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The Business Case for Civics Education

It’s no secret that polemics and partisanship have run amok in recent years. The factions within the government have trouble collaborating, creating bottlenecks that keep things from getting done. People fight online via social media. People clash in the streets in protests. People argue on-air on cable news panels. Sometimes it seems as if people have forgotten how to disagree without fighting. Are there any pockets of public spaces that haven’t been examined for potential to foster understanding and civility?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has an answer: the workplace. Two years ago, the Foundation published a white paper on the eroding civility of discourse, the general lack of understanding about civics, and the connection between the two. And while the paper was published in 2019, the findings don’t seem dated by all that has happened. They seem all the truer.

Employers are uniquely positioned to help ensure that the next generation of Americans are equipped to play a productive role in civic life, writes U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation President Carolyn Cawley in the introduction to “The Business Case for Civics Education.” Business leaders can bring a powerful voice to this discussion by sharing knowledge and prioritizing civic education of all forms in communities across the nation. This report is the first step in our efforts to make the business case for civics.

Through a combination of surveys and interviews with company leaders, the Foundation—in concert with Harvard Business School—examined the civility and civic sensibility of the workplace today. The motivation was to investigate the role that businesses can play in healing a divided country. The goal was to figure out how and demonstrate why it makes good business sense.

When it comes to talking about divisiveness in our country, business isn’t really a part of the discussions, either as a source of supporter or an avenue to improvement. “And that seemed like both a missed opportunity for interested organizations like ours,” Cawley recalls.

An interesting note of optimism stands out among the data immediately. In its annual Civility in America survey, Weber Shandwick found that 68 percent of Americans felt there was a civility problem in the nation. But some 89 percent of the respondents called their places of employment very or somewhat civil, even a refuge. And perhaps they need to be; this is the one place where all races, religions, and ages congregate and need to get along for a common goal.

“I think this is a really interesting point. The workplace might be one of the last places where people come together from all views and backgrounds and identities because, in almost all the other places in our lives, people have tended to pigeonhole into communities that look like them, think like them,” said Cawley. “And those places are not going to work smoothly and productively if you have cancel-culture and other polarizing elements creeping into the workplace.”

But it’s not just a matter of what workplaces shouldn’t be. It’s what they could be. Companies could be leaders in helping employees better understand—and value—what it means to be engaged as a civic-minded citizen.

The health of civics education is “quite bleak,” Cawley said in the introduction to the paper. Research by Educating for American Democracy found that the federal government spends an average of $50 per student on STEM curriculum, compared to five cents per student on civic education. The findings led the foundation to launch a public relations campaign aimed at convincing corporations that supporting civics education was not only their civic responsibility but in their own best interest.

In many workplaces, it’s already being done. Paid days off to vote, or to fulfill jury duty. Some companies encourage time off for community service or volunteering at the polls. There could be employee resource groups or town-hall-style meetings, Cawley suggests, to provide information and context behind the basics of civic engagement and why it matters. “Communicate how important it is to be an engaged citizen, that it’s our obligation as citizens to make this whole thing work,” she said. “It’s not telling people what to think, or how to vote, but to be involved — that we aren’t going to be successful as a country if you don’t understand how this all works.”

And how does civic education play a role in rebuilding that trust, engagement, and strengthening our democracy? Civic educational programs can help reduce polarization, increase community volunteerism, and foster civil conversations around diverging viewpoints. Allstate, for one, developed an employee program called The Better Arguments Project, which with the Aspen Institute, helps people develop the tools to have better, more civil arguments. Sounds a lot like helping its employees bolster the critical skills of emotional intelligence.

With the support and buy-in of the private sector, the foundation believes, the country stands a better chance at healing the tenor of disagreements, distrust, and misinformation that are undermining the wellness of the country.

“We need to be much more self-aware and collaborative,” says Cawley. “We have democracy and capitalism, and civics is where the two meet. It’s a three-legged stool. They have to work together.”

Visit to learn about critical issues, how to create positive change and restore hope. 

Bruce Bond on Polarization

Bruce Bond on Business Brief: The Economic Impact of Polarization

Political polarization is creating instability in business. Can we hope for a less divided future?

In this video segment, our co-founder Bruce Bond joins Andy Hirschfeld, host of the daily news show Business Brief, to speak about the impact of political polarization on the economy and brands. He also discusses how Common Ground Committee is pushing back on polarization in America through tools like the Common Ground Scorecard, and how such action can help address economic instability.

Watch the interview to learn more about how companies are reacting and responding to this issue, where we see hope for the future, and how to find inspiration and tools to help heal the nation.

common ground around the dinner table

Your Essential Guide to Civil Political Conversations This Holiday Season

thanksgiving dinner

Around many dining tables this holiday season, there’ll be an extra guest in the room. The elephant, of course. Politics, and all the differing opinions about the tumultuous events of the past year.

We live in divisive times, and unfortunately, our difficulty reaching across the aisle can extend to reaching across the table. Whether or not your gatherings this year include extended relatives, conversations, even among immediate siblings, parents, and significant others, can cover a lot of rocky terrain over a long day and evening.

This year might seem a lot more fraught than most. But the same guidelines for civil conversations apply, even leaving room for constructive disagreement. Let’s have a look at the attributes of folks who seek to meet on common ground, rather than simmer in the far corners of the room.

Tap into the power of listening.

The importance of listening in productive dialogue should not be underestimated. It’s through active listening that both parties feel heard and validated, which in turn enriches conversation and cuts unnecessary tension. Listening first this holiday season can help you make connections, find empathy, and put you in a better position for meaningful discussions around the dinner table. Without listening, it can be easy to get stuck in arguments and never reach common ground. In order to save more time for food and merriment, consider using the power of listening when engaging with family and friends this year.

Commit to seeking agreement rather than “winning.”

It’s difficult to achieve a balanced conversation based on connecting with someone if you’re constantly formulating your next retort. You have to actively listen to their points, rather than crafting your own retaliation. You never know — you might even find yourself swayed a bit by their insights. You don’t have to aim to end the night by winning or losing and certainly not by compromising your principles. You just have to get to a civil place where you can agree to disagree and pass the cranberry sauce with a pleasant expression.

Remember it’s possible for good people to disagree.

We all have very different backgrounds that make us who we are, and have shaped the principles we hold firm. But different values and beliefs aren’t synonymous with good and bad. Very different formative experiences can create strong, fundamental differences. If you sense you aren’t going to be able to meet amicably in the middle with this person, perhaps it’s best to find a pivot to another aspect of the conversation.

Use facts, not emotion.

Emotional arguments aren’t a great basis for a conversation, because if both people are speaking from the heart in heated opposition, it’s hard to arrive at the conclusion that it’s possible for good people to disagree. If you have good facts, figures, and statistics, open your toolbox and use them. But let the other person do the same — and if theirs are solid, acknowledge that, even if it doesn’t fit well with your narrative.

Bring down the temperature.

If you find the conversation becoming too heated, do whatever you can to de-escalate a potentially hostile situation. Name-calling and tossing around stereotypes are indicators that things are traveling in the wrong direction. Don’t give in to the temptation to reciprocate with pejorative terms of your own. Storytelling is one way to grab attention — just make sure the takeaway is one of neutrality, or learning something unexpected. And remember – family is always more important than politics.

 Want more tips on healing the divide over Thanksgiving or any gathering? Watch our webinar Ten Ways to Heal the Divide,” with Living Room Conversations founder Joan Blades and founder of Bridge USA, Manu Meel, moderated by Common Ground Committee co-founder, Bruce Bond.

Get ready for the holiday season by downloading Common Ground Committee’s “Essential Guide to Better Political Conversations this Holiday Season.”


Can We Find Common Ground on The Justice System? – Part II

With severe polarization dividing America, it has become increasingly difficult to find common ground. But data shows bipartisan support for key justice system policies. 

As the American population grows in size and diversity, we are continually affected by those around us. Those closest to us help shape our creation of thought. Perhaps unintentionally, trusted people and information sources in our lives may keep us from seeking out and understanding other perspectives.  

Nowhere is this problem more severe than with a political messaging machine that urges its base to see issues only in terms of red or blue, obscuring the fact that Americans do actually agree on many important issues. An ongoing research study by Voice of the People, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing the majority opinion to light, is attempting to bridge this gap by surveying a diverse subset of American voters to inspect similarities in thought and opinion between the right and the left.

Through in-depth surveys in which respondents receive briefings on key policy proposals and evaluate pro and con arguments, the study has to date identified 185 common ground positions on a wide range of policy issues.  

And despite how polarized Republicans and Democrats may seem on justice system issues, the following policy proposals show high levels of bipartisan support.

Limiting Negative Consequences of Criminal Records 

A national sample of 2,487 registered voters were asked to respond to several proposals on limiting the consequences of criminal records. The data indicates that 60% or more Democrats and Republicans agree: 

  • Employers and licensing boards should limit the use of certain criminal records as a basis for rejecting an applicant or firing an employee 
  • To provide protection to employers who knowingly hire individuals with criminal records 
  • To limit the use of certain criminal records from being used as the basis for rejecting an applicant or evicting a tenant from public housing 
  • Criminal records can be sealed for a minor cost for arrests that do not result in convictions 
  • To automatically seal records for nonviolent drug offenses five years after the offender completes their sentence

Learn more about policy proposals and survey responses.  

Reducing Incarceration Rates through Sentencing Reforms

A national sample of 2,417 registered voters were asked to respond to several provisions on the Next Step Act. The data indicates that 60% or more Democrats and Republicans agree: 

  • To reduce the mandatory minimum sentences for one-strike drug offenses 
  • To create a new sentencing category for those who store or transport illegal drugs or drug money, that comes with no mandatory sentence 
  • Early prisoners, convicted as juveniles and those who have served at least 20 years of their sentence could be given the opportunity to be released early at the discretion of judges  

Learn more about policy proposals and survey responses. 

What does this data mean for the American people? 

The study shows that, while we live in a time of great division and opposition, it is critical that we not lose sight of the ways in which we can all come together. Findings from this study open the possibility that the right and left may find agreement on other polarizing topics.

Perhaps by parting the red or blue curtain clouding our vision, we can see more clearly just how much common ground we share as Americans. From this shared foundation, we can push forward together to create real change for the next generation. 

Let’s talk! Reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and tell us which policies you would like America to #findcommonground on this year. 



Can We Find Common Ground on The Justice System? Part I

It may seem America’s political parties are more sharply divided on the justice system than nearly any other issue. Yet data shows we’ve already found common ground. 

It is perhaps universally accepted – one may even say expected – for the American people to disagree. We are a country that came together swiftly. Public opinion may break apart just as fast. 

Yet a political dynamic that urges citizens to view all issues through the lens of red or blue obscures the fact that Americans actually agree on many important issues. Now, an ongoing research study is attempting to bridge this chasm.  

Pioneered by Voice of the People, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing the majority opinion to light, the study surveys a diverse subset of American voters to inspect similarities in thought and opinion between the right and the left. Through in-depth surveys in which respondents receive briefings on key policy proposals and evaluate pro and con arguments, the study has to date identified 185 common ground positions on a wide range of policy issues.  

And, despite how polarized Republicans and Democrats may seem around justice system issues, the following policy proposals show high levels of bipartisan support.

Improved Treatment of Prisoners

A national sample of 2,487 registered voters were asked to respond to several proposals to reform the treatment of people in prison. The data indicates that 60% or more Democrats and Republicans agree: 

  • To limit rates that prisons and jails can charge inmates for phone calls 
  • Restrict the use of solitary confinement 

Learn more about policy proposals and survey responses.

Police Reform

A national sample of 3,226 registered voters were asked to respond to several proposals on police reform.. The data indicates that 60% or more Democrats and Republicans agree: 

  • It should be made a duty for officers to intervene in cases where another officer is using excessive force 
  • To recommend that all officers wear body cameras and keep them on when dealing with a suspect or responding to a call 
  • To create a national registry of police misconduct available to the public and all police departments 

Learn more about policy proposals and survey responses.

Study results to date show promising signs that American’s right and left can find agreement on polarized topics if conversation and thoughtful proposals are fostered. And data collected shows bipartisan support for even more areas of justice policy. Stay tuned for a look at common ground positions that go beyond policing and prison, to criminal records and sentencing reform.

Let’s talk! Reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and tell us which policies you would like America to #findcommonground on this year. 

Laws should unite, not divide

In this piece written for The Hill, Common Ground Committee co-founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen make the case that laws should unite, not divide. You can also listen to a behind-the-scenes conversation with the authors below.

For the past decade-plus, we have made it our mission to improve political discourse through our nonprofit, Common Ground Committee (CGC). That mission hit a speed bump with Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB 8). As heads of a non-partisan organization, we don’t take a position on whether abortion should or should not be legal, but we recognize the strong moral concerns held by both sides. We even understand how it is that the Texas legislature would think this legislation is a good idea. But SB 8 sets a dangerous precedent and unnecessarily adds even deeper divisiveness to an already contentious issue.the hill logo

By putting enforcement into the hands of private citizens, and offering a significant financial incentive, the Texas legislature is effectively weaponizing disagreement.

Other states are following the Texas lead — Florida just introduced its own SB 8-inspired abortion bill. If this strategy proves successful, what would stop liberal-leaning states from passing similar restrictions on gun ownership? We wager that supporters of SB 8 would not approve.

Disagreement is fundamental to a healthy democracy. But when lawmakers are determined to take whatever means necessary to achieve their outcomes, we end up with laws like SB 8.

If we are to function as a healthy society, all citizens — no matter their political leanings — should speak out against laws that are designed to pit citizens against each other. We have plenty of laws that by their nature generate passionate debate. But deliberately designing into legislation the ability for citizens on one side of an issue to economically hurt fellow citizens on the other side will almost certainly inflame factional conflict and deepen even further the divisions that plague our nation.

To be sure, it is an open question as to whether the Texas law will stand, despite the Supreme Court’s “shadow docket” ruling, as evidenced by the ongoing court battle. But even if the Texas strategy is ultimately deemed unconstitutional, it did not occur in a vacuum; rather, the bill reflects a wider tendency by legislators to craft laws that reflect only the viewpoint of the majority. In short, it’s exactly what James Madison and the Founders were fearful of when they spoke of “tyranny of the majority.” It’s how we wound up with legislation like the “For the People Act” or the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017” — laws crafted with no input from the minority that effectively encourage bitter debate by the very nature of their partisan leanings, even if they aren’t signed into law.

Turning citizens into the enforcers is a natural evolution of this trend.

If Americans took the time to talk to one another, they would find the people they demonize are not morally bankrupt. In fact, they might have more in common than they think — even on issues as divisive as abortion. A 2016 poll from Gallup found that a majority of pro-choice and pro-life Americans agreed on 9 of 17 points, including making abortion illegal in the third trimester and making it legal in the case of rape and incest.

This doesn’t mean Democrats and Republicans will suddenly abandon their principles on abortion — for both sides it will always be a question of right and wrong born out of deeply held values. But conversation lets us see the other side as actual, reasonable human beings who arrived at their beliefs through their own experiences. Laws like SB 8 can only exist when legislators stay in their own bubbles and see a difference of opinion as a moral flaw. We need to burst those bubbles and elect leaders who are open to the idea that their perspective is not the end of the discussion.

Prior to the 2020 elections, we released the Common Ground Scorecard, a tool to help Americans see how likely members of Congress and candidates were to find common ground. The average score for all of Congress is 29/110. To put that into perspective, the average score for members of the House Problems Solvers Caucus is 55/110. As primary season fast approaches, these are the types of legislators we need doing business in Congress.

“If we took the same approach to our personal relationships that some members do to Congress, we wouldn’t have any functional relationships in our lives,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a member of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, in a past episode of our podcast series “Let’s Find Common Ground.” Fitzpatrick’s Democratic counterpart Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), said she has no interest in voting for a law that is everything she wants but has no chance of passage. For these two legislators, collaboration means progress, and progress overrules party.

SB 8 is a preview of what could come if politicians continue to let partisanship dominate the legislative process.

We are on a dangerous path, but it’s not too late to change course. We as citizens must stand up and push back against legislators who seek to divide us with laws and, if necessary, replace them with those who seek to unite us by finding the common ground that enables good legislation.

– This article was originally published in The Hill on October 15, 2021.

Working together community

What’s New in the Bridge Community: September 2021

Bridging the divides that separate Americans with different politics and world views can’t be accomplished by one single organization. Change takes a community, working together towards a common goal.

That’s why we are honored to be part of a robust and growing national movement of bridge builders that are working to reduce incivility and toxic polarization.

How Our Movement Grew In the Past Month:

Common Ground Committee is now part of Citizen Connect, a non-partisan platform that shares civic events from 400+ member organizations working to heal divides and fix our politics. Explore the tool.

Living Room Conversations partnered with us to produce a Universal Basic Income discussion guide, featuring content from our “Finding Common Ground on the New Economy” event with John Kasich and Julián Castro. Download the guide.

CGC is a streaming partner for “Our Declaration: An Evening With Danielle Allen.” This conversation with a Harvard political scientist will stream live on our Facebook page on Thursday, September 30, 2021, at 7 pm ET. Learn more.

Together, we can accomplish more. If you haven’t already, make sure to connect with Common Ground Committee across all our channels to see upcoming conversations, partner content, and opportunities to make a difference as we continue to grow this movement.

Follow Common Ground Committee:


An Evening with Danielle Allen

Tune In! “Our Declaration” Livestream with Dr. Danielle Allen

Can the Declaration of Independence, a centuries-old document written in a time of slavery, provide a roadmap for a modern, multiracial democracy?

Common Ground Committee is partnering with The Village Square and Florida Humanities to offer “Our Declaration: An Evening with Danielle Allen” on Thursday, September 30th at 7 p.m. ET via Zoom.

At a time when the future of American democracy is under threat from across the political spectrum, and when a disturbingly high number of citizens seem to no longer believe in the American project, this Harvard professor’s body of work “thrillingly affirms the continuing relevance of America’s founding text, ultimately revealing what democracy means and what it asks of us.”

Learn more and register, or follow Common Ground Committee’s Facebook page to catch the program live stream!


Infrastructure bill won’t end Washington’s problems. Neither would ending the filibuster

In this piece written for Roll Call, Common Ground Committee co-founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen make the case that the only real way to fix America’s political system is to focus on electing leaders committed to bipartisan solutions. 

Proponents of common ground — like ourselves — received some welcome news earlier this month with the Senate’s passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. It’s the largest investment in infrastructure since the 1950s, and it passed with 19 Republican votes. It’s a rare sight to see major legislation pass on a bipartisan basis, but, unfortunately, it does not necessarily signal a change in Washington.

Democrats seem intent on going it alone, using the budget reconciliation process to push a separate multitrillion spending package, partially due to the threat of the filibuster. For such a hotly debated rule, it’s notable that the filibuster was essentially created by accident. As vice president, Aaron Burr argued in 1805 that a Senate procedure allowing a simple majority of legislators to end debate and move to a vote was redundant and should be removed. He got his wish when he left office, and the filibuster was born.

Whether or not a political party is in favor of the filibuster seems to hinge on its position of power in the Senate.

Before he called it a “relic of Jim Crow”— and it must be acknowledged that the modern filibuster was a favored tool of opponents of civil rights legislation — a young Sen. Barack Obama argued passionately in favor of the procedural maneuver when his party was in the minority. President Donald Trump wanted Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell to eliminate the rule in 2018 to easily pass his agenda — much in the same way Democrats are now pressing President Joe Biden. Opponents of the filibuster say it’s an affront to how the Founders intended government to work and silences the will of the people. Proponents say it’s the one tool legislators have left to force bipartisan solutions and that its elimination would give the majority complete control to force through its agenda.

As heads of Common Ground Committee, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing political polarization, we welcome any tool that would encourage Democrats and Republicans to come together and find solutions. But the filibuster is neither the solution nor the problem. What needs to be changed is the mindset of our leaders. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House wouldn’t vote on the infrastructure bill until the Senate passed the  reconciliation measure. (In an agreement reached with Democratic moderates, both bills are now expected to receive votes in the House by the end of September.) In the Senate, McConnell has threatened “zero input” from Republicans if the filibuster is eliminated. We cannot afford this prioritization of conflict over solutions any longer.

We’re at a critical juncture as a nation.

If the filibuster is indeed removed or reformed, there will be little incentive for Democrats and Republicans to work together. If it remains, it will continue to be used as a tool to block legislation and stifle debate. Reforms such as a proposed plan to exempt voting rights laws from the filibuster would only slap a Band-Aid on the problem. The only path forward is to change the culture in Washington.

While there is evidence Americans want to see their leaders compromise, that sentiment isn’t reflected in who we elect to office. Prior to the 2020 elections, our organization released the Common Ground Scorecard, a tool to help Americans see how likely members of Congress and candidates were to find common ground. The average score for members of Congress and governors was only 25 out of a possible 110. There are exceptions, such as members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, but when the vast majority of our government leaders are incentivized to pursue partisan agendas, it’s clear we as citizens have not done enough to encourage them to work together. Our votes give us the power to make them listen.

It’s time to end this back-and-forth on the filibuster and put governing back in the hands of the legislative branch.

Rather than pressure our elected leaders on a Senate mechanism, we should focus our energies on backing candidates committed to bipartisan solutions — members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, for example. Tools like the Common Ground Scorecard and the Bipartisan Index from the Lugar Center can help voters identify those candidates.

The best policies are those that include the input of multiple points of view, that won’t be reversed when there is a change in power, and that are representative of the majority of Americans. That requires bipartisan work and support. Until elected officials feel political pressure to work together, we will fail to make that kind of badly needed progress on the most pressing issues facing our nation, regardless of whether or not the filibuster exists.

The filibuster may have been created by accident, but it’s now become a favored tool of whichever party is in the minority. Its elimination will not end the dysfunction in Washington. That will only happen when we as citizens decide we’ve had enough of fighting and gridlock, and support politicians who put country over party.

– This article was originally published in Roll Call on August 25, 2021.

American Bipartisanship

Introducing: Spotlight on Common Ground

Polarization makes headlines. But what about the hard, yet hopeful work of finding shared solutions? We’re excited to introduce Spotlight on Common Ground, a new initiative that highlights instances of bipartisan cooperation across the nation, and the individuals who made them possible.

August Honorees: Infrastructure Bill Legislators

The first honorees of Spotlight on Common Ground are the 10 U.S. senators who helped craft the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed in the Senate 69-30. After months of negotiations this bipartisan group of senators — composed of five Democrats and Republicans — helped shepherd through a bill that could easily have been derailed given ideological differences and the forces driving the nation’s divided politics.

These legislators were among those included in our Common Ground Scorecard, which ranks candidates for office and elected officials on their likelihood to work with the opposite party. The 10 senators have an average score of 49/110, higher than the average score of 31/110 for all current U.S. senators.

Their individual scores are as follows:

  • Susan Collins (R-ME): 60/110
  • Rob Portman (R-OH): 50/110
  • Mitt Romney (R-UT): 25/110
  • Lisa Murkowski (R-AK): 50/110
  • Bill Cassidy (R-LA): 59/110
  • Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ): 57/110
  • Joe Manchin (D-WV): 75/110 (15th highest in the country)
  • Mark Warner (D-VA): 47/110
  • Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH): 34/110
  • Jon Tester (D-MT): 42/110

“Too often, politicians are more focused on scoring political points than finding real solutions for the American people,” said Bruce Bond, co-founder and CEO of CGC. “These 10 senators reminded Americans what good can look like in the legislative process. We’re hopeful the Senate’s passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act can be a foundation for future cooperation between the two parties.”

Follow #SpotlightOnCommonGround on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn to stay up to date on future highlights.