ON THE AGENDA | JANUARY 19TH, 2017 | WILL FRIEDMAN, PH.D.

Finding Common Ground Across the "Two Americas"

Part of our monthly "Progress Report" newsletter. To receive the latest email updates from Public Agenda, click here.

Post-election, we've heard a lot about the economic woes and anxieties of rural Americans, often in a manner that contrasts these viewpoints with urban residents. Based on our latest research, such framing creates an unnecessary and, in fact, harmful dichotomy.

In a series of focus groups, we spent the past year talking with folks from small and large cities, including San Diego, Cincinnati, the greater metro of New York and numerous points in between. Americans talked about the American economy, their opportunities for getting ahead in life, and their feelings about inequality and the American Dream.

It turns out these urban and large-metro-area focus group participants expressed a lot of concerns and anxieties shared by the rural Americans we've heard from since the election. People talked about running harder and harder just to stay in place in today's economy. Most agreed that the primary cause for their anxiety was a political system unresponsive to their needs, over-responsive to wealthy special interests, and impervious to their efforts to create change.

Despite the dominant narrative of two Americas, we witnessed common ground across political parties, demographic groups and regions of the country. Perhaps most importantly, the common ground was not limited to how people experience the problems facing the country. There was also a good deal of agreement on solutions. And in the course of our research, we discovered important clues about how to help people engage these large and difficult topics in productive ways.

We have significant divides in our country, by race, class and other distinctions, and we ignore these at our peril. But the narrative that has emerged post-election about two Americas exacerbates our differences and helps make the common ground insignificant, also to our peril.

We'll release findings from our research in early February. In that report, we'll dive into implications for public policy, public engagement and the possibilities of a common agenda for greater economic opportunity and political equity. As a subscriber to our email list, you'll be among the first to receive the report -- we look forward to your responses.


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