The myth of absolute division makes it harder to recognize common ground that actually exists among the public.
PROGRESS REPORT
Unite and Conquer: The Hidden Common Ground Initiative

An increasingly dominant narrative has it that America is so divided that we cannot possibly understand one another, let alone agree on anything or work together toward common ends.
There are, of course, more than a few kernels of truth to this position. America has significant divisions: along lines of race and class; with respect to broad attitudes of governance; and on questions of culture and lifestyle. Recent research by PEW offers useful insights into the segments that define the electorate. These differences are real and consequential.
 
But the case is overstated and obscures important truths. We question the notion that no common ground exists and that our divides are unbridgeable. In fact, the public agrees on many solutions to difficult social problems, much more so than do politicians and pundits. Public Agenda's Hidden Common Ground initiative shines light on agreement among the general public obfuscated by more extreme polarization of politicians, pundits and activists.
 
In a recent blog, I noted the common ground that exists among the public for common sense measures to reduce gun violence -- a contentious issues that we may take on in future work -- and the potential for leadership to build on that common ground to make progress. In the inaugural project for our new initiative, we are exploring the hidden common ground on matters that have been top concerns of the public for many years: health care and criminal justice reform. We're finding broad agreement that some offenses should not lead to jail time but rather alternatives to incarceration; that preexisting conditions should not disqualify people from being able to afford health insurance; and that too often politicians treat these questions in "purely partisan" fashion, as one respondent noted, saying "I don't think they have our best interest at heart." More to come on this research soon.  
 
The myth of absolute division makes it harder to recognize common ground that actually exists among the public. This lack of recognition, in turn, makes it harder to build on our agreements to forge progress where we can. And this then plays into the hands of those who gain advantage from our cleavages through a divide and conquer strategy -- including, we are learning, Russian operatives who seek to influence our elections by exaggerating our disagreements and even revving up our hatreds though social media fabrications. It is time to counter this with a unite and conquer strategy. Step one is recognizing the hidden common ground that silently exists beneath the noise of our political rhetoric. This new initiative we've taken on is our contribution to that critical first step. 


Sincerely,
Will

Will's headshot

 


Will Friedman
President


New from Public Agenda

Our Public Engagement team recently hosted a Public Engagement Strategy Workshop in Chicago where leaders from educational institutions, nonprofits, and the community (including the Chicago Police Department) learned how to revamp and strengthen their engagement strategy.

Public Agenda's Vice President for Public Engagement Matt Leighninger also recently gave the keynote at the annual conference of the Vermont School Boards Association and Vermont Superintendents Association.

Publications

Strengthening and Sustaining Public Engagement in Vermont
With support from the Innovations and Collaborations program at the Vermont Community Foundation, Public Agenda created this guide to help Vermonters decide what kinds of engagement they want and to help them plan for an overall system for engagement that features those opportunities. Although created for Vermont, the guide is intended for local municipalities and community leaders across the country who are looking to plan for an overall system of engagement that's both effective and sustainable.

Teacher Collaboration In Perspective
A joint project of the Spencer Foundation and Public Agenda, Teacher Collaboration In Perspective is designed to contribute to a better-informed dialogue about how teachers can work more collaboratively. 

Qualities That Matter
Measuring quality is crucial to improving quality, to paying doctors and hospitals based on patients' health outcomes, and to steering patients toward high-value providers. But quality has many dimensions that are measured in many ways. This research report surveyed people who have experienced one of three common types of health care for which quality and costs can vary: type 2 diabetes care, joint replacement surgery and maternity care.

From the Blog

We can give citizen voices more authority by blending two forms of engagement: deliberative democracy, in which people discuss issues and direct democracy, in which they make public decisions at the ballot box, but usually don't discuss the issues first.

Any Progress Is Better Than None
We can give citizen voices more authority by blending two forms of engagement: deliberative democracy, in which people discuss issues and direct democracy, in which they make public decisions at the ballot box, but usually don't discuss the issues first.
 
An Amazing Learning Environment for Students and a Great Workplace for Educators
Teachers, leaders and school districts can benefit from an environment that allows for greater collaboration, which is ultimately a win for students too.

How Do You Improve Diabetes Care? Ask a Patient.
Health care providers may be the answer, in more ways than one, to improving high-quality care for diabetes patients.

Support Our Work

YOUR support will make a huge impact in the lives of your fellow citizens on a local and national level. Join Public Agenda in Reinventing Opportunity and Renewing Democracy by donating today. YOU can create a democracy that works for ALL!  
 
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ABOUT US

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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