Deliberative Poll on Democratic Reform from Helena and The Stanford Deliberative Democracy Lab Demonstrates Depolarizing Power of Cross-Party Discourse Ahead of 2024 Election
Stanford, CA – August 10, 2023 – In June 2023, Helena, a global problem-solving organization, and the Stanford Deliberative Democracy Lab (DDL) convened the third installment of America in One Room (A1R), a Deliberative Polling ® project designed to explore Americans’ perspectives on some of our country’s most contentious issues. Through repeated executions, A1R has provided a forum for respectful, nuanced, and evidence-based dialogue among diverse cross-sections of the American public. At a moment of historically low public trust in government, this year’s project focused on pulsing a scientifically accurate sample set of the American electorate for their opinions on democratic reform initiatives including voter access and voting protections, non-partisan election administration, protecting against election interference, Supreme Court reform, and more. Results showed increased movement toward bipartisan support on a set of previously polarizing issues that are already beginning to drive political debates and candidate platforms as we head into Election 2024.
Before deliberations, participants across party lines reported feeling dissatisfied with the way democracy is working in the U.S., with 65% of Democrats, 81% of Republicans, and 72% of participants overall reporting dissatisfaction. However, deliberating together about potential reforms reduced discontent, with the overall percentage of dissatisfaction dropping 18 points to 54%, and party dissatisfaction dropping 11 points for Democrats and 31 points for Republicans.
Across specific democratic reform topics, there were often strong party differences before deliberation. Discourse resulted in significant depolarization and increased cross-party support on several key issues, including voting rights and ballot access:
- Support for restoring voting rights to citizens with felony convictions increased by almost 17 points to 67%, with Republicans moving significantly from minority to strong majority (35 to 58%).
- Similarly, support for online voter registration rose significantly from 45% to a nearly super majority of 65%, and support for automatic voter registration increased from 48% to 56%.
- There were also dramatic increases in support for Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) and for nonpartisan redistricting commissions to address gerrymandering, though Republicans remained much less supportive of RCV than Democrats and Independents.
- By the end of deliberations, nearly all participants across party lines agreed that they value “Making sure everyone who wants to vote can do so”, with overall support jumping from 75% to 91% and Republicans showing a significant increase of 17 points.
Building on the success of A1R in 2019 (focused on issues critical to the 2020 election) and 2021 (focused on climate and energy policy), America in One Room: Democratic Reform met the participants where they are, engaging deliberators across the political spectrum in video-based small group discussions through Stanford’s innovative AI-assisted Online Deliberation Platform.
“Strengthening our democracy will require massive civic engagement and, ultimately, bipartisan public support for specific reform initiatives,” says Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) at Stanford University. “A1R: Democratic Reform sought to identify which reforms might draw support from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, once they were given an opportunity to become better informed and to discuss the issues thoughtfully with their fellow citizens. This Deliberative Poll, like our previous ones, shows that we are not as deeply polarized as we seem to be on some of the big questions confronting American democracy.”
Recruited by NORC at the University of Chicago, a national sample of nearly 600 deliberators, selected to be accurately representative of the American voting electorate, considered 76 reform proposals. A control group was also surveyed. The deliberations took place during weekends or two-day intervals on evenings over the course of two weeks. All participants completed confidential questionnaires detailing their opinions and knowledge of the issues, both before and after the deliberations. Guided by the AI-assisted moderator, deliberators of diverse backgrounds and experiences joined in respectful and invigorating discussions on policies and potential solutions supporting American democracy.
“These results reflect the power of America in One Room in the face of polarized opinion,” says James Fishkin, director of the Deliberative Democracy Lab. “Deliberative Polling creates space for everyday Americans to actually listen to each other, to better understand each other, and to discover what they think really needs to be done to fix our democracy.”
An overwhelming 94% of participants found the experience of participating in A1R valuable and 81% supported more opportunities for people of diverse views and backgrounds to deliberate with one another on issues confronting their communities and the country at large.
“A1R provides an opportunity to unlock the enormous power of civically invested constituencies and rewrite the terms of engagement for democracy ,” says Helena CEO, Henry Elkus. “With Americans looking to the 2024 election, the results of these deliberations show that bipartisan solutions can be achieved. We hope policymakers see this as a valuable tool, not for political gain, but for the sake of American Democracy.”
A more detailed breakdown of the data and results spanning a variety of topics is available here. For additional information about Helena and the Stanford Deliberative Democracy Lab (DDL), please visit helena.org and deliberation.stanford.edu.
Helena is a global problem-solving organization. Through Helena Projects, Helena seeks to implement solutions to critical societal problems. Since its founding in 2015, Helena Projects have included: America In One Room, which garnered the attention of President Barack Obama and The New York Times for one of the most significant political experiments in US history; Factory in the Sky, which supported the development and construction of the world’s first carbon capture factory; Shield, which worked to protect the electrical grid from foreign and domestic threats; The Covid Project, which supplied tens of millions units of medical supplies and personal protective equipment to frontline responders during the COVID-19 pandemic; and Energy Vault, which expanded pathways to renewable energy adoption through a $22m investment in sustainable grid-scale energy storage. To learn more about Helena, visit helena.org.
About the Stanford Deliberative Democracy Lab
The Stanford Deliberative Democracy Lab (DDL) is devoted to public opinion research primarily employing the model of Deliberative Polling®, a model first proposed by Professor James Fishkin in 1988. Since then there have been more than 120 Deliberative Polls in fifty countries around the world. The America in One Room projects have been conducted in collaboration with Helena and with NORC at the University of Chicago. DDL is housed within the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, part of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.
About NORC at the University of Chicago
NORC at the University of Chicago conducts research and analysis that decision-makers trust. As a nonpartisan research organization and a pioneer in measuring and understanding the world, we have studied almost every aspect of the human experience and every major news event for more than eight decades. Today, we partner with government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world to provide the objectivity and expertise necessary to inform the critical decisions facing society.