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Violence at the U.S. Capitol, Distrust in Politics and the Mission of Public Agenda

January 15, 2021

TapTheForwardAssist, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The peaceful transfer of power is a cornerstone of our system of government. By any measure, the riot that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 was unacceptable. Using violence and intimidation to achieve political goals is abhorrent and illegal. 

Through our votes, we choose the leaders whose obligation is to represent their constituents and honor their will. Our Constitution defines a process that has been followed and is now concluded. 

Next, the real work begins. For decades, large numbers of Americans—across the spectrum of views and beliefs—have felt disenfranchised and voiceless. Research by Public Agenda and many other organizations shows that many people have expressed a loss of faith in our political process. Our Yankelovich Democracy Monitor (YDM) study found that 80 percent of Americans view our democracy as either “in crisis” or “facing serious challenges.” Four in 10 say the design and structure of our nation’s government need significant change no matter whom we elect to represent us. 

Yet our work also shows that Americans want to improve our democracy and are willing to work together. From our public engagement projects, we know the importance of shared, core values. People are better able to make decisions and solve problems together when they commit to principles like respect, fairness and equity. They are better able to unite when they pledge to one another that they will oppose racism, uphold liberty and work toward prosperity for all.

Our Hidden Common Ground research demonstrates that on many major policy issues, Americans agree across partisan lines more than they disagree. The YDM study also reveals that across partisan lines, Americans are enthusiastic about implementing democratic practices and reforms that give them greater voice and a more equitable, collaborative relationship with their governments. These kinds of improvements have the potential to increase trust, stability, equity and civic health.

As our newly elected public servants take office in Washington and across the country, they can support productive engagement by voicing their support for Americans’ shared values. They can help by coming to some agreement on the basic facts and information that they share with the public, holding each other accountable for spreading misinformation, and giving citizens better opportunities to decide, together, how to sort fact from fiction. Public Agenda will support this work by helping citizens get the information they need, and by creating more inclusive, meaningful, powerful ways to engage in governance. 

In 1975, in another turbulent era in our history, Cyrus Vance and Daniel Yankelovich founded Public Agenda to take on these very kinds of challenges. They believed that the honest, respectful exchange of views and concerns is foundational to strengthening our democracy for the benefit of all. We remain committed to those ideals and to the many promising, practical ways of achieving them.

Betty Sue Flowers, Chair of the Board

Matt Leighninger, Interim Co-President, Director of Public Engagement

David Schleifer, Interim Co-President, Director of Research

Contact

Nick Obourn, Interim Communications Director