At ChangeRoots, we stand for a post-partisan world rooted in love. A world where leaders prioritize our well-being over their political loyalty. COVID-19 presents us with an opportunity to step closer into that world. It has exposed the vulnerability of our health, food, and economic systems. The first step is awareness, next comes acceptance, then action. Now is the time when we need leaders to act with respect, take the best ideas from both sides, and develop resilient systems that take care of us.
What’s the latest?
Cases / Deaths: US : 80,857 / 1,163; Italy: 80,589 / 8,215; World : 524,010 / 23,670
U.S. health response: Testing and tracking are crucial to curbing the spread; the U.S. isn’t doing enough of either.
Economic response: The Senate passed a stimulus bill twice as large as one from the 2008 financial crisis. The House votes on it tomorrow, Friday March 27th.
Bottom line: The more COVID-19 spreads, the more people die, the more drastic actions the government must take, and the more economic damage occurs.
How bad is it: The initial economic decline from the COVID-19 will likely be sharper and more painful than during the 2008 financial crisis. Unemployment could reach 20%, compared to 10% in the 2008 crisis.
Gov response: The Senate just passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill. This is in addition to $8 billion for vaccine research and $100 billion in economic aid already passed. Tomorrow, Friday, March 27, the House will vote on it.
Compared to 2008: The 2008 stimulus and industry bailout bills totaled $1.4 trillion.
What’s in the stimulus bill? The stimulus is an attempt to boost employment and economic output through grants, loans, and tax breaks to state and local governments, individuals, and businesses both large and small.
Those with children would be sent $300 per dependent child
Did the 2008 stimulus bill work?
The recession ended in July 2009, five months after Congress passed the stimulus. Economic growth immediately improved. It expanded 1.5% in the third quarter of 2009 after shrinking 4.4% in Q1 2009. Within 18 months, the economy added 4.1 million jobs, after losing more than 500,000 jobs a month during the recession.
Our Post-Partisan Take
This crisis is forcing both parties to remember that everyone’s common goal should be serving the American people. The Senate voted unanimously on this bill with aspects of it that each party had to compromise on. Hopefully, this can carry forward in tackling problems beyond COVID-19 and result in more prompt legislation.
By now, you’ve heard about the coronavirus (COVID-19) that is spreading across the globe. As of March 18, 2020, all 50 states are reporting cases of the virus. The total count in the US has reached 5,881 confirmed cases and 107 deaths (source NYTimes).
With city-wide shutdowns, people are spending and earning less, businesses are suffering and it looks like we’re headed towards an economic recession.
Congress just passed the Coronavirus Relief Bill to support citizens and the economy with overwhelming bipartisan support on March 18, 2020. President Trump signed it that night.
What’s included in the bill?
Pays for coronavirus testing
Requires paid sick leave for those affected
Helps businesses pay for sick leave
Strengthens unemployment insurance benefits for those fired or have hours reduced
Helps low-income families afford food
The bill passed Congress and has been signed into law by President Trump. Trump requested a separate and huuuuuge (like $1 trillion) stimulus package and things like immediate relief in the form of $1,000 checks for all citizens (s/o to Andrew Yang) and bailouts for industries impacted like airlines. That’s what’s coming in part 3.
Part 1: $8.3 billion to fund spurring coronavirus vaccine research and development (passed March 6)
Part 2: $100 billion largely focused on paid sick leave and unemployment benefits for workers and families (passed March 18)
Part 3: $750 billion – $1 trillion to prevent a recession (being drafted). This would be larger than the $700 billion economic relief bill passed during the 2008 recession.
What’s the Post-partisan take?
It’s a scary and trying time as information and the world around us seem to change daily. And while we’re in a state of uncertainty, we’re also looking for glimmers of hope. Congress passing a bill with such overwhelming bipartisan support?A huge glimmer. President Trump demanding relief by putting cash in the hands of struggling Americans, with Democrats supporting the demand? Triple huge glimmer.
We’re seeing small examples of what we can happen when we put down political loyalty and pick up protecting the wellbeing of all Americans first. Now imagine if this was how we operated all the time. That’s the post-partisan world we’re fighting to create.
WTF Does the Coronavirus Bill Mean for Me?
If you get sick…
The government will pay for the test confirming you’re sick.
Your health insurance (or lack of) determines how much the rest of your care cost.
The government will pay your company to pay you for sick leave – if you work at a company between 50 and 500 people
If you are told to quarantine the government will cover part of your loss of income
Welcome to our weekly breakdown of political issues within a post-partisan context that puts our wellbeing over political loyalty.
TL;DR: A Better Way To Primary
The way we choose presidential nominees is like using a flip phone in the iPhone era. Statewide elections held at different times that require voters to pick one candidate lead to shitty outcomes. Don’t fret, there is a way to make primaries sexy: have each state vote on the same day using ranked-choice voting.
How Primaries Work
Honestly, it’s a mess. In simple terms, delegates are chosen by the voters, and the candidate with the most delegates wins. Voters chose delegates in state primaries which are held over the course of four months from Feb to June.
Alas, it’s not that clean (of course), because how states do delegates is weird. First, the number of delegates a state gets to award is based on population and voter turnout (weird). You can also get “bonus” delegates if you hold an election the same day as other states (hence “Super Tuesday” where 14 states held their primary on March 3rd). Some state delegates are awarded based on how districts within the state voted while others are awarded based on how the state voted overall.
If no candidate has been awarded more than 50% of delegates by the end of primaries, the Democrats have a sketchy tiebreaker process using superdelegates. Superdelegates are roughly 400 party elites (wealthy donors, former politicians, etc.) who get to award 15% of all delegates to whoever they want to. This last happened in 1952.
Primaries Don’t Work So Good
The main ways in which primaries are flawed:
People don’t vote for who they think is best.
We are more likely to vote for the candidate who other people voted for, rather than who we individually think is best. We do this because social influence undermines our ability to make independent decisions. When we learn lots of other people made a specific decision, like voting for Joe Biden, we become far more likely to vote for Biden. This is a well-studied behavior in humans. Having states vote at different times amplifies this effect.
States who vote later have fewer choices
Staggering when states vote for candidates leads to fewer choices for voters in later-voting states. Voters in South Carolina had 12 options in the Democratic primary. Only three Democratic candidates for President are still running. This is after less than half the states have held their primaries.
Some votes don’t count
Approximately 2 million ballots were cast in the Democratic primary in advance of their state’s election day in various states. Judging from polls, somewhere between one-eighth and one-fifth of these voters chose Amy Klobuchar or Pete Buttigieg, and then learned that their favorite had dropped out of the race after they sent in their ballot. In other words, at least 240,000 people’s votes around the country now don’t count. Woof.
People don’t vote in primaries
Less than 30% of eligible voters vote in primary elections. Our guess, voters don’t feel like spending their valuable time participating in something that doesn’t make sense to them.
Sexy Primaries Use Ranked-Choice Voting
The confusing, drawn-out way we do primaries ain’t a good look, but there’s hope. What is sexy is using ranked-choice voting where each state votes on the same day and voters rank candidates in order of preference.
Ranked-choice voting explained
Voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the last-place candidate is eliminated and those who marked that candidate as No. 1 get their second choice counted instead. That can go on for several rounds until a candidate emerges with a majority.
Here are more reasons why it’s great:
People vote for who they think is best
We increase the likelihood people vote for who they think is best by having every state vote on the same day. Voters won’t see the results of other states and be influenced by whose winning elsewhere.
Voting on the same day means all voters across the country would get the same candidate choices rather than candidates dropping out after early state results.
All votes count
Ranked-choice voting ensures that people have at least one of their preferences counted in the final tally. Also, voting on the same day ensures no candidates are on the ballot that are no longer running.
Under ranked-choice voting, candidates vie for non-core voters to rank them second. Therefore candidates don’t want to offend voters who might rank them second by attacking voters’ preferred candidate.
By increasing turnout and incentivizing candidates to earn second place ranks by voters leads to a reduction in polarization in elections using ranked-choice voting.
Sounds too good, why aren’t we using it?
The people in power were elected using the current system, so they are scared of something new. It’s like that friend who refuses to download the latest Apple update…their battery drains super quick and their apps don’t work, but they’re too scared of change to update.
The operating system of our democracy is outdated, we need an #upgrade.
What can I do about it?
Glad you asked. On the ChangeRoots app, we calculate a post-partisan score for each politician. Politicians who support ranked-choice voting get mad points. So, go to the app, find politicians with a good score, show them some love by micro-donating to their campaign.
We created ChangeRoots to help build world rooted in love, where we stand for wellbeing over political loyalty. This we call post partisanship.
Our mission is to equip people to influence politicians to do better and prioritize us — the people — over their political team. We empower people to support leaders that rise above partisanship, bridge divides and create resilient, win-win solutions.
How We Do That
Through the ChangeRoots app, users micro-donate to U.S. politicians or their opponents by tapping “like” or “dislike” on curated statements published on a Twitter-like feed. To make it easy for the user to reward post-partisanship, each statement featured on the feed is tagged as post-partisan, toxic, or neutral based on our proprietary tribalism framework. We gamified the app experience to reward users who encourage post-partisan behavior. We also educate our users through the Politidex, which breaks down and compares policies between politicians, quizzes, and partisan scores.
Why Will That Work
Micro-donations tied to specific statements deliver politicians clear incentives. Politicians are shown exactly why they received funding or why their opponent did. The more politicians take post partisan actions, the more funding they get from the ChangeRoots community. The more they take toxic actions, the more funding their opponent gets. It becomes a very simple equation for politicians. Act post-partisan, get funded. Act toxic, get fired.
A Movement Harnessing Existing Energy
ChangeRoots harnesses the growing energy and numbers of younger Americans who are fed up with tribalism and demanding better from leaders and government. Our generations, Millennials and Gen Z, vote with our wallets and choose what companies to buy from based on values rather than price. We feel more fulfilled when we are provided opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues. We don’t identify with either political party in record numbers because the current system doesn’t work for us.
Meet The Next Generation Where They Are
We connect with each other online, in group chats and through social apps. We research before making decisions, spend our money as an expression of our values, and are most fulfilled when participating in movements we believe will make the world better.
ChangeRoots is designed with all of that in mind. ChangeRoots empowers us to influence politicians through a social app, provides data and sources, and enables us to vote with our wallets to incentivize politicians to put us over their self-interest.
Provide Impactful Knowledge
Millennials and Gen Z’s appetite for data, high design standards, and short attention spans mean we want information to be easily accessible and clear.
The ChangeRoots app provides a new way to compare policies and politicians. Stances are broken down in plain english and politicians can be compared side by side through an intuitive design. ChangeRoots contextualizes politicians by providing campaign finance data, professional experience, a data-driven bipartisan score, and a data-driven legislative effectiveness score. This data and design helps users quickly identify which politicians align with their values and empowers them to more confident action on what matters to them.
Empower Potent Action
After arming users with rich and relevant knowledge, ChangeRoots empowers potent action. ChangeRoots transforms one of the most effective weapons in politics — money — into a potent tool of good.
By enabling users to deliver positive or negative reinforcement through micro-donations just by tapping “like” or “dislike” on a politician’s statement, ChangeRoots puts a powerful mechanism of behavioral influence into a smartphone app. The social features pool the community’s money together into powerful force. No longer just an individual at the mercy of a broken system, the ChangeRoots movement bands together to change the power structure.
This is all made possible by a confluence of technological, legal, societal and behavioral advances. Technology recently made one-tap micro donations seamless, campaign finance rules changed to allow funds to raise money for eventual electoral opponents and Twitter normalized tracking specific statements via a feed and our generation now signals our values by how we spend our money. All of these elements come together on ChangeRoots to give our movement a real shot at making a difference. We won’t just be gathering a large group asking for vague change, we ask our community to put their money where their mouth is and make specific demands that carry real consequences.
Post Partisanship Not Tribalism
ChangeRoots provides knowledge and tools to help us move beyond partisanship into something better. ChangeRoots empowers people to lead with love, treat people with respect and help leaders develop powerful solutions to complex problems. We call this post-partisanship. A hallmark of post-partisanship is bridging behavior. Bridging unifies us and incorporates different ideas and perspectives to benefit all in society. Bridging finds common ground and seeks win-win solutions.
What we see today is post partisanship’s opposite; tribalism. A tribal mind distrusts and fears others they deem different. Tribalism divides the world into teams and believes the “other side” is inferior. Tribalism stokes fear, contempt and hate.
ChangeRoots trains both those in the movement and the leaders they influence how to bridge, not break. ChangeRoots trains people through systematic education and content delivered through the app. It trains politicians by channeling donations to them each time they act in a post partisan way while funding their opponent each time they act tribal.
At the end of the day, we aspire to be shepherds of this movement. We want to offer our vision for a better world, build effective tools, and offer guidance we think may help. Ultimately, this movement is driven by the people. They have the power, we’re simply here to remind them of that and make it easier for them to claim it for themselves.
Jake Sandler is CEO and cofounder ofChangeRoots, a startup on a mission to end toxic partisanship by empowering Millennials to wield micro donations as positive and negative reinforcement for politicians.
Racist comments are damaging, so is othering the one who said it
I want to acknowledge that I am writing this from a place of privilege. I am a straight-white-man. That said, My father is Jewish and I’ve experienced limited discrimination from being subjected to anti-semitic comments and beliefs.
By othering, I mean any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as “not one of us”. We often forget each person is a complex bundle of emotions, ideas, motivations, reflexes, priorities, and many other subtle aspects. Instead we dismiss them as being categorically one thing. This diminishes their humanity and worthiness in our minds.
When someone simplifies us to a single aspect of ourselves, we usually retaliate. We respond in kind, by othering them back. We see this when someone makes a racist comment. Immediately people respond by labeling them as a racist. You might be thinking, “well of course, they are a racist.” There is a critical distinction between being called a racist vs being told your comment is racist. When called a racist, people feel they are being simplified and attacked. When called out for making a racist comment, pyschologically speaking, people don’t feel so attacked and are willing to engage in a constructive dialogue about it. They may not have realized that their comment was offensive or the magnitude of hurt it caused. Labeling them a racist cuts off their ability to constructively reflect.
When you other another person you tell your subconscious that individual can no longer be anything except the label you’ve bestowed upon them. If you call someone a racist you are saying they embody racism, have always been racist and will always be racist. This cuts off your own ability to believe in their ability to change and to become a better version of themselves. Similarly when someone is othered, they feel their own humanity attacked, which through a perverse quirk of human psychology makes them double down on whatever they feel attacked about.
Put simply, calling someone a racist makes them more likely to say racist things.
What can be done differently?
Conversely, if you highlight the specific action that offended and tell that person how it offended you, studies have shown the individual is far more likely to empathize with your perspective, genuinely apologize and change their future behavior.
Trump’s comments towards four congresswomen of color to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” illustrates this point. His racist comment othered not only those congresswomen, but also those who identify and support them. He disrespected them and diminished millions of people’s humanity in the process. In retaliation, most of those congresswomen and their supporters called Trump a racist. This othered Trump and all of his supporters, diminishing millions of people’s humanity to the single label as ‘a racist’. Both sides double downed, traded angry comments and feel more animosity towards each other than they did before.
The high road sucks, yet it’s our best hope
We are in a cycle of attacking, labeling and othering one another. When someone offends you, it’s hurtful, angering, heartbreaking and infuriating. It is a very human and completely understandable reaction to respond by othering them for their offensive behavior. Yet, as Gandhi put it:
“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind”
When someone blinds you, you have a choice. You can other the person in retaliation. Or you can call out the specific action, tell them how it offended you and extend an offer to work with them. One furthers the cycle while the other helps break it.
You are probably thinking that it is unfair for those who are offended to be the ones to rise above — you’re not wrong. Yet truly breaking this cycle — to achieve a better society — requires those subject to offense to be courageous. It requires people to rise above and to lead by example.
“By focusing on words and actions instead of on labels, you may be able to get individuals who show racial insensitivity to rethink their behavior. By calling them racist, however, you’re much more likely to get an empty apology and defensive rationalizations, all while the person who offended you remains as clueless about racism as ever…
Sometimes “racism” isn’t the best word to describe someone’s behavior because it isn’t specific enough. Rather than using a word such as “racist,” perhaps you want to point out to a friend that his behavior stereotyped [a specific race] or that the comment he made…was xenophobic.”
“The problem with “racism” is that it’s a personal insult, and it’s almost as impossible to prove it as to disprove it. It’s not a terribly illuminating term, either: If you call me a racist, you haven’t really described anything I’ve done that’s objectionable. You’ve just somehow designated me, and my so-far unchallenged arguments, outside the pale, so to speak.”
Jake Sandler is a cofounder of ChangeRoots, a millennial focused startup on a mission to root out the toxic partisanship infecting our politics by enabling people to micro donate to politicians (or their future challengers) based on their statements and actions.
Toxic partisans have contempt for those in the other party, insult them, won’t listen to ideas outside their party, refuse to compromise and put their own interests over the country.
We estimate three-quarters of elected officials are toxic partisans while only one-third of regular people display these characteristics.
Toxic partisanship leads to zero-sum thinking, revenge politics and gridlock.
If we don’t reverse toxic partisanship things will get worse.
But…we’ve got a plan
Educate: We teach people about what toxic partisanship looks like in real life by translating dense research into easily digestible content.
Identify: We identify toxic partisans by using public to score elected officials on a partisan scale.
Empower: We discourage toxic behavior by enabling people to micro fund those running against toxic partisans
Connect: We connect leaders and voters who share post partisan values to power up the movement.
Enjoy: We design the app as a game to maximize delight.
Tell me more about this toxic partisanship thing
You’ve seen it, you’ve felt it. You can detect a toxic partisan by the way they speak and by the way they act.
Toxic partisans not only look down on those in the other party, they have contempt for them. Toxic partisans love to trigger political debates (in person or on social media) so they can prove how “right” they are. They genuinely believe they know what’s best for the country. They believe all of our problems would be solved if everybody else would shut up and just follow their advice.
Toxic partisans don’t need to hear the other side because they’ve already figured out why it’s flawed. Some toxic partisans are more polite, but you can smell their political righteousness anyway.
We think of toxic partisanship as a contagious disease. It infects Americans from every walk of life and political ideology. We especially see it running rampant among those in positions of power and in the media. The more people are exposed to toxic partisanship, the more it spreads within them. It leads to zero-sum thinking, revenge politics and gridlock. To put it bluntly, toxic partisanship is ripping our country apart.
At ChangeRoots, we are attempting to bring intellectual rigor to how we define and evaluate toxic partisanship. We analyze a spectrum of research to understand the nuances. While it’s still very much a work in progress, our current model identifies seven core characteristics of toxic partisanship:
Ideological orthodoxy — refusal to entertain views or solutions outside a predetermined set of ideals or compromise.
Contempt for the other side — a mixture of hate and disgust for those in the other party characterized by insulting them or using dehumanizing language.
Focus on differences — maximizing attention on that which divides us from those in other political parties.
Self-interest — prioritizing votes, statements and actions to win re-election over what is in the best long-term interest of constituents.
Zero-sum mindset (win-lose) — the belief anything the other party considers a “win” is necessarily a loss for your side. And vice versa.
Assuming negative intent — assuming the worst possible interpretation of any action or statement by someone in the other party.
Self-righteousness — the belief in a single ‘right’ and moral way to act or think, your way.
Take a moment and think of someone you know personally or an elected official who exhibits these qualities. We all know far too many. To be clear, toxic partisanship has nothing to do with which party you identify with. There are equal amounts of toxic partisan Democrats as there are toxic partisan Republicans.
So how big is the problem?
A landmark study conducted on polarization by Common Cause identified seven distinct groups of Americans they call our “Hidden Tribes of America: distinguished not by who they are or what they look like, but what they believe.”
The study broke down the country into the Wings (the most extreme) and the Exhausted Majority (everybody else).
“[For those in the Wings] tribalism runs deep in their thinking. Their distrust and fear of the opposing side drives many of the people in these groups, and they have especially negative opinions of each other. When people today speak about how Americans seem to hate each other, they’re usually talking about the opinions and behaviors of the Wings…
In contrast, the remaining two-thirds of Americans show more diversity in their political views, express less certainty about them, and are more open to compromise and change — even on issues that we all tend to consider highly polarizing.”
At ChangeRoots, we consider the 15% most left-wing and 15% most right-wing part of the population to be toxic partisans. While toxic partisans represent only 30% of the population, they, unfortunately, dominate the national conversation and represent a much larger portion of the media and elected officials. We estimate as much as 75% of elected officials and political journalists are toxic partisans, according to our definition.
How do we fight toxic partisanship?
Now that we’ve defined it and better understand the danger it poses, the time has come to develop an antidote. We can’t wait until we perfectly understand all of the different ways toxic partisanship manifests. We have to begin reversing its spread immediately to revitalize our republic.
Post partisanship is our proposed antidote. Post partisanship is a set of values and characteristics that represent what our best leaders should embody. It is the opposite of toxic partisanship. It is the Ariel to the toxic Ursula.
What actually is post partisanship?
We want leaders that focus on common ground, look for win-win solutions, make decisions based on evidence and show civility towards all people, including those in the other party. To put it simply, it is a leader who we want our children to be like when they grow up.
While our research continues, we’ve stood on the shoulders of many great thinkers to develop an initial set of characteristics that represent post partisanship:
Evidence-based decision making — using the best available research evidence — in addition to citizen preferences and personal values — to develop, explain and vote on policy. Regardless of party platform.
Adventurous civility — Respecting the dignity and ideas of those with whom you profoundly disagree, while acting upon your own beliefs.
Common ground focus — maximizing attention on that which we share with those in other political parties.
Public service — Doing what you believe is in the best interest of the public even if it hurts your chances of re-election (e.g. pissing off big donors to do what you believe is right)
Non-zero sum mindset (win-win) — The belief there is always an outcome where all stakeholders benefit and a commitment to put in whatever effort it takes to discover that outcome.
Assuming positive intent — Assuming the best possible interpretation of any action or statement by someone, until proven otherwise.
Humbleness — The belief there is not one right way to do things and the openness to being persuaded to adopt a different approach.
Now take a moment to consider someone in your life or someone you admire that exhibits these qualities. How do they treat people? How do they lead? We each know someone who embodies post partisanship. Imagine if all of our elected officials acted like that person you are thinking of. What could our country accomplish then?
As with toxic partisanship, post partisanship exists in both parties. There are equal amounts of post partisan Democrats as there are post partisan Republicans. You don’t need to give up your party in order to act in a post partisan manner.
Post partisanship is a set of values unattached to any party’s platform. It is a code of behavior that exemplifies our very best.
Okay, but how do we actually inject post partisanship into the country?
ChangeRoots’ mission is to reverse the toxic partisanship infecting our country. We believe the most effective way to do so is by getting millions of people to reward post partisan behavior and discourage toxic behavior. We envision a world where each time a politician takes a post partisan action, millions send them a quarter. For each toxic action, millions send their challenger a quarter. Do good, get rewarded. Act toxic, suffer the consequence.
I know at first glance that the idea of adding more money to politics as a cure for toxicity seems counterintuitive. Even offensive. We felt the same way. However, as we thought deeply about what truly motivates politicians. it became clear to us this could actually help.
Right now, most politicians are primarily motivated by getting re-elected. This is the problem. They care about their seat in Congress more than doing what is right for the country. It hit us, why not use that fact to our advantage? So we asked ourselves three crucial questions:
What if we created a way where it was in the self-interest of politicians to act post-partisan?
What if, by leading with integrity, treating people with respect, being evidence-based and working across the aisle, a politician could actually raise more money, from more people, than they could any other way?
What if, when they acted like a toxic partisan, they triggered huge sums of money being sent to their next opponent?
In this reality, it becomes a simple calculation for a politician: Act post partisan, get elected. Act toxic partisan, get fired.
I’m skeptical, why will this work?
Behavioral science teaches that potent feedback is immediate, specific and consequential. If feedback is all three of those things, behavior change is likely. Think about how you teach a dog or a child.
Micro donating in reaction to specific actions makes feedback potent. If politicians don’t wise up, then we keep funding their opponent until they lose election. We want to keep things simple; good leaders are amplified, toxic leaders are fired.
Make Good Trouble
Civil rights leader John Lewis once urged people that “sometimes you have to get in good trouble to make a difference that matters.” All we know is that we’re out here making some trouble — we hope you do the same.
Polarization is a scientific term to describe the nature of two magnets that physically repel one another. An invisible force literally pushes polarized objects away from each other.
When discussing polarization in politics this strikes me as an apt metaphor. Polarized politicians repel those in the other party with their behavior. They push those outside of their “tribe” away with insults, contempt and political sabotage. In a world where we have massive problems (like debt, immigration, healthcare and climate change to name a few) this behavior from our leaders is insanity.
The bad news is that polarization is getting worse. The good news is that we can actually do something about it. Here are 6 ways we can depolarize American politics.
Focus on citizens over elites – Elites have too much political influence. Politicians who focus on what’s best for all citizens, from both parties, rather than a tiny group of elites often find common ground between parties. A candidate who prioritizes raising small donations rather than large donations signals they prioritize regular people over elites.
Change the way we vote – We currently elect politicians through winner-take-all voting. The candidate with the most votes wins. Research shows elections become less polarized after adopting something called ranked-choice voting rather than traditional winner-take-all voting. There is less negative campaigning, higher turnout and higher rates of people reporting they feel like the system is working for them. Ireland, Australia and in the US; Maine, New York City and 23 cities use ranked-choice voting.
End gerrymandering – Gerrymandering is cheating. It’s the party in power unfairly using their power to draw congressional districts in a way that makes it more likely that those in their party get elected. The good news is there is a way to make it fair; appoint a nonpartisan group of experts to draw the districts. Studies show elections become less polarized when this happens. The district becomes more competitive, meaning nearly equal amounts of Republicans and Democrats vote for candidates. This leads to less extreme politicians, on both sides, getting elected.
Bridge, don’t break – Bridging occurs when members of different groups reach beyond their own group to members of other groups to build common ground. It is being respectful to others. It is recognizing the humanity of all people. Breaking is the opposite of bridging. Breaking is turning against the “outsider” group or the other. Breaking language is insulting, dehumanizing and focused on what makes us different. Studies show that people exposed to bridging language become more open, trusting and flexible in their views while those exposed to breaking language become more combative and closed-minded.
Adopt a win-win mindset – This is understanding a “win” for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one party gets their way. A win-lose (or “zero-sum” mindset) not only limits creativity by limiting perspectives, but it creates resentment in those who are the “losers”. When the other party (the “losers”) then take power, they seek retribution. They now want the other party to “lose” as they did, creating a vicious cycle that leads to bad outcomes for regular people. A win-win mindset increases creativity and harmony, leading to better solutions to difficult problems.
Work across the aisle – Politicians who work with the other party the most – co-sponsoring bills together, voting together – are the least polarized candidates. They are often the ones making peace between parties and hammering out the solutions that end up getting passed.
Depolarizing the country should be our top priority. It is the fastest way to achieve a better life for us all. By supporting politicians who exhibit these qualities and support these reforms, we can achieve a post-partisan world where we all are living our best life.
In my journey building my own civic tech company, I have spent what feels like thousands of hours looking at every political website and app in existence. I’ve looked deeply into who donates to politicians, how much they donate and how campaigns spend that money. We’ve included a lot of this information in the ChangeRoots app, and if you’re into getting your hands on the data yourself, here is a practical guide that will hopefully make your life easier.
ProPublica does amazing investigative journalism to expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions. They’ve created a site that ingests and displays public campaign finance information that almost works great.
What I like:
Data: They analyze lots of data in a cool way
Design: Their interface is readable and looks good
The government’s website tracking political campaign data has improved dramatically in the last few years. You can actually look up details on donors, candidates and campaign spending relatively easy with their new interface.
Our overall trust in the media has hit an all-time low and it can be difficult to find good news sources exposing you to multiple sides of an issue. Worries about accuracy and bias increase our mistrust while the sheer volume of content can be debilitating when searching for differing yet credible opinions.
The good news is that recent research suggests that trust in the media is not permanently broken, it can be restored. Also, researchers found that media echo chambers, the idea that things like the Facebook algorithm are limiting our exposure to other views, have been exaggerated.
Since our mission at ChangeRoots is to end toxic partisanship, we spend a lot of time studying how media increases polarization through biased writing. We use what we learn to provide post-partisan context to political news for our users. Here are some good resources and tips on how to detect bias that I’ve learned from our own journey.
Read about the same topic from different political perspectives with Allsides.com
Allsides is a great resource to help people step outside their partisan bubbles. Their website publishes articles on the same topic from publications across the political spectrum. They use a rigorous method to rate publicans on a left to right spectrum. Their weekly newsletter does a roundup of stories with snippets from Left, Right and Center reporting on the same topics.
Check them out and sign up for their newsletter here. Review the methodology they use in assigning ratings here.
Ad Fontes analyzes news content using a rigorous, non-partisan methodology to rank news for overall reliability and bias. The chart is a bit clunky to navigate at first, but once you stare and click around for a few minutes it becomes a fascinating and insightful resource. My favorite part (nerd alert) is that they have developed a way to score news organizations on their level of reliability in addition to bias.
See their interactive chart here. Review the methodology they use in assigning ratings here.
Get an email with snippets from the left and right each day with The Flip Side
Their website says it best, ”see the whole political picture with the points from both sides in one easy 5-minute email a day.” They feature one topic per day and pull quotes from various media on both the left and right to give you a quick way to see how each side is framing the issue. I like how they limit it to one topic a day, but give you five or more snippets from each side on that one topic. This gives you a wider variety of perspectives within the conservative and progressive worlds.
Allsides (mentioned above) has compiled an excellent and detailed guide on the nuance of how to spot bias in the media. It breaks down the difference between spin, presenting opinions as fact, sensationalism and much more. The guide is long, but it has great examples of highlighting different elements of bias within actual articles. If you don’t want to read all the words, I recommend skimming the examples they include throughout the guide.
When partisan contempt has been darkest, surprising collaborations have improved prosperity for millions
A Brief History of Bipartisanship
Toxic partisanship continues to deepen in America. We are in a period of unusual political bitterness. While our leaders call each other names and prey upon our fears, we face massive issues like poverty, debt, climate change, immigration and healthcare that seem impossible to solve. For many of us, we don’t feel like we’ve ever seen a functional government. However, our own history teaches us bipartisan action can happen in swift and surprising ways on the most intractable of issues.
I want to take a quick tour through our history to highlight moments where our leaders found common ground in unlikely moments.
Lincoln’s Team of Rivals
Republican Abraham Lincoln beat three Republicans to win the nomination and then a Democrat to win the presidency in 1860. Once elected, he appointed all three rivals as well as a prominent Democrat to his cabinet. It would be as if Elizabeth Warren was elected president and appointed Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden and Mitt Romney to her cabinet.
World War II Recovery
The Marshall Plan, which gave billions in aid to help rebuild Western Europe after the war, passed with bipartisan support where the Republicans controlled Congress and the Democrats controlled the White House. Most consider the Marshall Plan very successful because the countries involved experienced a rise in their gross national products of 15 to 25 percent during the plan.
The Civil Rights Act was a landmark civil rights law that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It was passed with over 60% of both parties voting for it. The bill was supported by northern Democrats but was fiercely opposed by southern Democrats. It could not be passed without Republican support. Republican leaders joined forces with northern Democrats to pass the bill with 71 votes in the Senate.
Saving Aid to the Poor
Originally established by in the ’20s, discontinued during the Great Depression and re-established in the 1960s, the food stamp program came under fire from Republicans for being too costly. In 1977, common ground was found by Democratic senator George McGovern and Republican senator Bob Dole, who together advocated for streamlining the program by cutting costs, resolving eligibility problems, and making it easier for participants to receive their food stamps.
Saving Retirement Benefits
Republican President Reagan campaigned to reduce the size of government yet confronted a large Democratic majority in the House who fiercely supported Social Security. Social Security was going to run a deficit if nothing was done. Despite this and other differences, a bipartisan compromise on Social Security was reached in 1983. It stands in hindsight as about as striking a breakthrough imaginable in a deeply polarized atmosphere. The 1983 agreement succeeded in extending the trust fund’s solvency for the next few generations.
Despite a bitterly divided government in 1996, the Republican-controlled Congress passed and Democratic President Bill Clinton signed into law one of the most sweeping changes to the country’s welfare system. The legislation, which ended a 60-year federal guarantee of aid to the poor, angered many Democrats, but also irked conservatives who considered the bill’s incentives to be too generous. Regardless, nearly every House and Senate Republican voted in favor of the measure, and a majority of Senate Democrats supported it, too. After the bill’s passage, the country saw a sharp decline in poverty rates and in the number of people on the welfare rolls.
Massive Education Reform
One of Republican President George W. Bush’s first initiatives after taking office was an overhaul of standards-based education programs. It stalled until Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, one of the strongest proponents of education reform and also one of the president’s most powerful detractors, lent his name to the bill that it gained enough support to pass with bipartisan support.
Reducing Money in Politics
Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold and Republican Sen. John McCain, both ardent supporters of campaign finance reform, believed they needed a bipartisan reform bill to address the problem of money in politics. The bipartisan bill passed in 2002 changed how donations could be used to support political parties and candidates and demanded that television campaign ads clearly identify who paid for them.
Massive Medical Research Expansion
A sweeping bipartisan agreement to expand medical research was signed into law in December 2016. The bill easily passed both chambers of Congress due to the bipartisan initiatives that were included in it. It provided funds to expand biomedical research to find cures and treatments for various illnesses and diseases as well as to study the human brain and mental disorders. It also allowed for more collaboration among government and private-sector researchers and provided for faster drug approval.
“The Night is Always Darkest Before the Dawn”
While things may feel hopeless, history shows us how we can step outside of our partisan boxes and into a post-partisan world. Stay hopeful.
Jake Sandler is CEO and cofounder of ChangeRoots, a startup on a mission to end toxic partisanship by empowering Millennials to wield micro donations as positive and negative reinforcement for politicians.