed choices about ballot measures. The Citizens Initiative Review convenes random groups of citizens to deliberate about ballot measures and share their assessments with voters via the official state voter guide. To learn more, you can read a recent blog post by Professor John Gastil that describes his evaluation of the Citizens Initiative Review.

We expect to extend the number of people and organizations with which we work to address opportunities to increase the diversity of viewpoints to which the public is exposed as well as foster more sustainable and effective journalistic institutions. Additionally, the Democracy Fund will continue to seek out new innovations in technology and media.