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Brief History

Public Agenda was founded in 1975 social scientist and public opinion research pioneer Dan Yankelovich and soon-to-be Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. Both were concerned that the issues the public cared the most about were being ignored in the 1976 presidential campaign, and that our democracy would be endangered if the trend continued. 

They decided to form an organization that would work to bridge the gaps between leaders and the public, whose first project involved creating briefing books that alerted presidential candidates Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford to the deep concerns of ordinary citizens, which were drawn upon in the presidential debates.

Since then, we have supported progress on dozens of issues in hundreds of settings. For example, in the 1980s we brought solid, timely research to the Reagan Administration signaling the American public’s openness to a different relationship with the Soviet Union, and we helped educators better understand the needs of employers.

In the 1990s, we published groundbreaking studies on the public’s concerns about K-12 education, and created innovative tools that helped parents, educators, public officials and community partners across the nation work together to improve their local schools and better educate their children.

In the 2000s, we began an ongoing commitment to the nation’s community colleges, the prime avenue of opportunity for many low-income Americans, that has included making vital contributions to the two most ambitious initiatives the nation has ever seen to improve student success: Achieving the Dream and Completion by Design.

In recent years we’ve:

  • Partnered with New York Public Radio to foster public engagement on local priorities
  • Produced cutting-edge public opinion research on health care cost and quality and begun a six-state initiative to create strong systems of public engagement on health policies
  • Helped colleges better serve America’s students via national research as well as on-the-ground efforts in half the nation’s states
  • Supported school boards across Vermont in developing strong policies and practices of community engagement 
  • Created the Hidden Common Ground initiative in partnership with USA Today to demonstrate that Americans can agree on solutions to tough problems and work together for the common good despite their differences
  • Developed ground-breaking strategies to engage scientists and communities surrounding Jamaica Bay, Queens on environmental resilience