Jan 19, 2017


Finding Common Ground Across the "Two Americas"

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.


Will's headshot  

Will Friedman


We're pleased to announce promotions for two of our colleagues, as well as a welcome to a new staff member.

David Schleifer, who has been a senior member of our research team, has been hired as our new Director of Research. David joined Public Agenda in 2013 after conducting healthcare policy research at Columbia University Medical Center.

Erin Knepler, who has been with us since 2015, was promoted to Director of Higher Education and Workforce Development Research. She will also serve as the Associate Director of Research. Erin was previously Associate Director of Higher Education and Workforce Programs. Prior to Public Agenda, Erin was a researcher and P-20 Program Director at the University System of Maryland.

We warmly welcome Paul Markham to his new role as Vice President of Organizational Strategy and Sustainability. Paul will also serve as Associate Director of Higher Education Engagement Programs with Senior Vice President Alison Kadlec. 

Prior to joining Public Agenda, Paul served as Vice President for Strategic Partnerships & Development at Achieving the Dream, Inc. Paul also served as Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where he led the Foundation's work focused on Developmental Education redesign and the creation of Pathways for student success.

Welcome, Paul, and congratulations David and Erin!

New from Public Agenda

This month, we're highlighting democratic bright spots like the many participatory budgeting processes across across the country. We've also been following the confirmation hearings and, in particular, conversations on education issues like school choice, charters and for-profit colleges. Our survey which found that the public sees many ways to succeed without college was mentioned in an essay from Dan Greenstein at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 


This report summarizes data from 61 PB processes around the U.S. and Canada. It includes recommendations from people leading and evaluating PB on the ground, to help others diversify participation, advocate for PB from the grassroots level and incorporate technology in an equitable way.

This white paper examines the extent to which PB employs deliberative principles and processes, explores the challenges in making PB more deliberative and provides recommendations for public officials and practitioners looking to improve their PB processes.

PB in the U.S. and Canada differs in many ways from PB in Brazil, where it has had many social impacts. This white paper explores these differences and how they may affect PB's impact in North America. It also provides a series of practical recommendations for practitioners and policymakers to strengthen PB's ability to reduce inequality.

Americans are losing confidence in the necessity of a college education for success in the workforce. This research brief explores this and other findings from two omnibus surveys regarding the public's opinion on higher education.

From the Blog

Allison Rizzolo writes on the acute awareness about issues facing our higher education system, sparking an active public dialogue about the role and responsibility of higher ed in society.

Bringing Community College Faculty to the Table 
Nicole Cabral from the public engagement team, offers some ideas that colleges may draw upon as they seek to bring faculty, and even the broader community, into decision making.

This city in Canada used participatory budgeting to engage beyond "the usual suspects" and it seems to have worked! Three-quarters of PB voters who filled out surveys said that they had not worked with others on a community issue in the past 12 months.


Public Agenda helps build a democracy that works for everyone. By elevating a diversity of voices, forging common ground, and improving dialogue and collaboration among leaders and communities, Public Agenda fuels progress on critical issues, including education, health care and community engagement. Founded in 1975, Public Agenda is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in New York City. Find Public Agenda online at PublicAgenda.org, on Facebook at facebook.com/PublicAgenda and on Twitter at @PublicAgenda.

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