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Increasing participation in American politics

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Title:
Increasing participation in American politics
Creator:
Goldin-Dubois, Jon
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English
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viii, 116 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Subjects / Keywords:
1900 - 1999 ( fast )
Political participation -- United States ( lcsh )
Political participation ( fast )
Politics and government ( fast )
Politics and government -- United States -- 20th century ( lcsh )
United States ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 112-116).
General Note:
School of Public Affairs
Statement of Responsibility:
by Jon Goldin-Dubois.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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ocm50742028
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Full Text
INCREASING PARTICIPATION
IN AMERICAN POLITICS
by
Jon Goldin-Dubois
B. A., University of Denver, 1988
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Public Administration


This thesis for the Master of Public Administration
degree by
Jon Goldin-Dubois
has been approved
by
Linda deLeon
Date


Goldin-Dubois, Jonathan D. (M.P.A., Public Administration)
Increasing Participation in American Politics
Thesis directed by Professor Peter deLeon.
ABSTRACT
Since 1960 there has been a steady decline in the number of Americans
participating in political life. Proof of this decline can be found in the
measurable drop in voter participation in elections. But other indicators show
that Americans are also declining to take part in other political activities as well.
This fact has profound impacts on the health of our democracy.
This paper posits that citizen participation in American politics can be increased
through sustained and targeted efforts that address Americans feelings of
political inefficacy and through measures that increase citizens trust in public
officials and government.
The first section of this paper documents the forty plus year decline in
participation in American political life. The second section examines two
reasons citizens commonly cite for their declining involvement in political
in


affairs: decreased trust and faith in government and public officials, and
Americans lack of a sense of political efficacy. The third section, based on a
series of structured discussions with community leaders held in six states during
the summer and fall of2001, covers the process of how those meetings were
conducted, explores options for increasing participation in politics, presents a
plan for increasing political participation, and identifies areas for future study
and the limitations of this study.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Signed__________________________
Peter deLeon
IV


CONTENTS
Figures....................................................viii
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION...............................................1
Purpose of This Study...................................2
Scope of the Study......................................3
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE...................................5
Why Increase Participation?.............................5
Declining Participation in American Political Life......8
Reasons for the Decline in Political Participation.....12
Trust, Faith and Confidence in American
Government, Institutions and Public Officials...13
Political Efficacy..............................24
Internal and External Efficacy............28
Is the Public Competent and Will Citizens Participate?.32
v


3. CONCLUSION OF THE STUDY
35
Options for Increasing Participation in Politics........35
Process.................................................36
Strategies Identified to Reengage Citizens..............39
Common Themes...........................................44
Pilot Projects to Increase Political Participation......47
Measures to Increase Trust and Confidence
in Government and Public Officials...............48
Measures to Increase Citizens Sense of Efficacy.51
Measures that Increase Both Trust and Efficacy...56
Additional Measures to Increase Political
Participation....................................60
4. ANALYSIS.................................................. 64
Scale...................................................64
Resources...............................................65
Recruitment.............................................66
Coalitions..............................................67
Opposition..............................................68
vi


Areas for Further Study.....................72
Toward a Participatory Paradigm: Implications
and Recommendations.........................73
APPENDIX..........................................78
A. INVITATION...............................78
B. PARTICIPANT SURVEY.......................80
C. SURVEY RESULTS..........................-88
D. LIST OF MEETING ATTENDEES................92
E. COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY PRESIDENTS
FOURTH OF JULY DECLARATION ON THE CIVIC
RESPONSIBILITY OF HIGHER EDUCATION.........109
BIBLIOGRAPHY.....................................112
vii


FIGURES
Figure 1.1- Percentage of Americans Following Government and
Public Affairs...........................................3
Figure 1.2 American Voter Turnout In Presidential Elections
1960-2000...............................................10
Figure 2.1 Trust in Government in Washington......................16
Figure 2.2 People Running Government are Crooked..................17
Figure 2.3 Government is Run By a Few Big Interests...............18
Figure 2.4 Government Attention to What People Think..............20
Figure 2.5 Government Wastes Money................................21
Figure 2.6 Declining Efficacy, Declining Electoral Participation..26
vm


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Since 1960, there has been a steady decline in the number of Americans
participating in political life. The most common statistic pointed to as proof of
this decline is the measurable drop in voter participation in elections. But many
other indicators show that Americans are not just staying away from the ballot
box, they are staying away from politics altogether. This observation could have
profound effects on the health of American democracy.
Yet many politicians and theoreticians lament that Americans are simply less
willing to participate and indeed question whether their participation is a
necessary or even desirable ideal that we should strive to achieve. Many argue
that Americans are content or that they simply do not care; either is perfectly
acceptable under the freedom offered by American democracy.
1


Purpose of This Study
As distressing as the data about declining participation may be, this thesis posits
that citizen participation in American politics can be increased through sustained
and targeted efforts that address Americans feelings of political inefficacy and
through measures that increase citizens trust in public officials and government.
That proposition is held firm, because, in spite of what politicians, pundits and
the media have claimed, the research shows that Americans have not withdrawn
from politics because they do not care, ha fact, they may be substantially more
interested in government and political affairs than they have been in the past.
The percentage of Americans who say that they follow government and public
affairs hardly at all has decreased dramatically since 1960. In 1960, 37 percent
of Americans said that they followed government and public affairs hardly at
all. In 2000, only 16 percent of respondents said they followed government and
public affairs hardly at all (Miller, 2001).
2


Figure 1.1 Percentage of Americans Following Government and Public
Affairs
And a substantial and growing body of research in the area has found that
Americans do indeed care, and that they have left politics consciously and for a
variety reasons, none of which include contentedness or apathy (Harwood, 1991).
Scope of the Study
The first section of this paper documents the forty-plus years of decline in
participation in American political life. The second section examines two
reasons citizens commonly cite for their declining involvement in political
affairs: decreased trust and faith in government and public officials, and
Americans lack of a sense of political efficacy. The third section, based on a
3


series of structured discussions with community leaders held in six states during
the summer and fall of 2001, explores options for increasing participation in
politics. The fourth section of the paper presents a plan for increasing political
engagement. The final section of the paper identifies areas for future study and
the limitations of this study.
4


CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Why Increase Participation?
Since the founding of the American state there has been an unresolved conflict
over whether American democracy should be direct or representative in
nature. Despite the longing for direct democracy -a government of, by and for
the peopleearly on in our history representative democracy supplanted
Jeffersons vision of small wards making direct democratic decisions. The
victory of the federalist system can be attributed to two major concerns that the
framers felt needed to be addressed. First, they believed that face-to-face
democracy was impossible given the sheer size (geographic and population) of
the nation. Without the opportunity to discuss and deliberate over issues, the
public, it was argued, could not make informed decisions necessary to govern
(Fishkin, 1995). Second was the aristocracys fear of direct participation,
evidenced by Madisons concern that direct participation makes it easy to
mobilize power adverse to the rights of other citizens, or the aggregate of the
good of the community (Morone, 1990, p.8). Today, advocates of a more
5


participatory democracy argue that increasing citizen participation is the key to
restoring a democracy that is more representative of citizens values (deLeon,
1997; Fishkin, 1995; Putnam, 2000). In order to achieve that end, citizens must
have both formal and informal opportunities to practice the arts of democracy.
James Fishkin acknowledges that the competing values of direct and
representative democracy are still struggling for supremacy in our democracy
(1995). Fishkin suggests that a defensible version of democracy must include
four conditions:
Political equality: citizens preferences count equally in a process that can
plausibly be viewed as representative of everyone;
Deliberation: a wide range of competing arguments is given careful
consideration in small-group, face-to-face discussion;
Participation: a significant portion of the citizenry is engaged in the
process; and,
Non-tyranny: the political process avoids, whenever possible, depriving
any portion of the citizenry of rights or essential interests. Even when the
process is democratic in all the other senses just defined, it must also
avoid the tyranny of the majority (1995, p. 34).
6


Peter deLeon, who includes similar conditions in his argument for Participatory
Policy Analysis, states that Madisons version of representative democracy is no
longer workable, the Madisonian case.. .does notand cannotcope with the
contemporary civic malaise and political frustration (1997, p. 100).
The issue clearly continues to be a matter of some debate among politicians,
scholars and some citizens alike. Thomas Jefferson believed so strongly in the
importance of citizen participation that he proposed that, counties be divided
into wards of such size that every citizen can attend, when called on, and act in
person (Putnam, 2000, p. 336). Perhaps Jeffersons proposal is unrealistic today
given the sheer physical scale and population of the nation. But Jeffersons
underlying point, that democracy must be accessible to its citizens, remains as
relevant today as it was in 1816. Contemporary scholars suggest that the very
legitimacy of democracy comes from active deliberation and participation of
citizens in the democratic process (Fishkin, 1995). Mathews (1999, p. 40) posits
that, the public is the only legitimate body that can define the publics interests.
In addition to these considerations there is a realization that the United States as a
society cannot make fundamental changes or solve problems if its citizens do not
participate (Barber, 1977; Bradley, 1995; Delli Carpini, 2000; Reich, 1988;
Skocpol, 1999). It has also been shown that those who are less organized and do
not participate invariably lose out on policy matters (Putnam, 2000; Schlozman,
7


K.L., et al., 1999; Skocpol, 1999). Without citizen participation in political
affairs, that is, without citizens working together, problem solving, finding the
connections, the common threads, the overlapping concerns, the trade-offs
among diverse self interests, little real, lasting progress can be made on our
most intractable issues, like education, health care, crime and other important
issues (Mathews, 1999, p. 179). The lack of progress on recent, major policy
initiatives that failed to take the publics feelings into account underscores the
point that decisions made or efforts undertaken without the support or
participation of the public are often doomed to failure.1 Even theorists opposed
to increasing the role of citizens in democratic processes agree that traditional
politics is unable to solve todays problems (Morone, 1990). The exclusion of
citizens from public matters is one reason why todays politics fail. Meaningful
democracy requires that the voice of the people is heard, and that it is understood
and heeded by policymakers.
Declining Participation in American Political Life
Since 1960, the United States has seen a steady decline in voter participation in
federal elections. In the 1960 election between John F. Kennedy and Richard M.
1 Skocpol argues that the failure to pass healthcare reform during President Clintons first term in
office, despite broad support from the American public, was largely the result of the exclusion of
the public from the debate. Benjamin Barber agrees, calling the debacle a train wreck wherein
the public was largely ignored by design.
8


Nixon, over 62 percent of eligible voting-age Americans went to the polls. In the
1994 mid-term elections, elections in which congressional Republican claimed a
mandate, fewer than 40 percent of those eligible to vote turned out at the
polls. By 1996, the percentage of voting age Americans voting in a presidential
election dipped below 50 percent for the first time as fewer than 49 percent of
Americans selected among Bill Clinton, Bob Dole and Ross Perot (Federal
Election Commission, 2001). While its true that 51 percent of Americans cast
their ballots in the 2000 general election to choose between George W. Bush and
A1 Gore, an election that was decided by one of the closest margins for a
presidential election in history, the outlook for increased electoral participation is
grim. Young people, those aged 18-24 years old, are even less likely to vote. In
1996, only 28 percent of this age group turned out to vote in the general election
(Delli Carpini, 2000).
Moreover, even these low voter participation figures understate how serious the
decline in electoral participation has been. Throughout this countrys history,
many eligible voters were kept away from the polls by burdensome registration
requirements. In addition, prior to passage of the Civil Rights Amendment in
1965, many voters, particularly African-Americans, were disenfranchised.
Despite that fact, African-Americans (and other disenfranchised voters), 2
2 Fishkin, 1995. p.46.
9


numbering in the millions, were still counted in turnout figures. With those
factors taken into consideration, its conceivable that the true turnout (accounting
for those who simply could not or were not allowed to vote in the past) has
dropped substantially more than 11%-13% between 1960 and 2000 (Putnam,
2000). While most scholars accept the decline in electoral participation as fact, a
recent analysis by the U.S. census bureau suggests that this generally accepted
claim underestimates voter participation because previous examinations of the
issues have failed to adequately account for voting-age residents who are not
eligible to vote (Associated Press, Feb.27,2002).
Figure 1.2 American Voter Turnout In Presidential Elections 1960-2000
Voter Turnout In Presidential Elections
1960-2000
Source: Federal Election Commission. Retrieved March 31,2002, from http://www.fec.gov
10


But voting and participating in elections is just one measure of political
participation (Verba, Schlozman and Brady, 1995). For purposes of this study,
political participation is defined as voting and other activities intended to
influence government action, or that result in government action. Included in
this definition is the most fundamental right in our democracy, the right to vote.
But other actions including working on campaigns, contributing to campaigns,
contacting public officials, attending rallies, marches and protests, working
collectively to solve community problems or deal with community issues or
serving on association or governmental boards or commissions are also part of
this comprehensive definition of political participation (Bums, Schlozman &
Verba, 2001; Beny, Fortney & Thomson, 1993).
Measures of political participation outside of voting have shown even greater
declines. Americans are over 60 percent less likely to attend meetings regarding
town or school affairs than they were in 1960. Americans are half as likely today
to work for a political party or candidate than they were in 1960. They are less
than half as likely to wear a campaign button or put a campaign sticker on their
car as they were in 1960. Americans were also 33 percent less likely to give
money to help a political party or political candidate than they were in 1960
\
(Miller, 2001). Americans are less likely sign petitions; write to their members
of Congress, or to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper. And, they are less
11


likely to run for elective office. In fact, the pool of candidates for positions
ranging from school board to town council shrunk by as much as 15% percent
over the last two decades (Putnam, 2000). As with voting, young people are
even less likely than the rest of the population to participate in these activities
(Delli Carpini, 2000; Schlozman, Verba, Brady and Erkulwater, 1998).
Participation in all of these activities, including voting, has declined not just at
the federal level, but at the state and local level as well (Putnam, 2000). Add to
these statistics the declining participation in church, social and volunteer
organizations and the result is a lack of the social and political cohesion
necessary to make democracy work (deLeon, 1997).
Reasons for the Decline in Political Participation
The decline in political participation can be attributed to a variety of causes.
Some attribute the decline to the institutionalization of procedural barriers to
political participation that were purportedly designed to eliminate fraud (Piven &
Cloward, 2000). And it has been shown that the removal or relaxation of such
barriers do positively affect voter participation (Brians & Grofman, 2001).
Others attribute the decline to changes in demographic and sociological factors
including socioeconomic status, age, job level and involvement with civic 3
3 Brians and Grofman show that Election Day Registration, which eliminates voter registration
closing dates and is currently permitted in several U.S. States, increases voter participation. The
authors predict a 7 percentage-point boost in turnout in the average state.
12


associations (Verba, Schlozman & Brady, 1995; Putnam, 2000). Still others
blame the media for distancing people from the political process, increasing
cynicism and increasing voter apathy (Pinkleton & Austin, 2001). This analysis
addresses two of the factors that have served to depress citizen participation,
namely: declining trust and faith in government, its institutions and public
officials; and, low levels of political efficacy.
Trust. Faith and Confidence in American Government.
Institutions and Public Officials
All indications are that the politicians and the pundits, who suggest that citizens
do not participate because they are seemingly content or apathetic, are wrong.
More likely, citizen participation has dropped due to a variety of factors, not the
least of which is the declining trust that citizens have in elected leaders and in
government. Citizens appear to be cynical about elected officials and frustrated
by the belief that they are not listened to, but they are not apathetic. Years of
public opinion polling confirm the lack of trust in political leaders and in
governments willingness to listen to and adequately address the concerns of its
citizens.
The University of Michigan American National Election Study (ANES) has
tracked citizens trust in government since 1958, and shows a precipitous decline
13


in the percentage of Americans stating that they trust government in
Washington to do what is right just about always, or most of the time. In 1958
fully 73 percent of Americans said they could trust government just about
always, or most of the time. By 1974, just after the Watergate scandal became
public, only 36 percent said they could trust government just about always, or
most of the time. By 1994, the percentage of Americans saying they could trust
government just about always or most of the time had dropped to 21 percent,
the lowest figure ever recorded. By the year 2000, trust in the federal
government had climbed back up, with 44 percent of respondents agreeing that
they could trust government just about always or most of the time.
Still, even with that rebound in trust in government represents nearly a 30 percent
decrease in trust in government in the 42-year period between 1958 and 2000
(Newport, 2001; Miller, 2001). Conversely, ANES shows that the percentage of
Americans saying that the government in Washington can be trusted to do what
is right only some or none of time has increased sharply. In 1964, just over
20 percent of respondents agreed that government could be trusted only some of
the time, or none of the time. By 1980, 69 percent of those polled agreed that
government could be trusted only some or none of the time. While that
figure dropped to 53 percent in 1984, by 1994, 77 percent of Americans felt that
government could be trusted only some or none of the time. In the later half
14


of the 1990s, the lack of confidence in the federal government did lessen, but by
the year 2000, 56 percent of the American public still believed that they could
trust the federal government only some of the time or none of the time
(Craig, 1996; Miller, 2001).
It should be noted that trust in government increased dramatically in the wake of
the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September
11, 2001. In just over a year the percentage of Americans saying that they trust
government in Washington just about always or most of the time increased
by 18 percentage points. In July of 2000,42 percent of Americans said that they
trust government in Washington just about always or most of the time. By
October of 2001, 60 percent of Americans said they trusted the government just
about always or most of the time (Gallup, 2001). It remains to be seen
whether these post-September 11 measures of trust can be maintained. Some
scholars suggest that the higher levels of trust may be fleeting (Putnam, 2002).
15


Figure 2.1 Trust in Government in Washington
Putnam suggests that the trend of declining political participation is due, at least
in part, to the fact that Americans do not trust politicians and, for many of the
reasons stated above, are turned off and tuned out from politics (Putnam,
2000, p. 46). In fact, Americans are much more likely to think that the people
running the government are dishonest. In 1958, 24 percent of the public believed
that quite a few of the people running government are crooked. Distrust in
government officials climbed to a high in 1994, when 52 percent of Americans
believed that quite a few of the people running government are crooked. Still,
by 2000, 36 percent believed that quite a few of the people running government
are crooked. The percentage of Americans believing that hardly any of the
16


people running the government are crooked has decreased by 50 percent over
the 42-year period, from 26 percent in 1958 to 13 percent in 2000 (Miller, 2001).
Figure 2.2 People Running Government are Crooked
Source: University of Michigan, American National Election Studies: 2001.
*No data available for 1960
In addition to the general decrease in trust in government, citizens display anger
because they feel that they have been pushed out of the political system by
lobbyists and the special interests they represent (Harwood, 1991). The problem
is exacerbated by the perception that politicians are often evasive, if not
downright deceptive and that the elected representatives are captives of
lobbyists, political action committees (PACs) and other special interests
(Harwood, 1991; Mathews, 1999). Between 1964 and 2000, suspicion that
17


government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves grew. In
1964, 29 percent of Americans felt that the government was run by a few big
interests. That figure climbed steadily, to 70 percent by 1980, experienced a
decline between 1980 and 1984, but increased from the mid-1980s until 1994
when 76 percent of Americans agreed that government is rim by a few big
interests looking out for themselves. By 2000, 61 percent of respondents
thought that the government was run by a few big interests looking out for
themselves. Over the 36-year period between 1964 and 2000, the percentage of
Americans that said that the government is run for the benefit of all the people
dropped from 64 percent to 35 percent (Craig, 1996; Miller, 2001).
Figure 2.3 Government is Run By a Few Big Interests
% Who Believe That Government "Is Run By A Few Big
Interests Looking Out For Themselves"
Year
- % Who Believe
That Government
"Is Run By A Few
Big Interests
Looking Out For
Themselves"
Source: University of Michigan, American National Election Studies: 2001.
18


Citizens also increasingly believe that government is not listening to them
(Matthews, 1999). It is little wonder that Americans no longer attend public
hearings, at which they believe little listening or two-way communication goes
on before the prevailing body makes its decision, which actually was decided
upon long before the hearing took place. In 1964, 32 percent of Americans
believed that the government paid a good deal of attention to what the people
think when it decides what to do. In 2000, only 16 percent of Americans
believed that the government paid a good deal of attention to what the people
think when it decides what to do, a decrease of 50 percent over the 36 year period
(Miller, 2001). Since 1952, there has been a 62 percent increase in Americans
sense that public officials not only are not paying attention, but also that they do
not care what people think. In 1952, 35 percent of Americans agreed that public
officials dont care much what people like me think. In 2000, 56 percent of the
population felt that way (Miller, 2001).
19


Figure 2.4 Government Attention to What People Think
Percentage of Americans Agreeing With The Statement
"I don't think public officials care much what people like
me think"
-Percentage of
Americans Agreeing
With The Statement "I
don't think public
officials care much
what people like me
think"
Year
Source: University of Michigan, American National Election Studies: 2001.
The lack of trust goes beyond the pervasive perception that politicians and
governments do not have citizens best interest at heart. Today, many citizens
believe that government is inefficient, ineffective and irrelevant to their everyday
lives (Delli Carpini, 2000; Harwood, 1991). Americans increasingly believe that
government wastes their tax dollars. In 1958,43 percent of those polled thought
people in the government waste a lot of money. Concern about government
waste peaked in 1994, when fully 70 percent of Americans believed that
government wasted a lot of money. In 2000, 59 percent believed that
government wastes a lot of money (Miller, 2001).
20


Figure 2.5 Government Wastes Money
Percentage of Americans Agreeing That "the
government wastes a lot of money we pay in taxes"
Year
Percentage of
Americans Agreeing
That "the government
wastes a lot of money
we pay in taxes"
Source: University of Michigan, American National Election Studies: 2001.
Measures of confidence in Congress and in the executive branch have also
dropped, although substantially less than other indicators. In 1973, 42 percent of
Americans said that they had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in
Congress. Support dropped to 29 percent by 1984, but rebounded to 41 percent
by 1986. However, by 1994, only 18 percent of Americans said that they had a
great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Congress (Gallup, 1995). By 2000,
confidence in the legislative branch had grown with 68 percent of Americans
saying that they had a great deal or a fair amount of trust and confidence in
the legislative branch (Gallup, 2000).
21


Confidence in the Executive Branch of the Federal Government dropped between
1973 and 1988, has grown since that time but has not climbed to pre-Watergate
levels. In 1973 (post-Watergate), 29 percent of Americans said that they had a
great deal of confidence in the Executive Branch. That number fell to 13 percent
by 1976, climbed back to 28 percent in 1977 and began a steady decline to 16
percent by 1988. In 2000, 65 percent of Americans said that they had either a
great deal or fair amount of trust and confidence in the executive branch of
government. Thus, confidence in the executive branch reached its highest point
since before the Watergate scandal was revealed to the American public. In
1972, just prior to President Nixons landslide re-election, 73 percent of
Americans said they had a great deal or a fair amount of trust and confidence
in the executive branch (Gallup, 2000).
In the later half of the 1990s, trust and other measures of confidence in
government and American institutions and to some extent in public officials
rebounded, but still lay below (in some cases well below) where they were in the
pre-Watergate era of the 1960s and early 1970s. It is unclear exactly why many
of these indices showed Americans distrust and lack of faith in government at
all-time highs in 1993 and 1994. I suggest that there are several possible reasons
for those sentiments, including: the extended and acrimonious debate over health
care, a debate which netted no tangible results that benefited citizens; the ensuing
22


battle for control of Congress, which was characterized by negative campaigning
and mudslinging; allegations of misconduct by President Clinton, including the
Whitewater scandal and continued accusations of sexual misconduct; and the
controversial Contract for America led by Newt Gingrich that polarized the
American public.
It is even more unclear why confidence and trust in government rebounded in the
later half of the decade and into the new millennium, particularly given the high
profile scandals and impeachment of President Clinton, and the election crisis in
Florida which left the nation without a clear winner in the Presidential election
for some time. Long before the sharp upward spike in confidence and trust in
government that came on the heels of the September 11,2001 attacks on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon, most indicators of trust and confidence in
government had begun to climb.
Yet, in spite of these high approval ratings for the legislative and executive
branches during the late 1990s and early 2000s, trust in government has declined
substantially since 1958, with 13 percent fewer Americans saying they could
trust government just about always, or most of the time. Substantially more
Americans believe that public officials are crooked; that a few big interests call
the political shots, that government does not care what the public thinks and
23


believes that government wastes their tax dollars. And, Americans continue to
be alienated from civic and political life (Delli Carpini, 2000).
In sum, citizens in the aggregate are angry and they are frustrated that the doors
to meaningful political participation seem closed to citizens. And they are
cynical about politics ruled by money and a powerful elite. Citizens say that
government is out of touch with their concerns, unresponsive, inaccessible and
evasive. They believe that government officials no longer care about the average
American (Harwood, 1991; Mathews, 1999). The perception that politicians are
corrupt further diminishes Americans willingness to participate (Delli Carpini,
2000). .
Political Efficacy
The problems of decreased trust in government, cynicism about the role of
powerful special interests in politics, the perception that public officials do not
care what citizens think, and the sense that government wastes resources have
left Americans skeptical about their ability to participate effectively in politics.
In fact, increased cynicism has been shown to have a direct, negative effect on
citizens sense of efficacy, their belief that their involvement in political affairs
can have some effect on the outcome (Pinkleton and Austin, 2001). A major
24


reason that involvement in political life has declined is citizens sense that they
are unable to create change (Fishkin, 1995). Simply put, Americans do not
believe that they can have an affect on government processes or on public
officials decisions about outcomes that affect their lives. Therefore, many
Americans abstain from participating in political life, since it is perceived a waste
of time.
The basic hypothesis that people who have a strong sense of political efficacy,
a feeling that individual political action can have an impact upon the political
process and public policy matters will result in a populace more likely to
participate in political life has been the subject of much study throughout the
last century. The connection between efficacy and political participation was
established early in the 20th century (Dewey, 1927). Since that time, researchers
have shown that those with higher levels of efficacy are more likely to participate
in politics, that there is indeed a positive correlation between participation and
political efficacy or sense of competence (Almond and Verba, 1963; Craig, 1996;
Campbell, Gurin & Miller, 1954; Pateman, 1980). Not only are people who have
a sense of political efficacy more likely to participate in politics than those who
lack that sense, it has also been found that the sense of political efficacy is a
gauge of general, personal effectiveness. And, those who feel more effective in
their lives are more likely to participate in politics (Pateman, 1980).
25


But fewer and fewer citizens feel efficacious in terms of their public
responsibilities. Citizens sense of efficacy declined between 1960 and 2000,
that is, fewer citizens believe in 2000 that their involvement can have an impact
on what government does than believed so in 1960. This decline in the sense of
efficacy has been accompanied by the decline in electoral participation
established earlier in this paper. In 1960, 27 percent of respondents agreed that
People like me dont have any say in what the government does. By the year
2000, 41 percent agreed with the statement (Miller, 2001).
Figure 2.6 Declining Efficacy, Declining Electoral Participation
Year
% Agreeing That
"People Like Me Don't
Have Any Say In
What The
Government Does"
b Voter Turnout in
Presidential Elections
1960-2000
Source: University of Michigan, American National Election Studies: 2001.
26


The decline in Americans sense of efficacy has also been linked to decreased
participation in other political activities outside of voting (Delli Carpini, 2000;
Berry, Portney and Thomson, 1993). Delli Carpini states that
What is missing is the belief that becoming involved in public life in any
way that involves politics, government, or organized collective action (for
example, joining an organization that is attempting to effect policy
change, working for a party or candidate, voting, running for office) is
likely to be effective or satisfying.4
Classical theorists surmised that a heightened sense of efficacy increased as a
result of a citizens participation in political life. Rousseau argued that an
individuals sense of freedom and his or her actual freedom is increased through
participation in decision-making because it gives him a very real degree of
control over the course of his life and the structures of his environment.5 Mill
argued that participatory institutions breed a public-spirited character and
advocated political participation at the local level in order to prepare citizens to
participate in national level affairs, (although Mills definition of participation
4 Delli Carpini, Michael X. 2000, Gen.com: Youth, Civic Engagement and the New Information
Environment. Political Communication, 17. p. 345.
5 Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, quoted in Pateman, Carole. 1980, Participation
and Democratic Theory, p. 25.
27


would not include the uneducated) (Pateman, 1980). In Mills words We do not
learn to read or write, to ride or swim, by being merely told how to do it, but by
doing it, so it is only by practicing popular government on a limited scale, that
the people will ever learn how to exercise it on a larger (J.S. Mill, quoted in
Pateman, 1980, p.31).
Modem theorists have shown that participation does indeed increase the skills
that help citizens feel more efficacious (Verba, Schlozman and Brady, 1995;
Finkel, 1985), and that increased citizen involvement educates citizens about
important decisions and effective processes for resolving conflicts over those
decisions. This increased social training leads to increased consensus on
issues, and to better decisions (Dahl, 1956).
Internal and External Efficacy. The recent work on efficacy has
differentiated between the participatory impact of two components of political
efficacy, internal efficacy and external efficacy. Internal efficacy refers to an
individuals sense that he or she is capable of understanding politics and
influencing the political process, while external efficacy can be described as an
28


individuals sense that the government will be responsive to his or her attempts to
influence policy. 6
Internal efficacy has been shown to have a positive impact on participation; that
is to say, an increased sense that and individual can understand politics and
influence the political process enhances political participation (Berry, Portney
and Thomson, 1993). Steven Finkels reciprocal causation model demonstrated
that feelings of internal efficacy lead to voting and participation in political
campaigns. The same study showed that the link did not operate in the opposite
direction, i.e., that voting and participation in campaigns did not necessarily lead
to an increased sense of internal efficacy. Finkel proved, therefore, that
participation (at least in the areas of voting and participation in political
campaigns) is, in part, a result of internal efficacy (Finkel, 1985). While Finkels
work showed that participation does not seem to have a positive effect on internal
efficacy, it did prove that there is a reciprocal relationship between political
participation and external efficacy, showing that the more efficacious a citizen
feels, the more likely he or she is to participate in politics, and the more the
citizen participates in politics, the more efficacious the citizen feels (Finkel,
1985). This too, is consistent with classical theorists belief that political
participation in and of itself increases citizens capacity to govern; the more the
6 From Berry, Portney and Thomson, The Rebirth of Urban Democracy, p. 261.
29


individual citizen participates, the better he or she is able to do so (Pateman,
1980).
In spite of the evidence demonstrating the reciprocal relationship between
efficacy and participation, government, on the whole, does not encourage
meaningful participation (Mathews, 1999) and we spend less time today working
to increase students sense that their participation matters and little time to build
the actual skills necessary for effective participation. What we do teach is often
an inadequate, simplistic and naive presentation of how democracy works
(Weissberg, 1974). Weissberg (1974) argues that although American schools
spend much time and effort to teach the basic facts of political life, what is
taught that government is a neutral, mechanistic processor of the public will-
does not prepare students for active participation,
In any complex modem political system, the desire to participate in
politics is not enough; one must also know how to participate. Without
the appropriate skills and knowledge, the motivation and opportunity for
n
participation are superfluous.
7 Weissberg, Robert. 1974. Political Learning, Political Choice and Democratic Citizenship, p.
71.
30


Given the pedagogical focus on the formal structure of government and the
provision of little understanding of the role of political interests and how they get
their way, students are left with little knowledge about how to influence or how
to participate in policy themselves (Weissberg, 1974; Mathews, 1999). It is little
wonder that students leave schoolone of the opportunities to train individuals to
be effective citizenswith little sense of how they can play a vibrant role in our
democracy. Civic education in our schools receives less attention that it once did
(Putnam, 2000) and receives less emphasis than mathematics, science and other
subjects deemed more important.
When one contrasts how we are taught other subjects with how we are taught
civics, the problem is evident. When we learn mathematics, we work
mathematical problems, we test formulas and conduct proofs. In English and
other language courses, we construct sentences and paragraphs, we speak and use
the language of the discipline. In science courses, we conduct experiments,
dissect frogs and work equations. Yet, when we learn about civics, all too often,
we simply read a book or listen to a lecture about important documents or dates
in our history. Hands-on experiences and opportunities to practice the skills of
democracy, where we participate in identifying problems, crafting solutions,
deliberate, debate, advocate, organize and make decisions, are few and far
between. Could we be expected to be proficient in mathematics without ever
31


working a problem, in chemistry without solving an equation or in English
without ever writing a sentence? Of course not. And yet that is what we expect
of our children and ourselves when it comes to the most important of our
subjects, creating citizens. The education system does not require and rarely has
students do the work of democracy. By failing to provide citizens with the
formal educational background needed to understand how American democracy
works (Weissberg, 1974; Mathews, 1999) and failing to provide opportunities for
citizens to practice popular government, (J.S. Mill, quoted in Pateman, 1980,
p.31) we fail to give citizens adequate knowledge, skills and tools for effective
participation. These inadequacies, which leave Americans less likely to be
informed, to feel efficacious and less able to make connections between their
concerns and governmental action, make it less likely that individuals will
participate (Bums, Schlozman & Verba, 2001).
Is the Public Competent and Will Citizens Participate?
Although advocates for guardianship argue that government is best handled by
experts who are deeply committed to rule for the general good and are
superior to others in their knowledge (Dahl, 1998. p. 69), a number of
experiments with participatory processes have shown that the public is capable of
32


understanding and making good decisions about issues, even complex issues with
which they had little previous knowledge. Indeed, researchers have found that
citizens often exceed expectations in this area (Slayton & Becker, 1998). Some
suggest that the capacity of citizens to make decisions about their own affairs
exceeds that of our elected representatives, noting that the collective capacity to
make sound decisions also grows with experience (Mathews. 1999). And, the
public is far more capable of sound judgments on technical issues than it is given
credit for (Mathews, 1999). In spite of criticism often leveled at the public,
citizens, at worst, have the same level of knowledge of civic affairs, talk politics
and pay attention to political campaigns as much as previous generations
(Putnam, 2000). Not only is the public competent, but also their active
participation is a crucial element if we are to adequately define todays problems
and discover solutions (Mathews, 1999). Dahl (1998) argues that only through
democratic participation can individuals aspire (not guarantee) to protect their
rights and interests.
The question now turns to whether or not citizens, who have been leaving the
political arena for at least 40 years, are prepared, once again, to participate.
Christa Slayton and Theodore Becker found that, If the process and context of
governance are changed to encourage, rather than discourage, citizen
involvement, then American citizens of all types will respond positively
33


(Slayton & Becker, 1998). Others have confirmed the finding that citizens will
participate if they feel that their participation matters (Kathlene & Martin, 1991;
Ridings, 2001). Drawing on research and on observations of government and the
experiences of a wide variety of civic groups, David Mathews of the Kettering
Foundation, citing evidence from studies conducted by Richard Harwood and
others, believes that politicians, the media, and even people themselves
underestimate peoples willingness to participate (Mathews, 1999).
Americans understandably lack the motivation to participate. They do not trust
politicians, they feel that special interests control government, that many public
officials are corrupt and that government cares little about how they feel. And
Americans, while capable of participating effectively, do not feel that they have
the necessary tools to do so. More and more, they are staying away from politics
altogether. The fact that the public does not support many of todays policy
decisions (see earlier discussion of health care reform) is no mystery. Because
what has been lost in our democracy, what is missing from todays politics and
political decision-making, is a meaningful role for the people (Mathews, 1999).
Increasing participation by citizens in government holds promise for not only
improving decision-making and crafting solutions that will enjoy broader public
support, but also for revitalizing American democracy.
34


CHAPTER 3
CONCLUSION OF THE STUDY
Options for Increasing Participation in Politics
As part of an effort to develop plans for specific programs to increase political
engagement, I organized and hosted meetings in six states for the Common
Cause Education Fund, the educational arm of the national nonprofit, political
reform organization, Common Cause. The meetings were held during the
summer and fall of 2001. The meetings took place in: Denver, Colorado (July
13); Tallahassee, Florida (August 14); Albuquerque, New Mexico (August 16);
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (August 28); Boston, Massachusetts (September 10);
and in Nashville, Tennessee (September 24).
The principal goal of these meetings was to bring together a broad, representative
group of people in each state to develop strategies to engage citizens in political
and civic life. In addition, I sought to gauge their interest in working with
Common Cause on possible pilot projects or activities relating to civic
engagement. I contracted with staff from the National Civic Leagues
35


community services program to facilitate each of the meetings. Funding for the
meetings was provided through a grant from the Ford Foundation.
Process
In each of the six states, nearly 100 community leaders were invited to
participate in discussions to develop strategies to engage citizens in political life.
Invited guests included a wide range of civic actors in each state, including
representatives from both of the major political parties and several minor
political parties, sitting office holders, educators, including college and university
presidents and faculty, students, members of a wide variety of nonprofit
organizations and unaffiliated citizens. The meetings were attended by a variety
of community leaders, including elected officials, civil rights and religious
leaders, educators, college and high school students, nonprofit citizens
associations and organizations, parent-teacher associations, representatives from
a variety of political parties, appointed government officials, environmental
organizations, and members of the media (see Appendix C for list of
participants). Invited guests received a follow up invitation requesting their
participation. Attendance varied from state to state but in all cases included a
broad spectrum of varying interests, perspectives and organizations.
36


Prior to the meetings in each state, participants received a limited set of materials
that included an invitation outlining the issues (APPENDIX A) and an agenda for
the meeting. The standard agenda was used for each of the state discussions,
with little variation from state to state. Each of the sessions began with large
group sessions that included a brief description of the effort to develop strategies
to engage citizens in political life. Participants were given the opportunity to
introduce themselves and their interest in attending the discussion. The heart of
each of the meetings centered around discussions on key strategies to enhance
citizen engagement in each of the states and additional discussion regarding the
factors, barriers and challenges that prevent citizens from being engaged. For
purposes of these discussions, participants were divided into small groups of 8-
10 people. Trained facilitators from the National Civic Leagues community
services program facilitated each of the discussions. Their role was to act as
neutral facilitators, encouraging all to participate in the discussions. Each of the
meetings was approximately 4 hours in duration.
Discussion notes were taken on butcher block paper of both the large group
discussions and small group discussions. After each of the discussions,
participants agreed that the notes accurately reflected the proceedings of the
discussion. At the conclusion of each of the meetings, the notes were
transcribed. The facilitator of each meeting and I discussed the meeting notes,
37


made any necessary changes based on our recollection of the meetings and
distributed notes of each meeting to the participants of that meeting. All
participants were asked for their concurrence and given the opportunity to submit
corrections.
After the conclusion of the final meeting, I reviewed the meeting notes and my
own notes and began the work of synthesizing the notes from the six meetings.
From those notes a set of common themes were developed based on suggestions
or discussion points that came up repeatedly, not just in one location, but from
the series of discussions. Once the common themes had been developed, I began
the work of crafting those themes into a set of general strategies to increase
political participation and to reduce or eliminate barriers to fuller participation.
I then devised a survey to gauge participant interest and support for pursuing
each of the strategies. The survey was distributed to each of the meeting
participants. Each participant was asked to complete and return the survey. Of
the 204 people who attended the meetings, 23 percent, or 47 participants
responded to the survey. The responses to the survey were tabulated to
determine the level of importance participants placed on each of the strategy
areas and their interest in working on those issues with Common Cause.
38


Based on the contributions from the series of meetings, additional comments
from meeting participants, discussions with local and national experts and a
review of successful programs and literature in the relevant areas, I then
developed a series of pilot projects designed to increase political participation.
Strategies Identified to Reengage Citizens
In each of the six meetings, participants were asked to focus on identifying
strategies to reengage citizens in democracy. The areas discussed included
educating and training citizens, creating user-friendly democracy and removing
structural barriers to participation. At three of the meetings (in Colorado,
Pennsylvania and Tennessee), we also discussed the role of the media in
reengaging citizens. In Florida, one group focused on community building and
in Massachusetts, two groups discussed outreach.
The breadth of the suggestions and proposed actions from the six meetings was
substantial. I have combined the area of outreach with education and training
because the suggested actions are so closely in line with those of the proposed
actions under education and training that it made sense to bring them together. I
have eliminated repetitive suggestions and grouped like strategies together.


In the area of educating and training citizens and outreach, proposed strategies
included: Providing better pre-service training for K-12 teachers; revising civics
curricula; creating more opportunities for service learning in schools;
establishing democratically run schools and classrooms to give students real
examples of how democracy should function; establishing partnerships between
schools and community organizations; having teachers use resources in the
community for learning and real world application; providing funding for schools
to have retired teachers as mentors to incorporate service into curriculums; requiring
that formal education include citizen activism and hands-on training; inviting
politicians to visit schools; making education a community-wide effort that goes
beyond our schools and includes efforts from the media, workplaces and other
organizations; hosting career days with political professionals; identifying and
training leaders; developing a civic organizing curriculum for adults; creating a
citizens handbook; developing trainings to empower people; organizing at the
local level on local issues; targeting neighborhood and community organizations
and businesses; training organizers (like the unions used to do) and making
connections between local, state and possibly national issues; promoting
leadership development; building stronger coalitions; asking people to vote and
improving educational efforts on voting process, issues and candidates; making
practice voting machines available; utilizing the media to educate voters;
conducting door-to-door education efforts; using the media to air small messages
40


with maximum impact; using the Internet as a gateway for those intimidated by
the process; engaging people personally through individual and institutional
outreach by giving information on how, where, when to vote and get involved;
reaching young adults through their parents; seeking funding to establish small,
safe spaces where people can talk; holding town hall meetings on issues people
are concerned about; increasing diversity of leadership (including people of
color, people with disabilities and young people) among organizations and
elected officials; making sure information on candidates and issues is credible
and understandable; and, celebrating Election Day.
Suggested actions among groups discussing user-friendly democracy included:
Changing layouts of meeting rooms for public meetings/hearings, city council to
circles; using participatory processes to make people feel that their input matters;
eliminating rigid rules to encourage more discussion and interaction; changing
meeting times to accommodate working people; helping local officials
understand what it takes to serve the public, to run meetings, to do community
outreach and to encourage public participation; bringing government to the
people (including services, questions etc.); doing more long-range, community-
based planning; opening up the public agenda-setting process to citizens;
selling participation to make government more friendly; marketing
41


government; making use of a call in, talk show format; and, giving the Federal
Election Commission the ability to enforce the law.
Groups that discussed removing structural barriers proposed: Making voting
easier; developing a new vision of the polling place including establishing
universal precincts and portable voting; establishing a central voter database;
allowing voting to take place on weekends, holidays, or over a 24-hour period;
establishing same day or election day voter registration; allowing people to vote
via the Internet; establishing incentives for voting (e.g., each voter gets a Power
ball ticket); providing true multi-cultural, multi-lingual access to the ballot;
monitoring the polls for fairness and ease of participation; shortening the
campaign period; holding fewer, but more meaningful elections; lowering the
voting age for some local elections; advocating for proportional representation
and/or instant run-off voting; advocating for comprehensive campaign finance
reform/clean money elections; removing obstacles to re-enfranchising ex-felons;
providing broadcast time for candidates, political and campaign issues; making
use of the internet, including chat rooms, with public officials; and, creating more
leisure time for people to actively take the time to learn to vote.
Three groups discussed the role of the media in enhancing engagement and
proposed:
42


Sponsoring debates; conducting public forums on issues and candidates;
developing a coalition of all local stations to produce better and longer coverage;
conducting community meetings; inviting community leaders to the station for
focus groups and input with the goal of identifying issues and priorities; getting
the media to join the effort as active participants that reflect community values;
informing citizens how and when to vote use public service announcements as
a tool for this; making information available to all people through all media,
including radio, television, papers, the web and other methods, particularly MTV
and VH-1; showing state house and senate proceedings (including committee
hearings) on cable access television; using the airwaves for public meetings;
devising methods to establish a better flow of information to constituents;
collaborating with the audio-visual departments of high schools and state system
schools to teach young people how to become civically responsible; working to
localize the station through ownership, management, issues, and community
involvement; enhancing communication by helping local government use local
newspapers for communication; using technology including television, radio and
computers to bridge the digital divide; providing models of appropriate citizen
behavior; giving more time to success stories; providing and promoting news
staff going to community events and projects; showing all sides of stories;
avoiding the temptation to dumb down the issues; developing ad watch
campaigns; keeping bias out of language; answering all inquiries from viewers;
43


highlighting students in the community; using the media (including paid media)
creatively to educate citizens about issues and about participating, registering,
voting, etc.; using entertainment such as the television program West Wing and
soap operas to reach citizens; teaching the public how to make videos;
approaching mall owners/movie theatres to run trailers advertising the need to
engage; recognizing that conglomerates, or giant owners are not as invested as
local owners; and, improving public/media relations; making issues small, or
local, so that people have the chance to successfully affect them.
In Florida, participants proposed actions in the area of community building
including: Examining ways to engage students by putting them on nonprofit
boards; reforming housing patterns and services; making better use of existing
community centers; establishing skills banks that match community needs with
community assets; and conducting teach-ins with community elders and college
students.
Common Themes
After sorting through the listing of the hundreds of suggestions regarding
proposed actions and eliminating suggestions that seemed impractical, several
themes emerged.
44


In the area of education and training:
Providing hands on, real life training to students in democracy, politics
and governance;
Improving teacher training;
Providing citizens with a handbook to help them understand how
democracy really works and gives them tools to be effective;
Providing skills training for young people and adults alike; and
Training organizers to help local groups and communities learn to
become skilled citizens.
There were two common themes that came out of the many discussions on
creating a more user-friendly democracy:
Develop trainings for elected and emerging leaders that would help them
learn to work with constituents, seek meaningful input from those they
represent and find new and creative ways to address issues; and
Find more effective and simpler ways for government and citizens to
communicate, including, but not limited to, using the Internet.
In the area of removing structural barriers, there was strong support for looking
into proposals that would make voting easier and accessible to all, including:
45


Establish a 24-hour voting period, a national holiday and same
day/election day voter registration;
Eliminate prohibitions that keep felons who have paid their debt to
society from voting; and,
Step up voter registration, education and get-out-the vote efforts.
There was heavy criticism of the media in every state, but only a few states
addressed the topic head on. They suggest that we work to:
Create different types of media coverage. Coverage should be issue
based and should cover stories so that citizens can understand what issues
and candidates stands on issues mean to them and to their communities;
Provide more in-depth coverage (and fewer sound bites) of political
issues and campaigns from all sources of media. The media has a
responsibility to broadcast candidate discourse and messages to urge
citizens to participate; and,
Help the media realize its responsibility to find out what the communities
needs and interests are, and to address those issues through their
coverage.
Any comprehensive strategy to increase citizen participation in politics must
include, among other designs, plans to the increase the peoples trust in public
46


officials and build citizens sense that they can make a difference on public
issues.
Pilot Projects to Increase Political Participation
Based on the contributions from the community leaders who attended the six
meetings, from the research I have done in related areas and the many
conversations that I had with numerous experts in the non-profit arena, academia
and other fields, I propose several programs to re-engage Americans in political
life. Each of the programs should initially be tested on a pilot basis in several
states and/or communities. Although the lack of political participation at all
levels (federal, state and local) is of major concern, the programs should initially
be implemented exclusively at the state and local levels, at least until the
programs have proven effective. Far from suggesting that federal issues are not
important, the proposal that the programs be implemented at the state and local
level merely recognizes that citizens feel more alienated and disconnected from
national government than from local and state government, and that attempts to
involve them in federal government would be more challenging.1
1 In a report to the Kettering Foundation, focus group studies conducted by Doble Research
Associates showed that citizens feel more alienated and disconnected from federal government
than from either state or local government (Doble & Peng, 2000, pp. 4,5).
47


The programs include:
Building trust between elected leaders, other decision makers and those
they serve;
Addressing citizens concerns about efficacy by educating and training
Americans how to be effective citizens in a democratic society by
building knowledge and skills and by providing Americans with the tools
necessary to be effective;
Helping to reshape the role of the media as a democratic institution that
serves the community; and
Eliminating barriers that keep people from participating and to register
and get more Americans out to vote.
Measures to Increase Trust and Confidence
in Government and Public Officials
It is not only American citizens who feel unprepared to participate effectively in
our democracy. Our elected officials and political leaders often lack the
training and skills necessary not only to be effective, but also to adequately
represent their constituencies. As shown earlier, citizens who have little if any
contact with their elected representatives, and whose input is rarely if ever
sought, do not know and do not trust their own representatives. Much of the
48


responsibility for reestablishing contact with citizens and rebuilding trust
between representatives and their constituents must lie directly in the lap of our
elected and appointed officials. Public officials must work hard to create
opportunities to reconnect with citizens in their communities, to build trust and to
help citizens feel that their participation matters.
Much as we will work to help citizens obtain the knowledge, skills and tools to
be effective, so too should we train those in line to represent us, for additional
training. We should help elected officials, decision-makers and emerging leaders
alike learn to establish participatory processes, and to set up meaningful dialogue
among constituents to address important community issues.
In addition to working to help leaders understand how to address community
needs and issues, we should also work to establish dialogue between leaders and
citizens to reconnect citizens and government. The goals of this dialogue would
be to develop strategies to improve communication between citizens and
government and to establish systems that encourage citizen participation in
government.
For these purposes, training opportunities for elected and appointed officials that
go beyond the political party trainings and legislative process trainings that many
49


officials currently receive are necessary. Non-partisan training institutes should
be established that provide training in the following areas:
Communicating with constituents
Using communications technology
Organizing community meetings
Identifying community interests and issues
Facilitating group discussions
Building consensus among diverse groups
Gauging community support
Building broad support on community issues
These institutes should make use of the expertise of the many nonprofit and
community organizations who have been working to improve dialogue and
communication between the public and public officials. Organizations such as
the National Civic League, the Kettering Foundation and the Study Circles
Resource Center, among many other local and national organizations, have
developed programs that have proven effective at building trust among elected
officials and the public and at using participatory processes to solve community
problems by including a broader spectrum of community interests in deliberation
on issues of concern. These models begin by identifying and defining the
50


problems to be solved. Participants discuss possible solutions and develop plans
for action and implementation. Decision-making is consensus-based. Further,
these approaches emphasize the continuing involvement of participants to
increase informed decision-making on an ongoing basis (Gates, 1998).
Through such programs and citizen involvement, public officials can expect
increased consensus on important issues and better decisions.
Measures to Increase Citizens Sense of Efficacy
One of the primary reasons that Americans do not participate in politics and
public affairs is because they do not feel they have the skills or knowledge to
participate effectively or to make a difference on the issues they care about. To
overcome this sense of inefficacy, our objective will be to help citizens re- 2
2 Dahl argues that increased citizen involvement, the strategy used by NCL, the Kettering
Foundation and Study Circles Resource Center, educates citizens about important decisions and
effective processes for resolving conflicts over those decisions, and that this increased social
training leads to increased consensus on issues and better decisions. It can be argued that public
officials would benefit from such training as much as the public (Dahl, 1956, p.78). But not all
problems are so easily defined.
Dahl argues that some situations call for expertise. So does Ronald Heifetz, who uses the
doctor-patient relationship as a model to help describe when expertise can and should be used to
solve problems, and when citizen/patient participation is necessary. Type I situations, in which
the patients expectations are realistic: the doctor can provide a solution and the problem can be
defined, treated and cured. Type II situations are more complex, where the problem is definable,
but no clear-cut solution is available. Type III situations are the most difficult, where the
problem definition is not clear-cut, and technical fixes are not available. In Type I situations the
patient relies on the doctors knowledge and the doctor in turn relies on the patients trust (of
course doctors enjoy substantially higher trust than do politicians). But few situations in a
democracy are clear-cut Type I situations. In Type II situations the doctor (policy-maker), must
actively involve the patient if she is to be effective. The patient (or in this case the citizen) needs
to confront the choices and changes that face him. Type III situations are even more complex, as
they often are in politics, and require learning on the part of the doctor and the patient to define
the problem and to search for solutions. (Heifetz, 1994)
51


energize and obtain democracy skills. Democracy skills or the skills it takes
to be an effective citizen include:
How to obtain knowledge about issues
How to find out who makes decisions on your issues
Effective communication with elected officials and other decision
makers
How to make use of the media to express opinions
How to work with others to strengthen your case
The program should recruit participants for this effort in area schools, on college
campuses, through the places where people worship and among non-profit,
community and neighborhood organizations. In particular, these efforts should
look to establish joint programs with organizations that work to help students
develop the values and skills of citizenship through participation in public and
community service. By working with the hundreds of college and university
presidents to enact their recommendations of the Presidents Declaration (which
encourages higher education institutions to assess what they are doing to engage
their students to participate in democracy and to formulate strategies to teach the
skills and values of democracy), this program could see substantial results (see
APPENDIX E).
52


A series of training programs should be designed to give citizens the skills they
need to be effective. These trainings could occasionally use a lecture format to
explain concepts and give background on the training topic, but the trainings
should, in large part, be hands on experiences. Participants will develop
messages and materials on the issues they are concerned about and will have the
opportunity to practice and build their skills through role-playing activities.
Most importantly, participants will learn by doing. To ensure that participants
become comfortable and proficient in the given skill area, training sessions, to
the greatest extent possible, will include actual use of the acquired skills in real
life situations.
To be effective, citizens also need tools that reinforce and build on their
democracy skills and that provide concrete examples and templates to help
them in their efforts. A citizens handbook should be developed and distributed
to all training participants and should serve as a companion handbook to
citizenship trainings. While the handbook would provide citizens with some
background information on democratic principles, it would be specifically
designed for citizens who want to learn how their government works and how to
make a difference on issues they care about. The handbook would include
descriptions of how to mount a campaign to create change in ones community,
step-by-step instructions on how to develop media strategy, write a press release
53


and hold a news conference. The handbook should also include instructions and
examples of how to craft effective messages, how to lobby, how to generate
support for issues and how to make sure that elected representatives hear citizens.
In addition, the handbook should contain information on using the Internet to
organize and information on raising money for campaigns. The book would
ideally include many samples and case studies.
In addition to the handbook, a companion support center should be created to
provide professional organizing assistance to aid in community efforts. The
support center should establish an interactive web site and a hotline allowing
citizens to call to ask for organizing support. In some cases, support center staff
may make site visits.
Citizens also need leaders to help them in their efforts. For this purpose, a
training program to train citizen leaders and political organizers should be
developed. This program would be designed to build on the skills taught in
citizenship trainings. Participants in the program would master democracy
skills and would help other citizens, and citizens organizations, learn to use
their skills and tools effectively. This program would feature a democracy
fellows program. Fellows would receive training, support and mentoring from
participating community organizations and would be placed within organizations
54


that engage in political and civic affairs as part of a one-year training program.
Participating community organizations would then work with other community
groups to help place fellows into permanent positions within organizations
needing their skills.
A manual for organizers and citizen leaders, an in-depth version of the citizens
handbook, with more substantial treatment of organizing skills and campaign
planning should also be developed.
Academics and educators have long argued that our current civic education
curricula are inadequate to prepare our young people for democratic life
(Weissberg, 1974; Mathews, 1999; Putnam, 2000). Many new and innovative
programs designed to give students the necessary knowledge have been
developed, although most are not widely used. But even needed improvements
in curricula will not be enough to help young people become knowledgeable and
effective citizens. Since most of the institutions young people are exposed to as
they grow and learn from operate in a fundamentally undemocratic manner, they
have few examples of how democracy really works. Take our schools for
example. In many cases, the principal operates as sole decision-maker. More
and more principals have teams of administrators that help them make decisions
about how our schools run, and occasionally teachers and parents are included in
55


decision-making, but rarely are students asked or allowed to participate. If the
best way to teach young people (indeed, all people) about democracy is to
provide opportunities to practice democracy, our schools are failing miserably.
Any comprehensive strategy to increase citizens sense of effectiveness should
work with educators to help strengthen efforts to establish schools that provide
meaningful opportunities, for parents and for students alike, for democratic
participation.
Measures that Increase Both Trust and Efficacy
The media has a critical role to play in increasing trust in government and in
elevating citizens sense of efficacy. Those goals can be met by improving both
the quantity and the quality of information available to citizens on political and
campaign issues. For that purpose, collaborative agreements with the media
should be sought to increase both trust and efficacy among citizens.
The goals of this effort would be to develop and implement media strategies for
election and political coverage that: focus on the issues citizens care most about,
require candidates to address those issues, and, provide more in-depth, issue
based coverage of the information citizens need to make informed decisions
about candidates, ballot issues and other important political matters. This
program would augment good but insufficient information that is currently
56


distributed. For example, information compiled by the League of Women Voters
and by state agencies for the purpose of educating voters would be augmented by
additional materials that appeal to a variety of new audiences, including young
people and language minority voters.
To address citizens concerns that the media does not cover or pay enough
attention to issues that are most relevant to their daily lives, a broad and diverse
group of citizens, citizen leaders and others from around the state should be
brought together to advise the media on the most important state and local issues.
In a series of facilitated conversations, this representative group of citizens
should discuss critical issues with other citizen leaders, elected officials and the
media and develop a citizens agenda defining the most important issues. To
provide the media with information that will give citizens information to make
informed decisions about candidates and issues, this effort will be designed in
coordination with leaders of media organizations. Ideally, a broad cross section
of citizens that are representative of a states population should participate. A
model for establishing such citizen panels can be found in deLeons participatory
policy analysis, and would empower citizens to participate in deliberations over
public policy issues over an extended period of time (1997, pp. 111-116).
57


A series of about half a dozen facilitated meetings between these citizen advisors
and the media would follow. Meetings should take place in several locations
around the given state. The meetings should be designed to go beyond typical
media techniques to gauge public opinion (the bullet poll approach and horse-
race coverage). The idea is to identify the most important issues and to advise
and inform the media about citizens concerns.
I propose the following coverage tactics to increase citizen interest in politics and
to elevate their sense of efficacy:
A series of Sunday newspaper pull out sections that cover an important
issue each week. This coverage should devote at least a full page to
define each issue, to cover candidate positions on the issue and cover past
and current comments from each candidate on the issue. Additional
coverage would provide synopses of other issues covered.
Television and radio coverage and co-sponsorship would be sought for a
series of live town hall meetings on issues deemed most important by
citizens.
In addition to coverage of town hall meetings, support should be sought
for special election coverage with a strong focus on issues from
participating television and radio organizations.
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As part of this effort, a series of public service announcements should be
produced for television and radio on the importance of voting (print versions may
also be developed). Three separate spots should be produced on voter
registration requirements and deadlines, the importance of voting and a third
message designed to remind people to vote on Election Day. The project should
seek funding for the production of the public service announcements, obtaining
at cost production rates from media partners and seeking agreement for free
airing of the spots.
This effort should also include a series of town hall meetings on high profile
political races and on major ballot issues. The events would be moderated by
local media figures, and advertised using a multi-media approach with television,
newspaper and radio organizations providing advertisement for the events. Town
hall meetings would be covered on live television, radio, and newspaper
reporters.
Clearly, not all media organizations will be interested in pursuing such an
agenda. Some media institutions argue, in fact, that these are inappropriate roles
for the media to play. However, initial discussions with media organizations in
three of the cities in which meetings were held provide hope that some are
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interested in working in a complementary fashion in order to achieve the mutual
objective of increasing citizen engagement and participation in politics in
general, and in elections more specifically.
Additional Measures to Increase Political Participation
In addition to taking steps to increase Americans trust in government and
elected officials, and working to increase citizens sense of efficacy, other steps
are necessary to increase political participation. In particular, working to remove
structural barriers to participation should be a top priority.
A two-pronged strategy should be pursued to remove barriers to participation and
to increase voter participation. First, coalition groups should be convened to
develop strategies to remove barriers to participation. By bringing together
nonprofit organizations, government and elected officials, civil rights leaders and
religious organizations, this effort will help people and organizations evaluate
policies and options (including the re-enfranchisement of former felons who have
paid their debt to society and Election Day Registration) that will help to improve
voter participation. The ultimate goal of this effort should be to build a strong,
broad-based coalition that will forward solutions to eliminate barriers to fuller
voter participation and to launch voter education efforts and complementary
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programs to significantly increase voter registration and voter participation in
target communities.
This effort should also work to expand the work of those organizations and
institutions that have conducted successful efforts to educate, register and get
voters out to the polls in previous elections. By conducting demonstration
projects in several targeted cities, and smaller communities therein, on voter
registration, education and participation, this effort will be designed to produce
significant results in targeted community settings and would aim to substantially
increase voter participation (by 10 percent) in those communities. An additional
goal of this effort, in addition to increasing participation, would be to create a
model that other communities across the country could replicate.
Partnering organizations should make use of a varied set of tactics to build a
strong and enduring coalition for reform, develop workable proposals to
eliminate barriers to participation, organize strong and diverse efforts to register
and educate voters and to get new voters to the polls on election day. These
tactics should include building a strong and broad coalition to increase
participation and remove barriers to participation, conducting relevant research to
evaluate current barriers to fuller participation and options for removing those
barriers, conducting grassroots efforts to register and educate voters and to get
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voters to the polls on Election Day, and, an aggressive media effort to publicize
these efforts and the work of the coalition.
To be effective at increasing participation, this effort must be distinguished from
other recent efforts to register and get voters to the poll by the breadth of the
coalition working towards these purposes, and by the joint resources of many
organizations devoted towards the common purpose of increasing participation
and removing systemic barriers to participation. Toward that end, the effort must
reach out to non-profit organizations, government and elected officials, civil
rights leaders, religious organizations, environmental organizations,
organizations that work with and represent people with disabilities, new
immigrants, community based organizations and others to develop a new force to
enhance electoral participation.
Partnering organizations will be asked to contact potential voters in targeted
communities and on college campuses through door-to-door canvassing, at
meetings of community organizations and campus organizations, (including
places of worship), and through targeted telephone communications. Wherever
possible volunteers will carry voter registration materials and register voters on
the spot. Newly registered voters, and other infrequent voters within target
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communities will receive multiple follow-up communications3 urging them to
vote.
3 This strategy has proven effective in recent experiments to increase voter participation. In a
recent study conducted by Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber of Yale University, the
researchers found that those contacted and urged to vote were 8 percentage-points more likely to
vote than those in a control group (Green & Gerber, 2001).
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CHAPTER 4
ANALYSIS
This study would be remiss were it not to address the substantial challenges in
both the planning and implementation stages that the above listed programs will
face. These challenges include: scale, or the sheer physical size of the United
states; obtaining the necessary resources to carry out the programs; building and
sustaining coalitions; the recruitment of participants for the programs; and,
overcoming objections and obstacles to the proposed programs.
Scale
The problem first faced by the founders, that face-to-face democracy in America
is impossible given the sheer size (geographic and population) of the nation,
persists today. Just as it was argued at the founding of our nation, the whole of
the public will never have the opportunity to discuss and deliberate over issues.
Yet deLeons participatory policy analysis (1997) and Fishkins deliberative
polling (1995) provide solutions that can help to address issues of scale by
providing a bridge between the shortcomings of representative democracy, as
practiced today, and mass participation.
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Resources
Obtaining funding to build and sustain these programs could present an obstacle
to implementation. Initial funding for the programs should be sought from major
national foundations and from community foundations. This thesis does not
attempt to address the important task of developing a plan to solicit funding from
those foundations, nor to determine specific resource needs to develop and
implement these programs, but merely to identify possibilities for funding. There
is clearly no guarantee that such foundations will provide adequate funding to
carry out all of these programs. However, a handful of national foundations,
including the Ford Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Carnegie
Corporation all have shown considerable interest in re-engaging citizens in
political life. Many community foundations have expressed the same interest.
However, there is no guarantee that foundations will fund all, or even a portion
of these programs. It should be noted that even if financial support from
foundations is obtained, there are disadvantages to foundation support including:
the limited size of grants; grant renewal is not guaranteed, grants are awarded on
the foundations schedule; and, grant-writing is a time-consuming activity
(Seltzer, 1987). Should initial funding be obtained, additional challenges await.
Since many foundations award grants for only a limited period of time,
alternative sources of funding must be sought (Seltzer, 1987).
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Recruitment
Associations present the best opportunity to recruit and engage citizens in the
above listed programs. It has been shown that association members are more
likely to participate in political affairs (Putnam, 2000). Associations also provide
a point of contact between people in their communities and these programs.
Initial efforts should focus on groups and associations that have already shown
interest in increasing political participation. Associations that participated in any
of the six discussion meetings hosted by the Common Cause Education Fund
would be logical partners in the effort to identify participants for the programs.
These varied organizations alone have members numbering in the hundreds of
thousands, many of who could be interested in participating in the programs.
Verba, Schlozman and Brady have shown that even non-political organizations
and associations provide opportunities to build civic skills (1995, p. 310). By
connecting with and developing joint programs with a broad array of
organizations to engage their members in political affairs, these projects can
attract participants from a variety of backgrounds.
Associations can also help in the identification and recruitment of leaders for
programs that focus on developing community leadership. Since leaders of
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associations often have direct contact with their members, and are familiar with
those members, they could be of great help in identifying those who have both
the desired qualities and the interest in obtaining further training.
Yet, increasingly, Americans do not belong to associations (Putnam, 2000).
With fewer and fewer participants in associational life, whether that be those who
attend and are members of a church, those who participate in political
organizations or other community organizations, these programs will fail to reach
many individuals. The fact that so many Americans are not part of any
organization or association presents a severe challenge, particularly in recruiting
and attracting those who are least engaged in political life. Additional strategies
will need to be developed to recruit and engage those who do not attend religious
services and are not part of local or state associations.
Coalitions
An additional challenge will be presented by efforts to establish and sustain a
coalition that is broad enough to attract large numbers of participants, credible
enough to gamer foundation support, strong enough to create change and diverse
enough to reach many segments of society. Ideally, a coalition to increase
political participation would include participants from all political parties,
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varying racial and economic backgrounds, gender balance, members of the
disabled community and participants from the gay and lesbian community. Yet
establishing and maintaining coalitions among like-minded organizations proves
challenging to most organizations, and coalitions are notoriously fragile
(Smucker, 1991). From the outset, this effort will face the difficult task of
seeking clear agreement on identifying the goals of the coalition and on agreeing
on an organization that will serve to coordinate the work of the coalition.
Opposition
In addition to these challenges, these programs will face opposition from those
who disagree with the goals of the programs, those who believe that the
described programs will not accomplish the intended objectives, those who
believe that adequate programs are already in place and from those who believe
that implementation of these programs will inhibit their ability to accomplish
their own goals.
In contrast to those arguing for increased participation, Morone (1990) calls for a
strengthened role for government and increased authority for public officials,
saying, essentially, that since historical efforts to increase participation among
the public have only led to bureaucratization, which the public finds
unacceptable, efforts at reform should exclude increasing citizen participation
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and rely instead on increased government authority. This prescription, of course,
fails to address the publics diminished confidence and trust in government and
would only serve to heighten citizens feelings of cynicism about government.
Critics of more participatory models of democracy have pointed to failed efforts
as proof that participatory governance is an illusory goal. In particular, the
failure of the Community Action Programs (CAPs) of the 1960s has been used to
suggest that an increased role for citizens in decisions that affect their lives is
unworkable. The goals of finding local solutions to address local problems with
the maximum feasible participation of residents of the areas and members of the
groups served was blamed for promoting conflict and violence in the inner
city, and charged as a recipe for violence that promised a lot and delivered
little. The failure of CAPs helped solidify opposition to programs designed to
allow those living in poverty to help themselves and reinforced stereotypes that
some members of society are never ready to assume power in an advanced
society (Berry, Portney & Thomson, 1993, pp. 22-24).
These criticisms, however, fail to address several of the core reasons for failure
within the model cities and the Community Action Programs. First, Community
Action Projects and other efforts to increase citizen participation have not always
offered citizens real control over decisions that affect their lives. Since many
69


community leaders and citizens had only a marginal voice in decision-making,
CAPs represented restrained exercises in representative democracy (Berry,
Portney & Thomson, 1993. p. 34), instead of the participatory role they
promised. Second, opposition from some public administrators unwilling to
share their power ensured that participant involvement in efforts such as public
meetings was little more than a sham designed only to fulfill government
requirements for participation. And third, many bureaucrats charged with
facilitating such programs had little experience of knowledge that would help
ensure success (Berry, Portney & Thomson, 1993).
Additional criticism will be leveled at programs that seek to redefine the role that
the media plays in encouraging participation. Such efforts, often described as
civic or public journalism, while highly touted by leaders of the efforts, have
been criticized as less than effective at increasing citizen participation (Grimes,
1999). And many media organizations are strongly opposed to making use of
tactics similar to those outlined in the project above. But there is concrete
evidence that civic journalism efforts have resulted in increased electoral
participation (Bowers, Claflin & Walker, 1998). Additional evidence has shown
an increase in citizens knowledge about candidates and issues, increased
confidence among citizens and lower levels of cynicism (Grimes, 1999).
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Without a doubt, many within government will argue that they already take the
necessary steps to ensure adequate participation. These arguments will be used
to scuttle the proposal for unnecessary non-partisan training institutes. Since
many officials feel that the public is uninterested and uninformed, and see
themselves as guardians of the public interest who already understand their
constituents and see their job as educating the public and making decisions
between competing interests (Mathews, 1999), there is little perceived need
among government officials for additional training. Many feel that they already
effectively communicate with constituents, use communications technology,
organize community meetings, identify community interests and issues, facilitate
group discussions, build consensus among diverse groups, gauge community
support, and build broad support on community issues, there is no need for
additional training. In spite of how government officials see themselves, the
public sees them quite differently, necessitating, among other strategies,
additional training for officials.4
Others of these programs will most likely have to overcome opposition of
another sort. While many educators believe that civic education is an important
subject that schools should teach, civic education receives less emphasis than it
4 The public view, as documented earlier, is that lobbyists and special interests have significant
influence over government decisions, that representatives do not represent or care about their
interests and that officials do not effectively communicate, or even try to communicate, with
constituents.
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once did (Putnam, 2000). Educators, faced with pressure to show results on high
stakes tests that in many cases determine the fate of their schools, will surely
argue that with the current emphasis on mathematics, science and English, there
is little time to focus on preparing students to be citizens. Still others may argue
that we already teach young people what they need to know to become effective
participants.
Areas for Further Study
These efforts, based on successful programs throughout the country, will
hopefully prove effective at increasing participation in American political life.
To prove the effectiveness of the programs and for the purpose of providing
concrete information and evidence about the effect that such a coordinated
campaign can have on participation, further study will be necessary. Each of the
measures outlined above must make use of established methods to evaluate the
programs to determine their actual impact on participation. That endeavor
presents numerous challenges to the practitioner and would best be served by
establishing collaborative relationships between practitioners and researchers.
Such collaboration should take place in the design phase in each of the programs,
and should account for variations in the programs as implemented and for
variations in other factors that could influence the effectiveness of the programs.
72


The research should focus on several questions including: Do these programs
increase trust between elected officials and constituents, do they increase
citizens sense of efficacy and are they effective at removing barriers to
participation and increasing voter participation? Assuming that the programs
prove effective at accomplishing these initial goals, further measurement will be
necessary to test whether the expected heightened levels of trust and efficacy,
and the removal of barriers to participation actually increase participation.
Toward a Participatory Paradigm: Implications and Recommendations
We must learn.. .to meet, as our fathers did.... There must be
discussion and debate, in which all freely participate... The
whole purpose of democracy is that we may hold counsel with
one another... Only [then].. .can the general interests of a
great people be compounded into a policy suitable to all.
Woodrow Wilson
Given the failure of the prevailing paradigm, which implicitly excludes citizens
and has resulted in a system where citizens lack trust in public officials, are
cynical about government and feel that they are unable to participate in an
effective manner, a new policy paradigm must be adopted. Democracy
73


characterized by substantial citizen participation can fill the void by engaging
citizens in political and community issues and providing the necessary
participation that gives the democratic form of governance its very legitimacy.
Democratic decisions made through the active participation of citizens result in
better, more widely accepted policies and in solutions that are more likely to
achieve their goals.
Tocqueville expressed the importance of hands on practical experience in
learning how to function in democracy,
It is by taking share in legislation that the American learns to know the
law; it is by governing that he becomes educated about the formalities of
government. The great work of society is daily performed before his
eyes, and so to say, under his hands (Tocqueville, 1969, p. 304).
Such meaningful participation requires a radical revision of how elected officials
and those with decision-making authority in the public sector relate to citizens
and in how government decisions are made. Our elected representatives must
initiate a new kind of dialogue with constituents, relying not on a myriad of
opinion polls, cost-benefit analyses, nor advice from a handful of influential
interests, but instead on processes that encourage and value participation and that
74


seek to truly understand what their publics want. Such participation should rely
on citizens, among other actors, to help set the agenda, define issues, develop
strategies and options to address those issues and provide that all citizens have an
equal voice in choosing among the developed options. Practically speaking, this
would mean that politicians would convene groups of constituents on a regular
basis. In these sessions, politicians should seek to foster dialogue and
deliberation on issues that face the community, state and nation. Public hearings-
- where legislators vote on specific policy options would take on new meaning,
taking place only after substantial deliberation by the public, and after .citizens
have had the opportunity to choose how to solve our most serious problems.
Administrators and agencies would conduct similar sessions on a host of critical
issues, and allow the public to determine still other issues to address.
Extensive citizen participation will also require that communities make a new
commitment to increasing democratic participation. Such a commitment must
start with improving political and civic education in the schools, but must include
other measures that bolster citizens sense of efficacy by increasing citizens
knowledge of political issues and processes, building their democracy skills and
providing tools that help them to feel effective. Finally, other barriers that inhibit
participation must be removed to make participation convenient and easily
accessible to all who desire it.
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The programs outlined above will require both commitment and patience. For
the participatory route will not always be smooth, and it will in few instances
result in immediate solutions to long-standing problems. Democracy was not
designed to be the most efficient form of government. In the words of Winston
Churchill,
No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been
said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those
others that have been tried from time to time.
But, perhaps we will find, as many researchers have, that when we provide
citizens with the information, skills and tools to participate effectively, provide
meaningful opportunities for citizens to participate, where citizens feel that their
voice is heard and listened to, where they feel that their participation matters,
where they feel that they have some opportunity to have an effect on the outcome
of issues that are important to them, citizens will participate. And, we will solve
some of the nations most long-standing, divisive and intractable problems.
Increasing citizen participation is the key to restoring a democracy that is more
representative or citizens values (Fishkin, 1995). Increased participation
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develops community members who have learned the arts of democracy and
become capable of addressing pressing community issues, using the skills that
make communities, and democracy, work. Given what happens when citizens
are excludeddistrust of public officials, alienation, a sense that they cannot
make change and undesirable policy outcomesincreased participation must be
vigorously pursued. Experimentation, such as the strategies outlined above, will
help to develop those successful programs that increase Americans trust in
government and elected officials, increase their sense of efficacy and ultimately,
increase their willingness to participate in political life.
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APPENDIX
A. INVITATION
June 7,2001
Dear:
In last Novembers election just over half (51%) of eligible voters cast their vote
for President. Nearly half of all Americans failed to demonstrate the most simple
and fundamental right of citizenship. Over the last forty years participation in
political activity by citizens of almost all educational levels and income groups
has declined dramatically. Polls show that Americans increasingly feel excluded
from politics and that they feel unable to participate in politics as effectively as
they would like.
To respond to this crisis in participation, the Common Cause Education Fund,
with a grant from the Ford Foundation, is working to create a new effort to
reengage Americans in our democracy. The plan calls for civic leaders of all
backgrounds, to join in an effort to reengage Americans in politics by addressing
their concerns and reasons for non-participation.
That is why I am writing to you today, to invite you, in fact to urge you, to
accept the challenge of increasing citizen participation and engagement by
attending a strategy session on Friday, July 13,2001, from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00
p.m. at the Denver Public Library.
The goal of this session is to begin work on a state-based plan to determine the
best strategies to reengage Coloradans in political and civic life. We intend to
look at strategies that address needs in the areas of civic education and training in
effective citizenship, the role of the media, barriers to participation, how
technology can improve civic engagement and how to improve upon traditional
voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. Your participation is necessary to
make this effort to reengage Coloradans in politics a success.
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Please join us in accepting responsibility for increasing participation and
engagement among American citizens by attending this session on July 13th. As
a starting point for this work session I have included some background
information on the problems of declining participation and possible strategies to
address those problems. Please do not hesitate to call for additional information.
To RSVP, or for additional information call me at (303) 292-2134, or e-mail
i goldind@commoncause.org.
Sincerely,
Jon Goldin-Dubois
Project Director
Common Cause Education Fund
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APPENDIX
B. PARTICIPANT SURVEY
TO: Citizen Engagement Meeting Participants
FROM: Jon Goldin-Dubois, Common Cause
DATE: November 19,2001
SUBJECT: Next Steps, Your Input Needed
Thanks for your previous help on this project. I am now writing to you to seek
additional input on the direction Common Cause should take on its citizen
engagement project and to get a sense of how we might work together to better
engage citizens in political and civic issues. You will recall that our plan was to
conduct six engagement meetings around the country, use that information to
come up with project ideas that we could pursue, seek additional advice and
input from meeting participants and then develop more concrete plans to submit
to foundations for funding. Your input will be critical in developing strong
projects.
Below you will find a brief summary of the meetings, a discussion of the
common themes and project ideas we could pursue. I ask that you read this
memo, paying particular attention to the project ideas, complete the survey
questions on each project idea and respond to the questions at the end of this
memo by November 30. To expedite responses (and make it easier for
you), please send your comments back via e-mail by simply answering the
questions on this e-mail and then hitting the "reply" button to this message. (If
you prefer to respond to this inquiry by mail, please mail to Jon Goldin-Dubois,
Common Cause, 1860 Larimer St., # 360, Denver, CO 80202)
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Background
As part of our effort to develop plans for specific pilot projects on citizen
engagement, Common Cause hosted meetings in: Denver, Colorado; Tallahassee,
Florida; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Harrisburg, PA; Boston, Massachusetts; and
in Nashville, Tennessee. The first goal of these meetings was to bring together
representative groups of people that could
help to develop strategies to engage citizens in political and civic life. Several
important themes emerged from these meetings:
Education and Training
Providing hands on, real life training to students in democracy, politics
and governance;
Improving teacher training;
Providing citizens with a handbook to help them understand "how
democracy really works" and that gives them tools to be effective;
Providing skills training for young people and adults alike; and,
Training organizers to help local groups and communities learn to
become skilled citizens.
User-Friendly Democracy
Developing trainings for elected and emerging leaders that would help
them learn to work with constituents, seek meaningful input from those
they represent and find new and creative ways to address issues; and,
Finding more effective and simpler ways for government and citizens to
communicate, including, but not limited to using the Internet.
Removal of Structural Barriers
Making voting easier and accessible to all;
Establishing a 24 hour voting period, a national holiday and same day
voter registration;
Eliminating prohibitions that keep felons that have paid their debt to
society from voting; and,
Stepping up voter registration, education and get-out-the vote efforts.
The Role of the Media
Creating different types of media coverage that are issue based, that cover
stories so that citizens can understand what issues, and candidates stands
on issues, mean to them;
Providing more in-depth coverage (and fewer sound bites) of political
issues and campaigns from all sources of media, the media has a
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responsibility to broadcast candidate discourse and messages to urge
citizens to participate; and,
Helping the media with its responsibility to find out what communities'
needs and interests are, and to address those issues through their
coverage.
Potential Pilot and Demonstration Projects
Based on what we have learned from these meetings and related research, we
believe that there are several promising projects that we could pursue that would
constitute important steps to re-engage Americans. In these efforts we hope to
re-engage Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs, but it is our intention to
focus our efforts primarily on those who participate least in
political and civic life, including young people, people of color, people with
disabilities, the poor, immigrants and new citizens and others within disaffected
communities. With these projects it is our intent to build an increased capacity to
participate effectively in our democratic society.
Regardless of which pilot projects we pursue, it's important for us to put together
a coalition to work on these and future projects. Please indicate below whether
you are interested in working with Common Cause on a specific
project.
1. Provide Citizenship Training Many Americans do not participate in politics
and public affairs because they do not feel they have the needed skills or
knowledge. We could provide training to citizens on how to: 1) connect with
the appropriate government officials; 2) communicate effectively with elected
officials and other decision makers; 3) work with the media to express opinions;
and, 4) organize grassroots support. Participants could be recruited from area
schools, on college campuses,
through the places people worship and among non-profit, community and
neighborhood organizations. We could also work with one or more existing
organizations to boost the citizenship skills of students through participation in
public and community service. Several training programs could be developed,
from half-day sessions to weeklong courses. We might also develop a citizens'
handbook that would serve as a companion handbook to citizenship trainings. A
companion support center, a hotline and an interactive website to provide
organizing assistance to aid community efforts could also be established.
82


Prioritize the level of importance of pursuing this project:
(Place an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Critically Important
Important
Not Particularly Important
Describe your interest in working with Common Cause on this project: (Place
an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Very Interested
Somewhat Interested
Not Interested
2. Train Organizers, Activists and Citizen Leaders Effective democracy
requires strong leadership. Common Cause and partnering organizations could
offer programs to provide citizens with the skills and tools they need to become
effective activists, organizers and citizen leaders. Trainings might provide
participants with organizing skills in: researching issues; crafting effective
messages; working with the media; building effective coalitions; raising money;
grassroots pressure; Internet organizing; lobbying; and organizing events. The
program might feature a fellowship program for promising individuals, high
school classroom instruction, workshops and/or weeklong training camps.
Supplemental materials, including an organizing
handbook and a website might be developed.
Prioritize the level of importance of pursuing this project:
(Place an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Critically Important
Important
Not Particularly Important
Describe your interest in working with Common Cause on this project: (Place
an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Very Interested
Somewhat Interested
Not Interested
83


3. Promote and Improve Civics Curricula Taking advantage of the recent work
that has been done to improve civics curricula in the schools, Common Cause
could work with its partners to encourage school boards and administrators to
restore civics curricula in our schools and adopt state-of-the art approaches that
make civic education a more meaningful
experience for students. As part of this effort, the coalition might help to recruit
classroom speakers for civic classes and work to increase interaction between
students and government.
Prioritize the level of importance of pursuing this project:
(Place an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Critically Important
Important
Not Particularly Important
Describe your interest in working with Common Cause on this project: (Place
an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Very Interested
Somewhat Interested
Not Interested
4. Build Trust and New Skills Among Elected Leaders and Among Emerging
Leaders Elected officials and political leaders often lack the training and skills
needed to communicate and work well with their constituents. We could educate
elected officials, other decision-makers, and emerging leaders on how to expand
public participation in government decision-making, improve the public
dialogue, and reconnect citizens with their government.
Prioritize the level of importance of pursuing this project:
(Place an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Critically Important
Important
Not Particularly Important
84


Describe your interest in working with Common Cause on this project: (Place
an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Very Interested
Somewhat Interested
Not Interested
5. Foster a Better Dialogue on Election Issues Common Cause and partnering
organizations could work with media organizations to develop a project around
the 2002 elections. Such an effort might convene facilitated sessions between the
media, citizens and community leaders. The goals of this effort would be to
develop media strategies that focus on the issues
citizens care most about, to require candidates to address those issues and to
provide more in-depth issue based coverage that provides citizens with the
information they need to make informed decisions about candidates and ballot
issues.
Prioritize the level of importance of pursuing this project:
(Place an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Critically Important
Important
Not Particularly Important
Describe your interest in working with Common Cause on this project: (Place
an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Very Interested
Somewhat Interested
Not Interested
6. Reduce Barriers to Civic Participation and Increase Voter Participation -
Common Cause and its partners could pursue two tracks in the structural barriers
area. First, we could convene coalition groups to develop strategies to remove
barriers to citizen participation. By bringing together nonprofit organizations,
government and elected officials, civil rights leaders, religious organizations, and
others, we could develop new strategies and recommendations for improving
citizen participation in
government. Such strategies might include: 1) using the Internet to improve
85


citizen participation in government decision-making; 2) making it easier for
citizens to vote and boosting voter turnout; and 3) reducing the influence of
special interests in political campaigns and increasing the role of average
citizens. This project could be designed to produce measurable results in targeted
communities (e.g. boosting voter turnout).
Prioritize the level of importance of pursuing this project:
(Place an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Critically Important
Important
Not Particularly Important
Describe your interest in working with Common Cause on this project: (Place
an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Very Interested
Somewhat Interested
Not Interested
7. Enlist Volunteers to Serve as Election Monitors and Poll Workers In the
aftermath of the 2000 elections, initial attention focused on poorly designed
ballots and the accuracy of voting machines, but there is strong evidence that a
severe shortage of poll workers created an equal, if not greater problem for
voters. Some voters were blocked or hampered by long lines. There were not
enough poll workers to resolve discrepancies in voter registration lists. Other
voters, particularly the disabled and language minority citizens, were unable to
get the assistance they needed at the polls. Common Cause and its partners could
join in a campaign to enlist volunteers to work as official poll workers or election
monitors on Election Day.
Prioritize the level of importance of pursuing this project:
(Place an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Critically Important
Important
Not Particularly Important
86


Describe your interest in working with Common Cause on this project: (Place
an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Very Interested
Somewhat Interested
Not Interested
Thanks for taking the time to fill out this questionnaire!!! If you have any
questions regarding this form, you can call e-mail me at
igolidnd@,commoncause.org or call me at (303) 292-2134.
87


APPENDIX
C. SURVEY RESULTS
Citizen Engagement Project
Survey of Participants on Project Ideas
47 respondents of approximately 200 participants = 23.5% response rate
1st column represents number of respondents choosing selection
2nd column represents percentage of respondents indicating selection
Percentages may not equal 100 % due to rounding
1. Provide Citizenship Training
Prioritize the level of importance of pursuing this project:
(Place an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Critically Important 24 59%
Important 16 39%
Not Particularly Important 1 2%
Describe your interest in working with Common Cause on this project: (Place
an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Very Interested 19 49%
Somewhat Interested 14 36%
Not Interested 6 15%
88


2. Train Organizers, Activists and Citizen Leaders
Prioritize the level of importance of pursuing this project:
(Place an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Critically Important 21 51%
Important 18 44%
Not Particularly Important 2 5%
Describe your interest in working with Common Cause on this project: (Place
an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Very Interested 12 35%
Somewhat Interested 10 29%
Not Interested 12 35%
3. Promote and Improve Civics Curricula
(Place an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Critically Important 30 70%
Important 10 23%
Not Particularly Important 3 7%
Describe your interest in working with Common Cause on this project: (Place
an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Very Interested 20 51%
Somewhat Interested 9 23%
Not Interested 10 26%
4. Build Trust and New Skills Among Elected Leaders and Among Emerging
Leaders
Prioritize the level of importance of pursuing this project:
(Place an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Critically Important 8 21%
Important 14 37%
Not Particularly Important 16 42%
89


Describe your interest in working with Common Cause on this project: (Place
an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Very Interested 3 8%
Somewhat Interested 11 31%
Not Interested 22 61%
5. Foster a Better Dialogue on Election Issues
Prioritize the level of importance of pursuing this project:
(Place an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Critically Important 17 44%
Important 15 38%
Not Particularly Important 7 18%
Describe your interest in working with Common Cause on this project: (Place
an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Very Interested 7 20%
Somewhat Interested 12 34%
Not Interested 16 46%
6. Reduce Barriers to Civic Participation and Increase Voter
Participation
Prioritize the level of importance of pursuing this project:
(Place an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Critically Important 20 49%
Important 18 44%
Not Particularly Important 3 7%
90


Describe your interest in working with Common Cause on this project: (Place
an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Very Interested 12 33%
Somewhat Interested 12 33%
Not Interested 12 33%
7. Enlist Volunteers to Serve as Election Monitors and Poll Workers
Prioritize the level of importance of pursuing this project:
(Place an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Critically Important 14 36%
Important 16 41%
Not Particularly Important 9 23%
Describe your interest in working with Common Cause on this project: (Place
an "X" beside the appropriate answer)
Very Interested 4 12%
Somewhat Interested 13 39%
Not Interested 16 48%
91


APPENDIX
D. LIST OF MEETING ATTENDEES
Common Cause Education Fund
Citizen Engagement Project
Colorado (July 13)
Matt Baker
Executive Director, CoPIRG
Susan Barnes-Gelt
Denver City Councilwoman
Reverend Terrance Carroll
Denver Youth For Christ
Carl Castillo
National Civic League
Susan Comfort
Director, Center for Environmental Citizenship
Bob Danknich
Gray Panthers
Dr. Jim Davis
Executive Director, Social Science Education Consortium
92