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Governing in a Polarized America: A Bipartisan Blueprint to Strengthen our Democracy

The Bipartisan Policy Center launched the Commission on Political Reform in 2013 to investigate the causes and consequences of America’s partisan political divide and to advocate for specific reforms that will improve the political process and that will work in a polarized atmosphere.

The commission met at public and private institutions across the country to hear from interested citizens, political leaders, and issue experts about the problems and potential solutions. It is clear that Americans are concerned about the lack of civil discourse and the increasing inability of the U.S. political system to grapple with the nation’s biggest challenges. These shortcomings put the nation at risk of losing its standing in the world.

This report, Governing in a Polarized America: A Bipartisan Blueprint to Strengthen our Democracy, is the culmination of the commission’s public and private deliberations, but it is not the end of its work. Our recommendations provide a realistic path forward to strengthen U.S. democracy. The commission does not pretend to have discovered the cure to all that ails democracy. But, 29 Americans have come together as part of our commission to embrace a truly bipartisan reform agenda.

The commission identifies reforms in three specific areas: the electoral process, the process by which Congress legislates and manages its own affairs, and the ability of Americans to plug into the nation’s civic life through public service. We chose to focus on three broad areas of reform, because the polarization in the United States runs deeply through its institutions, affects the ways Americans elect political leaders and how the institutions of government operate, and even puts in danger Americans’ deep-seated desire to serve their nation.

Media Highlights

Electoral System Reform
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The commission is deeply concerned about the distrust that permeates the entire electoral process and that reverberates through both federal and state legislatures. Americans must be able to trust that their electoral system is fair. States will need to take the lead in reformulating an electoral system that earns back the people’s trust.

Congressional Reform
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The commission, consisting of 29 thought leaders, puts forth recommendations that foster a modern, strong, and vibrant political system that accepts the strongly held differences of opinion among citizens and channels these differences in productive ways. Congress has shown that it can still come together on a bipartisan basis to move substantive legislation.

This is not an effort to return Congress to the “good old days.” Commissioners recognize that hyperpolarization pervades not just Congress but the electorate as well. However, the commission believes that Congress can function more efficiently despite that polarization. The commission’s recommendations are incremental, politically viable, and, most importantly, achievable if citizens and our leaders are ready to confront the structural and system-wide weaknesses in a fair and bipartisan way.

Public Service
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Successful democracies require an educated citizenry who actively participates in civic life. Americans must re-engage in ways that reinforce the notion that, as Americans, we are all part of a common enterprise that requires a lifetime of civic engagement.

Supported by a grant from Omidyar Network.

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