In a recent article in The Atlantic, Andrew McGill reports on the current environment of polarization in Congress and how it is a huge frustration with voters. He notes that electing more women to Congress is seen by some as a way to overcome this extreme partisanship, find more common ground, and make the institution work better, but so far the data on this is mixed.
One thing we know would help overcome partisanship and make Congress work better: give the American people a more effective voice on issues, once they’ve heard both sides of the debate and had a chance to think things through. In a poll by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation, an overwhelming majority of Americans supported the idea of informed citizen input for members of Congress, and indicated that government would be more likely to serve the common good, rather than special interests.
We also know, from the results of our ‘Citizen Cabinet’ initiative, that when the American people are given the basic facts, presented the strongest arguments on all sides and a chance to deliberate, they tend to come together across the partisan divide and find consensus on most issues. It turns out, the American people are a lot less polarized than the political elites and special interests that tend to carry outsized influence on Capitol Hill.
In the coming weeks and months, citizens across the country will be weighing in on several important issues that Congress faces, including U.S. energy policy, the looming shortfall in the Social Security program, Medicare, poverty and the public’s dissatisfaction with government (which will include several proposed fixes). We will continue to engage the American people on these issues, explore their informed opinions and underlying values, and present our findings to members of Congress to give them a clearer sense of where their constituents stand on these challenging topics.
Giving the people a greater voice is perhaps the best thing we can do to overcome extreme polarization and gridlock, because at the end of the day, elected officials will have to respond to an electorate that is more informed, engaged, and quite capable of coming together to solve problems.
As Alexander Hamilton said, “the cool and deliberate sense of the community…should govern,” not the “passions” of extreme partisans in either party. This is the kind of sensibility that the Citizen Cabinet initiative elicits, and it can only help to foster a more civil and reasoned discourse on issues, just as the Founders intended.