The Crisis of Democracy

Congress and the Executive Branch are currently failing to address many of the nation’s important problems in a wide range of areas, due to increasing partisan polarization leading to government gridlock. This inability to solve problems has undermined public confidence in government, putting democracy at risk.

Many speculate that partisan polarization arises from polarization in the American public, and that Members of Congress and the Executive Branch simply mirror where the public stands. This leads to the belief that the public drives Members of Congress to inevitably fight never-ending partisan trench warfare.

But surveys show that within the public there is much bipartisan common ground on a wide range of policy issues – far more than in Congress.

Research indicates that polarization and government dysfunction primarily arise from the increasing role of competing special interests seeking to influence government through partisan channels, buoyed by the increasing role of money in the political process and the exponential growth of lobbyists in government.

Americans perceive, and an abundance of research corroborates, that elected officials have a poor understanding of the views of their constituents, including their partisan base. Their means of gaining information about the views of their constituents are flawed, haphazard, and heavily skewed by the efforts of special interests. They hear from self-selected constituents through mail and calls, comments in town halls and people who approach them at public events. Members of Congress spend hours a day on fundraising calls to a narrow and unrepresentative sample of citizens, including many who are not constituents. They do not have a means of hearing from their constituents as a whole.

In the absence of clear indicators of the views of the public, it is easy for competing special interests to fill the vacuum. Thus, it is not surprising that the decisions that elected officials make are frequently at odds with the views of their constituents.

Americans believe that if their elected representatives were more responsive to the people:

  • Policymakers would be more likely to find common ground and solve America’s problems.
  • Government would serve the common good rather than special interests.

“A government ought to [be]… free from every other control but a regard to the public good and to the sense of the people.”

– Alexander Hamilton

Americans perceive that elected officials have violated a social contract – going back to the Founders – that calls for elected officials to serve the common good over special interests (or ‘factions’) and to consult “the sense of the people” to determine what best serves the common good.

To address this, Voice of the People is working to give the people a greater and more effective voice in policymaking by encouraging the use of public consultations with governmental institutions and Members of Congress. Public consultations continue to reveal extensive common ground, defined as bipartisan Republican and Democrat support, among the public on pressing public policy issues.