Standing on Common Ground

We know Americans are less polarized than Congress. Hear straight from the experts where that knowledge can take us.

August 16, 2020

Panelists participating in a Zoom call to present data from The Common Ground of the American PeopleLast week, we introduced you to a new report that found nearly 150 policy positions on which Republicans and Democrats agree. This report is a heavy counterweight to the narrative that Americans are hopelessly polarized, and that Congress can’t possibly get anything done without alienating half of the electorate.

If you missed our recent launch event, you can now watch the full presentation and discussion, which offers a deeper look at how everyone – elected officials, citizens, business leaders, and others – can use the hard data on consensus to solve problems. Here are a few (lightly edited) highlights from our incredible panelists:

Kristie De Peña – Vice President for Policy & Director of Immigration Policy, Niskanen Center

“I think that the present moment may not seem immediately ripe for moderation or for finding common ground solutions. But I would argue that that is the exact moment that you want to be presenting data like this and you want to be showing lawmakers that there is a different way to talk about and address some of these issues. I think, by and large, we have seen across the board that both the center and center-left are losing ground to ideology, to populism, to a number of different things. But this kind of data actually does give us sort of a rare opportunity to try and regain a foothold in American politics again. And I think that if we are able to build more moderate factions within our two major parties, that will be a really good investment of our time and energy, if we want a more deliberative and productive political system. And I think that the ideas and the policies that are laid out in this data are the basis to inspire a lot of those discussions and those ideas moving forward.”

Amy Dacey – Executive Director, Sine Institute of Policy & Politics at American University

“This is difficult, challenging work, but it was reassuring to know that in close to 150 issue areas, you have found some ways to collaborate. I do think that this is an opportunity to bring this information to all different areas, whether you’re in the public or in the private sector. And the question is, are we willing to have these conversations and make sure that there are two-way conversations? I think it’s a great time to be sharing this information at this point in our history, with what’s going on in the national dialogue and with an election coming up. It’s very interesting to me. There have got to be tools out there to try and find collaboration and change. It’s not sustainable in some respects to keep this divisiveness going.  And so I’m glad that the doors are open and that this information exists – and I’m hopeful.”

Jillian Youngblood – Executive Director, Common Ground Solutions

“People really have a sense that there is a loss of legitimacy when it comes to how policy decisions get made. Our goal at Common Ground Solutions is to highlight where we see these huge areas of consensus on a wide variety of issues. I think the breadth of this report is staggering. We’re talking about nearly 150 different places where you can throw a dart and get something done, and people will mostly agree with you. So we want to lift up the hard data that shows that to be true. And then we want to give people an opportunity to put it into some context with their neighbors. So you’re getting together not with random people on Twitter, but with people who live in your community, who live in your congressional district. And we want to create these opportunities where people can actually talk to their elected officials and understand how those decisions get made. People don’t necessarily know where the levers are in government that would make a difference. They’re able to make these complex decisions, but they don’t have some of the fairly basic information that will get them there. So that’s what we want to do: educate people as to where the levers in government are that can get things done and connect them with their elected representatives so that they can actually have deeper conversations on these issues.”

Steven Kull – Director, Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland & Founder, Voice of the People

“The answer in people’s minds isn’t simply compromise, reach across the aisle, and try to go to the middle. Their perception of the problem is that special interests are in control of members of Congress and that they’re not serving the common good, they’re not serving the people – so just reaching across the aisle will do nothing because the other side is worse. That’s not necessarily the answer. What they do respond very much to is the idea that members of Congress need to be more responsive to their constituents and they believe that if elected representatives would consult their constituents more, that they would find common ground more. And our research says that they’re right. So it’s not simply about going to where the middle is or trying to build bridges. It’s about listening to the people, because they believe that would help counter the effect of special interests. There’s so much mistrust of government in both parties, and a feeling that members of Congress are really just controlled by their campaign donors.”

Read the full report here and dive further into the issues here. If you’re exploring the report for the first time, here’s a quick key that will make it easier to digest:

  • Proposals with a gold medal had 60 percent or higher support,
  • Proposals with a silver medal had 51-59 percent support, and
  • Proposals with a bronze medal had support of less than 51 percent, but 53 percent or more found the proposal at least tolerable, or didn’t oppose it.

We’re grateful for all the positive feedback we’ve received about the launch of this report, and hope you will reach out to us with your thoughts and questions at

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This article originally appeared in the August 16, 2020 issue of Wide Angle, our regular newsletter designed, we hope, to inform rather than inflame. Each edition brings you original articles by Common Ground Solutions, a quiz, and published articles — from across the political spectrum — that we think are worth reading. We make a special effort to cover good work being done to bridge political divides, and to offer constructive information on ways our readers can engage in the political process and make a difference on issues that matter to them.

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