Voting in Primaries

The Importance of Voting in Primaries

Nearly 90% of congressional elections are decided in the nominating contests. That’s a striking number, and one that demands a simple action: Vote in the primaries.

The midterm primaries have begun, and candidates are being selected for local, state, and federal offices. Some states have “open primaries,” in which any registered voter can cast a ballot regardless of party affiliation (or lack thereof). However, in states with “closed primaries,” voters must be registered with a party to participate in that side’s nominating contests.

And that’s where most congressional races are decided. The data is clear: The vast majority of U.S. House districts lean so far to either party that the November result is a foregone conclusion. In 2020, just one-quarter of the voting-eligible population participated in the presidential primaries. And when considering the districts that determined control of the House, just 10% of voters selected 83% of the U.S. House of Representatives, according to a study by Unite America.

With primary elections increasingly deciding the outcome of a race, it’s important that voters engage in the entire process when possible. For partisans, that’s easy. In every state, voting-eligible people who are registered with a party can vote in that party’s primaries. While primary voting is often limited to just party members, other states allow all registered voters to participate.

Advocates of open primaries argue that closed systems are unfair to independents (who make up about more than 40% of the electorate), produce more extreme nominees, and, as publicly funded elections, should be open to everyone.

Opponents argue only members of a party should be allowed to select its nominees and open primaries are subject to subversion by voters of another party hoping to nominate an “unelectable” candidate. (Research out of Marquette University argues such sabotage, if it exists, would cancel itself out.)

Others have argued that partisans in places where their party may be unlikely to win a general election (say, Democrats in Mississippi or Republicans in Massachusetts) should vote in the opposing party’s primary, not to sabotage the race but to try to nominate a more moderate candidate.

Because so few people – the most partisan people – are determining primary winners, candidates who appeal to party wings are most likely to advance to the general election. Voters are then asked to choose between candidates who have ignored the middle. But there are still options for finding candidates who are willing to work across the aisle.

One tool is the Common Ground Scorecard, which assesses elected officials and candidates on their willingness to pursue solutions through listening and productive conversation, rather than scoring political points. Using nearly 20 objective and subjective data points from a variety of bipartisan sources, the Scorecard can help voters determine which candidates to support if good policymaking is more important than party identity. It considers five key areas:

  • Official Performance — bipartisan bill sponsorship for legislators or bipartisan job approval for executives
  • Personal Actions — public conversation across political differences and joining an official from the opposing party for a visit of their district
  • Communication — promoting common ground
  • Commitments — affirmation of Common Grounder Commitments
  • Outstanding Common Grounder — awarded for common ground behavior or boldly champions common ground

The Scorecard grades incumbents and candidates for five offices: president, vice president, senator, House member, and governor. Try it out now.

Learn how your state handles primary voting.

Check the primary date for your state.

Gun Violence Commentary

Co-Founder’s Statement on Reducing Gun Violence

Stop the Posturing and Do the Hard Work.

By Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen

Columbine. Sandy Hook. Parkland. And now, Uvalde.

Will it be different this time?

As an organization that brings people of diverse views together to work toward more progress and less division and bring healing, we believe action can be taken to save lives – once people decide that the solution is more important than the fight.

In the wake of the shooting at Robb Elementary School, we call on lawmakers, lobbyists, activists and citizens to resist the urge to amplify emotionally satisfying but polarizing reactions and stop using the issue to gain political position and power. Instead use this moment to do the hard work of research and thoughtful deliberation needed to craft and advance bipartisan action that can effectively reduce gun violence both now and over time.

There is no denying that, at a broad level, viewpoints on guns break across party lines. Republicans are nearly four times as likely as Democrats to say gun rights are more important than gun control, while nine in ten Democrats, compared to half of Republicans, favor bans on assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines.

Nor is there doubt that gun control is one of our country’s most polarizing issues. The passion with which some Americans defend their Second Amendment right while others call for weapon bans brings more heat to an already fraught issue. Yet this all-or-nothing debate is a manufactured narrative that simply cannot address the issue of gun violence in a meaningful, lasting manner.

In truth, most Americans already agree on common-sense measures that can help. According to Pew Research, overwhelming majorities of both Democrats (91%) and Republicans (92%) strongly favor barring people suffering from mental illnesses from purchasing firearms. And a large majority of both Democrats and Republicans — 93% and 82% respectively — favor making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks.

To drive meaningful policy change and bring healing to the divisiveness, it’s clear we must leave zero-sum games behind. In a country with more guns than people, there is no absolute panacea to gun violence. Gun ownership and the constitution’s Second Amendment have been cultural anchors since the times of our Founding Fathers and will likely remain so for decades to come.

Yet that does not mean we are powerless to address the death toll. When faced with a public health challenge, working toward harm reduction — even if some members of the public scorn these as half measures — is proven to provide tangible material benefits. By framing mass shootings as a public health issue, not a political one, Congress can set the stage for developing effective, bipartisan solutions.

We believe that to move the needle, we must seek out two things: fact-based regulation on gun access and ownership, and research-based methods that enable early detection of people on a trajectory to cause harm.

Activists are already doing this work and having an impact. Rachel’s Challenge, formed after the Columbine High School tragedy, has helped avert eight mass shootings and save 150 lives annually. Parkland students motivated then-Governor Rick Scott to buck the NRA and sign a sweeping gun bill into law that included raising the minimum age for purchasing rifles and extending the waiting period for purchasing handguns.

The federal government is also showing signs of progress. In collaboration with RAND’s National Collaborative on Gun Violence, we now have research analyzing the effectiveness of gun policy, with “moderately good evidence” found that expanding background checks could make a difference.

This focus on research can lead to better regulatory policy and better health outcomes, as shown by examples from past public health scares. From 1973 to 2012, there were 269 National Institute of Health (NIH) research awards granted for Polio – and just 266 cases in that period. For cholera, 212 awards for 400 cases. In this same 39-year span, there have been over four million firearm injuries. The number of NIH research awards for gun-related harm? Just three.

Along the way, America must ignore distractions, such as calls for repealing the Second Amendment or arming teachers. These ideas are de-facto non-starters while encouraging more divisiveness. Instead, we should follow the lead of experts like Ryan Busse, a former gun industry executive and lifelong firearms aficionado, who on our podcast set aside the talking points and spoke about the challenges with the gun lobby in our search for solutions to gun violence.

To pursue our usual approach to the gun debates effectively means accepting an unforgivable cost. We must seize this moment, together, to start writing a good and lasting ending to this recurring American nightmare.

 

Media Politics Polarization

Media, Politics and Polarization

What is the role of the media in our current state of polarization, and the twisting of facts to suit an agenda? That was the topic of a panel with Chris Wallace of CNN and Jonathan Karl, ABC’s Chief White House Correspondent. The event, “Media, Politics, and Polarization,” was hosted by former CBS correspondent and author Jacqueline Adams.  

 There were three main topics on the table: the perception of media as increasingly polarized; the power of the media; and the solutions for fixing distrust of the media. 

Why do you think there’s such a public distrust of the media? Jacqueline Adams asked. She cited a Gallop poll last year that indicated increasingly skeptical public opinion of the media – particularly among Republicans. 

 Karl said he didn’t find that surprising, since the most prominent Republican, and president of the U.S., Donald Trump, called the media the public enemy of the people. But the progression was already underway, Wallace pointed out. The reason for Fox’s rise back in the late 90s was that a large part of the population felt underserved. Fox gave them a news outlet that they hadn’t seen before Trump was an accelerant. It was an answer to their sense for decades that the mainstream media wasn’t speaking to them.  

 How powerful is the press, really? Adams suggested the influence could be seen in its real-world impact—most recently, as a driver of perception about COVID. She presented the results of a study that demonstrated a dramatic difference of opinion toward the pandemic: Those who watch MSNBC reports on COVID risks expressed three times as much concern over the risk of COVID than viewers of Fox did.  

 Democrats and Republicans had a very different slant toward the lockdown, Wallace said, comparing it to the polio generation’s embrace of the vaccine, which was not at all political. Today, he said, the response to COVID and the vaccine was an echo chamber of politics and media. “Media kind of followed the political divide,” he said. “It didn’t create the political divide.” 

 What options does the media have to reduce the divisions among its programming, and viewers? Adams asked. Fact-checkers are already working overtime to reality-check the spin put on by both parties. What’s the solution to dial this back to center? 

Karl interjected that he felt uncomfortable with the characterization of “the media this, the media that.” The media is such a diverse landscape, he said, with a wide range of outlets—from Twitter to podcasts and newspaper comments feedback online — that it can’t be painted with one brush. Most news consumers will follow the feed that matches their beliefs. Not surprisingly, many outlets don’t mind the divide, and in fact, benefit from fanning the flames.  

“We’re not two political philosophies,” Wallace said, “We’re two tribes, with not just different beliefs, but different truths.” If you’re a politician moving toward the middle, there’s the fear of reprisal by your competition. Until there’s a market incentive to compromise, there’s a lack of motivation for finding common ground. “I have a good friend who deals with news start-ups, both print and digital, and he was making a pitch to investors to tell it down the middle,” Wallace said. The investors told him, that the market doesn’t reward that—it rewards news with a point of view. “Until we can get away from that, news as a business, you’ll take a loss if you tell it straight.” 

What if the news networks stopped giving air time to guests who make outrageously biased statements? Adams asked. How much do ratings play into the choice of topics and guests? 

If I don’t do well in ratings, Karl said, I’m probably not going to have the chance to continue what I do. But mistakes happen when you focus purely on ratings. Years ago, whenever there was a car chase, they’d cover it live in real-time. Then it becomes, “My God, where’s it going to go?” “When are they going to catch them?” It was beyond OJ and the Bronco. You gain an audience,” he said. “But it doesn’t work over time and erodes the brand”  “CNN’s brand was, ‘News You Can Trust.’ Look at Chris Cuomo bringing his brother on. People watched again and again. But it eroded some credibility.” You can’t just look at ratings, he said, because it will be a failed business model in the end.  

The takeaway, Wallace said, should be that there doesn’t need to be too much wringing of hands, because there’s some great reporting happening every day. “In the end, it’s really on citizens: do you want a different government and climate, political ecology? It’s on each of us in our various roles to push for it.” 

There’s plenty of space for opinion journalism, Karl said, but we need to have news organizations dedicated to nothing more than pursuing the facts and truth as far as we’re able to discern it. “My opinion is that we’re in an extremely polarized period, but we’ve had this before, perhaps worse,” he said. “The pendulum will swing.” 

To see the full event, you can watch the recording. 

image of the earth

Earth Day: Getting Beyond the Recycled Arguments

In recognition of Earth Day 2022, we sat down with Common Ground Committee co-founder Bruce Bond to discuss the polarization that exists over some of today’s great ecological challenges—and ways we can meet in the middle.

Q: Why do you believe there is strife over scientific facts surrounding threats to the environment?

A: We have work to do on climate change. I think it is a real thing. But the question is, to what degree does mankind have a role to play? Not, does it have a role to play, but to what degree. So let’s be smart about this. There have to be ways to address the climate problem without causing the enormous changes in the economics and lifestyle of everyday people that often accompany the calls to action. And the thing we ought to be thinking about, especially on Earth Day, is how we can make a difference as individuals—as communities and entities, corporations and government, whatever it might be to put ourselves in a better position from a climate perspective that can be done practically with an eye toward engaging people in the effort rather than accepting that they are the necessary victims of dramatic policy change?

Q: What do you remember as your earliest awareness of the environment as something in need of being protected?

A: Like many of us, I remember that “Keep America Beautiful” PSA in the early 70s, of the Native American in a canoe passing all the garbage, with a tear down his cheek. My father was an executive with Stauffer Chemical, a major producer of DDT, and at the time I didn’t have a full understanding of the pushback on pesticides. When I became more aware of his work, I was like, “That’s something that I’m not going to tell my friends.” But, I began to press him on environmental questions and what I saw as his company’s exacerbation of the problem. He said, “If you want to have this discussion, you need to go get your data. And then let’s have a conversation about it.” And so I did. We’d have these long and passionate conversations at the dinner table, conversations which I’m sure made my mother uncomfortable. When all was said and done, we had both shifted our position and found common ground. , As a pesticide to protect crops, DDT is something that you probably don’t want to use. But if you’re trying to save lives, in a malaria situation, it was extremely effective. I learned that context matters. Rarely is any issue black and white, and you don’t solve it through ideology.

Q: What environmental issues give you hope, in terms of solutions with a good bit of nonpartisan support?

A: Fossil fuel-powered cars are going to be like horses. There was a time when horses were the primary vehicle in personal transportation but innovation and competition resulted in horses being replaced by cars. . And we see another similar change unfolding today. At this year’s (2022) New York Auto Show, it was all about electric. Electric cars are already beginning to replace gas-powered ones. We’ve seen that innovation and competition rule. It’s the hidden hand of the market manifesting itself, right? You innovate, you compete, and you get these problems resolved one way or the other.

Then there’s solar energy. Energy companies are going to farmers who might be considered victims of climate change, struggling with farming on what has become fallow ground, and asking “How about if you let us put up some solar panels, and we’ll pay you. You can make a living using your land, and help the environment at the same time.” And it’s like, win-win, right? Also with solar, we do have situations now where you can sell a surplus collection of solar energy from your home back to the power companies. Think about that. That’s just a radical thing. Fifty years ago that would have been unthinkable, the stuff of Tom Swift novels.

There are no so-called easy answers at this point. But the breakthroughs are coming in form of common ground being found, where the economics of improved climate solutions make sense.  We absolutely can move forward together to address the climate challenge.  It is a doable thing.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge to overcome to help people agree on environmental change?

A: There’s a lot of innovation if you can get people to cross the chasm, as Geoffrey Moore would say, with fully operational and economically sound technology. It’s going to take some time for the transition. But the question today is not is there going to be one, but when is it going to happen? We had an event with Condi Rice and John Kerry at the University of Notre Dame in March of 2019. Kerry is very, very much a climate guy. But he was agreeing with Condi Rice that we are a nation of truck drivers, and we have to have a transition fuel. What could that be? And he was saying, hydrogen is not going to cut it. I was truly impressed to hear him saying, yeah, there’s not a business model, the business model doesn’t work. The economics don’t work. Not yet. And maybe never. He said, but there is a need for a bridging fuel, and that presents an opportunity.

There are times when you have to take a radical step, whatever it might be. But, in the environmental field, you can often make progress in a way that achieves both ends: you don’t create an economic catastrophe for people, and you help the environment repair itself or avoid further trouble.

Q: If you had a broad platform to make a case for common ground on the environment, what points would you stress?

 

Protect the beautiful, threatened places. I cringe when I see what’s happening to the rainforests, and what’s going on in the Amazon. And it’s more than the science of it, the reduction of the Earth’s ability to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. That is a big deal. But there’s only so much natural beauty on this planet, and only so many beautiful pristine wilderness areas. And when we experience big ecological disasters, like what happened with the Exxon Valdez when I was in school, they make the hair go up on my neck when I read about them or see the videos on the television. The “ROI” of preserving the natural world is very hard to measure. But most people when they experience the wonders of nature know in their hearts that those wonders must remain.

The other thing I’ll say that is important about debating climate change and other heartfelt, emotional issues is to remember to keep what’s important in mind.  For my dad and me, the DDT debate was a very emotional battle between us. But we never lost sight of the fact that we loved each other. That remains the most important thing. It took some time, but we were able to find common ground. For us, the relationship was always the priority, not the issue we were debating.

A second thing is an importance of getting your facts right. You can have a conversation if you are dealing in facts. And when you think you have them, dig deeper, because it’s all about context, as I found in my discussions with my dad.

Lastly, when it comes to climate change, find organizations you really respect and support. I happen to like the Nature Conservancy, in part because they’re really about being preventative. Let’s go out there and get parcels of land and preserve them. I’m just naturally attracted to good planning, solutions that involve, good, smart thinking that put you in front of things rather than have you reacting to them. Perhaps sending a contribution to a climate organization you respect or an organization that you believe has demonstrated good environmental practices is something you would consider doing on Earth Day.

Last, do the little things.  Pick up trash – particularly yours – and recycle. I think those are things we can all agree upon.

fake news

How to Spot Fake News

In contrast to Justice Potter Stewart’s 1964 observation about pornography, “we know it when we see it,” fake news is something that may be very hard to recognize.

There’s a reason so many people are confused or deceived by the information presented as fact. That’s because the way information is presented (and misrepresented) has become both more sophisticated and more convoluted. At its most basic, though, when done intentionally, the goal is simple: to confuse the public enough to make them question what they thought to be true.

Fake news is also about validating a deeply held narrative. Take, for example, Putin and the effort he’s made to not just keep people from seeing the truth, but also to validate their belief that Russia is a good country that it’s only defending itself and innocent Ukrainians are being brutalized by a Nazi regime. The tactic is very effective in case they hear something to the contrary.

When people can’t distinguish between facts and fakes, it creates confusion and misunderstanding about important and timely issues. And when people become jaded into a generalized sense that they “can’t believe anything you see/hear/read,” it intensifies polarization, messes with electoral outcomes, and undermines overall trust in legitimate news sources.

Another example can be seen in the recent news surrounding the invasion of Ukraine. “Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook are all full of ‘firsthand accounts’ and ‘threads from contacts’ and other such things. While many of them are legitimate, many, many more are not. There is old footage, deep fakes, made-up personal accounts of events, and more,” explains Sree Sreenivasan, managing director of Cronkite Pro, a global training initiative of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, in his weekly newsletter. Even official government statements from Ukraine should be taken with a grain of salt, he says. “Information wars go both ways, and just because your side says something you want to hear, doesn’t make it true.”

As we wrote recently in An Introduction to Fake News, fake news can be “disinformation,” exaggerated or mistakenly presented as news — or misinformation, delivered with the intention to deceive. Either way, there are a collection of attributes that news consumers should be alert to.

An important first step is being skeptical of any claims going viral, says FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. As a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters, Factcheck.org applies journalism and scholarship to reduce the level of deception and confusion in politics by monitoring the factual accuracy of what is distributed in the media (both traditional and social).

When FactCheck.org first began warning the public in 2008, the most common red flags were excessive use of exclamation points, anonymous authors or sources, misspellings and odd use of capital letters, and in the case of chain e-mail, insistence that “This is NOT a hoax!”

Things have become more complicated since the days of emails from Nigerian princes looking for partners in investment. This is particularly true of outlets and websites that appear more professional, where the public’s level of scrutiny needs to go up a notch.

“A lot of posts that really take off tend to tap into presuppositions, appeal to somebody for example who thinks Democrats are always raising taxes. We recommend trying to check your biases. Much of this stuff plays into emotions, designed to make people angry or scared,” says Lori Robertson, managing editor of FactCheck.org. Always do a gut check before believing what you read, and definitely, before passing it on, she says. Otherwise, you’re just adding to the clickbait.

Some questions to ask of any article:

*Scrutinize the tone. Is there an angle being pushed? There’s a difference between an article that gets one fact wrong, either through shoddy or inexperienced journalism, and one that beats the drum for one viewpoint, with biased, questionable, or false sources.

*Does the source cited actually support the claim? Some official-looking sources have nothing whatsoever to do with the conclusion the article is trying to make. Linking to the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act of 2012 seems like it adds legitimacy. But it doesn’t back up a story that a candidate is, say, trying to ban prenatal vitamins or legalize cocaine.

*Check the date and circumstances of an event that’s being credited to (or blamed on) a current politician. A headline referencing something that happened years ago can suggest causality where there is none—or deny causality where there is. Some photos and videos coming out of Ukraine are being disputed by Russian officials as footage from unrelated past wars.

*Who’s the author? Are they really who their credentials say they are? John Doe might have won an impressive number of esteemed awards and literary publications. But a few keystrokes can reveal whether or not he conferred them upon himself.

*Remember to sniff for satire or parody. Some fake news is offered simply for entertainment value, like The Onion. These stories don’t attempt to deceive readers because they aren’t meant to be taken seriously. Still, believe it or not, there are some people who take the Borowitz Report literally. Think before you retweet.

*Deep face videos do exist. But they aren’t generally done well enough or with credible enough material to go viral, says Robertson. Still, if you see something that seems too extraordinarily far-fetched or out of character, that might not be the horse to put your money on, even if you think you’re getting it from the horse’s mouth.

Would you like to dig deeper?

Visit our event Facts, Fake News, and the Media for an in-depth discussion between CNN+ anchor, Chris Wallace and NYT correspondent, Maggie Haberman.

Richard Davies Madeleine Albright

WATCH: Madeleine Albright Makes an Impression on a Young Reporter

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Madeleine Albright

Journalist Richard Davies, host of our Let’s Find Common Ground podcast, shares a personal memory of a trailblazing woman leader who made an impression on him early in his career: America’s first female Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

Ms. Albright, who passed away on March 23rd, was a child of Czech refugees who narrowly escaped Nazi troops and fled to the United States in 1948. A gifted student, Ms. Albright became a prominent analyst of world affairs and served as a counselor to President Jimmy Carter and numerous presidential candidates. Appointed to serve as Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, she was committed to talking about foreign policy in human and bipartisan terms, realizing that building public support and understanding was vital to American democracy.

For young political reporter Richard Davies, meeting her on a press bus in 1984 during her time as top foreign policy advisor to presidential candidate Walter Mondale, Ms. Albright’s approach would leave a lasting impression.

“She was the opposite of most buttoned-up campaign advisors who would insist their remarks were on background only,” recalls Davies. “She was serious and highly intelligent, but also warm, witty and confident. I’ll never forget that bus ride.”

Hear more of Richard’s work on our podcast page, featuring conversations with today’s top thought leaders, journalists and more.

Katharine Hayhoe

Women’s History Month

Women’s History Month celebrates and acknowledges the women who have changed or marked history in some way. It is a time to honor women in the workforce and uplift the women at home and in our lives. In March, America celebrates how women have and continue to overcome the work to remove the obstacles that prevented them not just from voting but, more importantly, from reaching their full potential so that they could make a strong and positive difference for all Americans.

As part of this national celebration, Common Ground Committee would like to uplift women who have agreed to share their stories with us on ‘Let’s Find Common Ground,’ since last year’s Women’s History Month. If you want to see some of the influential and powerful women who have participated in our work up to that point, you can check out this blog post from last March. You can also listen to all podcast episodes here.

Tania Israel

 

Tania Israel, Depolarizing America

Tania Israel is a professor in the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Dr. Israel has facilitated educational programs and difficult dialogues about a range of topics, including abortion, law enforcement, religion, and sexual orientation.

 

Salena Zito

Salena Zito, Understanding Trump Voters, and American Populism

Salena Zito is a political journalist for the Washington Examiner and the New York Post. She is the co-author of The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics

Becky Pringle

 

Becky Pringle, Education Reimagined

Becky Pringle is president of the National Education Association. Before assuming NEA’s top post, she served as NEA vice president and before that as NEA secretary-treasurer. Pringle directed NEA’s work to combat institutional racism, and spotlight systemic patterns of racism and educational injustice that impact students.

 

Katharine Hayhoe

Katharine Hayhoe, A Climate Scientist Makes the Case for Hope

Katharine Hayhoe serves as Chief Scientist for The Nature Conservancy. She is the Endowed Professor in Public Policy and Public Law and Paul W. Horn Distinguished Professor at Texas Tech University. Hayhoe is the Climate Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance and has been named one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People,” Fortune’s “50 Greatest Leaders,” and Foreign Policy’s “100 Leading Global Thinkers.”

An easy way to begin honoring this month is by diving into the perspectives of powerful women and learning about their experiences. We’ve compiled a reading list for March, featuring bestselling memoirs, stories of resilience and social change, insightful picks for women in politics, and more.

 

Condoleezza Rice, A Memoir of My Extraordinary Ordinary Family and Me
By Condoleezza Rice

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life
By: Jane Sherron de Hart

I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times
By: Mónica Guzmán 

 

 

Becoming
By: Michelle Obama 

Spoken from The Heart
By: Laura Bush 

My Beloved World 
By: Sonia Sotomayor  

High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out 
By: Amanda Ripley

The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics
By: Salena Zito & Brad Todd

Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World 
By: Katharine Hayhoe

Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work
By: Tania Israel

WATCH: Bridge Builders in Congress

In this moment of rising inflation and global conflict, an emerging story offers reason for hope: the movement to heal political polarization in America is gaining fresh momentum.

And, signs show, it comes just in time.

Recent polling by Fox News showed that 78% of all respondents said they were “extremely” or “very” concerned about political divisions within the country, ranking the issue among their top three concerns. Other outlets, too, are hearing alarm from citizens across the political spectrum about polarization’s threat to democracy. And with trust in government near an all-time low, this polarization threatens America’s strength both domestically and overseas.

In response, a growing movement of community groups across the country are working to bridge the divides. As a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that is a prominent part of this movement, Common Ground Committee has been honored to highlight the work of elected officials who also recognize this troubling discord, and are undertaking the work of crafting bipartisan solutions.

Listen now: “Seeking Common Ground in Congress,” featuring Rep. Bryan Fitzpatrick (R) and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D).

In a series of podcast and video interviews, we have explored approaches for breaking gridlock with legislators who are part of the Problem Solvers Caucus. This independent member-driven group in Congress is comprised of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans who are committed to finding common ground on key issues facing the nation.

Two weeks ago, members of the Problem Solvers Caucus joined other legislators who support bipartisan solutions to put forward the Building Civic Bridges Act. Introduced by nine Republicans and nine Democrats, the bill aims to establish the federal government as a key partner in the deliberate effort to bridge divides and strengthen American democracy.

Listen now: “How Problem Solvers Caucus Attacks Gridlock in Congress,” featuring Rep. Don Bacon (R) and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D).

The legislation would empower communities to tackle sources of division through a new non-partisan pilot program, led by an Office of Civic Bridgebuilding within AmeriCorps, that would allocate competitive grants to civic and community organizations working to build relationships across lines of difference.

From interfaith groups working to build community understanding after attacks on religious institutions to local YMCAs partnering with conflict resolution experts and sponsoring community events, these community organizations are doing the on-the-ground work of building understanding across differences.

Backing their work is an entirely new way for Congress to look at improving bipartisanship and collaboration to help overcome deep ideological division across the country.

And, with the bill introduced just before President Biden’s first State of the Union address at which he introduced a Unity Agenda for the Nation with policy goals that enjoy broad bipartisan support, it’s a concept for which the time may have arrived at last.

“While it often appears that we never agree, that isn’t true,” Biden reminded the public, noting that he signed 80 bipartisan bills into law last year.

From sending emails or letters of gratitude to co-signers of the bill to asking your representatives to support these bipartisan efforts, we all have a chance to be part of the “healing polarization” wave that is building across the nation. We encourage Americans of all political persuasions to join in supporting this work.


Stay tuned for the next episode of our “Let’s Find Common Ground” podcast featuring Rep. Derek Kilmer (D) and Rep. William Timmons (R). As Chair and Vice-Chair of the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, they are the author and co-sponsor respectively of the Building Civic Bridges Act. If you haven’t already, subscribe now to be notified of upcoming episodes.

Ukraine Flag

A Note from our Co-Founders on Ukraine

Common Ground Committee condemns without condition the naked aggression Russian President Vladimir Putin is pursuing against the sovereign nation of Ukraine. Period. Unlike issues such as health care, immigration or taxes, where a deep divide is expected, Americans must repudiate Putin’s authoritarian tactics, and the world must know that we are united in our repudiation. And so we also condemn efforts to score political points in the debate over the U.S. response. This is the moment when we need to all stand together as one nation, regardless of party, and support efforts to help a free people remain free.

To be clear: That doesn’t mean we all need to be in lockstep agreement on how to proceed or the specifics of that response. We have already seen the United States and our European allies level unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia, an action favored by 67% of U.S. adults, including strong majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents. Hopefully that will be enough to restore peace in Eastern Europe but the impact is not clear and it appears unlikely even the most punishing sanctions will cause Putin to stop his invasion in the short term.

So there will continue to be debate about the best way to counter Putin. But in that debate we must avoid the trap of allowing the Russia-Ukraine problem to become a “left or right” issue, let alone one laced with personal attacks. As the world’s leading democratic power, we need to present a unified stance if we are going to stop the spread of authoritarianism, which is on the rise around the globe.

For some people that may be difficult. More than half of the country disapproves of President Biden’s job performance, but when it comes to stopping Putin’s aggression we need to set aside partisan grievances. There’s no room for over-the-top, politically motivated rhetoric when it comes to foiling Russian aggression – a lack of unified resolve only serves to weaken the U.S. on the global stage while enabling Putin’s worst instincts.

And finding common ground in defense of freedom really shouldn’t be that hard. More than 70% of Americans believe Russia poses a serious or somewhat serious threat to the United States. But we must also recognize and admit that sometimes the search for common ground needs to be set aside. Vladimir Putin has created just such a moment..

Finding common ground is almost always the best strategy to resolve differences. However, when the worst of human nature is the driving force in an adversary capable of inflicting enormous harm and upending the post-World War II world order – which is what we face here – then the conversation must be suspended and strong action must be taken. This does not require anyone to compromise their principles. Indeed, the values we share as Americans are at the heart of the deep and wide common ground we have found. As we debate the correct response to Putin’s actions, let us be willing to listen, collaborate and set aside political motivation. We can then find meaningful agreement while remaining true to our principles, and avoid the type of rhetoric that would send the wrong message to Putin and others who may be testing America’s resolve.

In fact, we believe that by doing this, our leaders will find new strength by rediscovering common ground that had been destroyed by partisan rhetoric. The Russia-Ukraine problem is a rare situation where the political tribes in our nation are fundamentally in agreement. We should use that strength to support our leaders and those of our allies as they pursue a solution to this very difficult challenge.

We have this shared sense of resolve because we all believe in democracy, even though we don’t always agree on how best to implement it. Our system is built on human dignity, civil rights, the rule of law, the right to protest and representative government. Putin denies his people such basic liberties and threatens to spread his brand of autocracy across Eastern Europe. We are already seeing signs of the unity necessary in this time of international conflict.

Look no further than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has traditionally aligned itself more with conservatives.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a serious breach of international law, a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, and an affront to our steadfast belief in a world where democratic countries, following the rule of law and the free enterprise system, can be free and prosper,” said President and CEO Suzanne Clark. “The business community will continue to support the Administration, Congress, and our allies to ensure a swift and meaningful response to Russia’s aggression.”

Democracy cannot prosper when an autocrat is permitted to invade another country and seize territory without cause or provocation. (We know critics will point to President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, but surely we can all agree that the Iraq war was never about a president’s ambition to build an empire.)

We need to put politics aside. Much is being written and said about polls that show three-quarters of Republicans and slightly more than half of independents disapprove of Biden’s handling of the conflict, even though he is doing what they want – imposing sanctions and vowing not to put American soldiers in harm’s way. But we must not allow our focus to be derailed by all-too-common political sniping. Neither we nor the world can afford to make internal disagreement with the president’s strategy the focus rather than the invasion.

In 1948, President Harry Truman and leading Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg agreed that partisan politics should stop “at the water’s edge,” announcing their intention to leave Cold War foreign policy out of partisan politics. Granted, they were not always successful, but we should live up to the ideal, not the implementation.

We are not advocating covering up healthy debate. We are imploring Americans to maintain perspective, stop demonizing, debate without political motivation, and continually refocus their thoughts and words on our united rejection of Putin’s aggression.

The situation in Ukraine is likely to change quickly and often, meaning a unified first approach may not be the final approach to battling authoritarianism. We need to be flexible and willing to compromise positions (but not principles) with those who seek resolution with good faith. That is the oldest American tradition, dating back to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Don’t let politics get in the way of our shared values, nor of the message the world needs to hear from us – that Americans of all parties, races, religions and lifestyles stand united against Vladimir Putin’s criminal and heinous pursuit of prestige and power.

Co-Founders

Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen

Caroline Randall Williams

Honoring Black History Month 2022

During the month of February, we celebrate the many accomplishments of Black Americans and look closely at the often-ignored impact of Black history in our nation. Since 1976, this month has meant a time for reflection and acknowledging the legacy of injustice perpetuated at the expense of Black lives. This year’s theme is, Black Health and Wellness, “[which] acknowledges the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also other ways of knowing (e.g., birth workers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African Diaspora.

This year, Common Ground Committee seeks to highlight influential Black leaders who have agreed to tell us their stories. Below you’ll find a list of those leaders and accompanying content we’re proud to produce and share:

Caroline Randall Williams

Caroline Randall Williams Caroline Randall Williams is an award-winning poet, young adult novelist, and cookbook author as well as an activist, public intellectual, performance artist, and scholar. She joined the faculty of Vanderbilt University in the Fall of 2019 as a Writer-in-Residence in Medicine, Health, and Society.

If you want to listen:

“I’m a living intersection of Black Southern narrative and white Southern narrative. I have to have common ground because I do come from both.”
–  Caroline Randall Williams

Daryl Davis

Daryl DavisDaryl Davis is an award-winning musician with a degree in Jazz. He was the first Black author to interview KKK leaders and members, detailed in his book, Klan-Destine Relationships. He is a race reconciliator and lecturer, has received numerous awards and is often sought out by news outlets as a consultant on race relations and white supremacy.

If you want to listen:

If you want to watch:

“Ignorance breeds fear. We fear the things that we don’t understand. If that fear is not addressed and resolved, that fear will escalate to hatred because we hate the things that frighten us.”
– Daryl Davis

Hawk Newsome

newsomeHawk Newsome is a political activist working at the forefront of the New Civil Rights Movement and the co-founder and chairperson of Black Lives Matter Greater New York. He is also a former candidate for the New York City Council and former Special Projects Coordinator at the Bronx County Office of the District Attorney.

If you want to listen:

“I would love to sit down with poor white folk in rural settings across America and talk to them about classism…and then we could sit back and come to the conclusion that it is the 1% and the people that they hire to represent them… I’m sorry, the government, who are keeping us pitted against each other.”

– Hawk Newsome

Dr. Brian Williams

dr williamsDr. Brian Williams is an Associate Professor of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at the University of Chicago. He is a renowned keynote speaker, the Vice-Chair of the One America Movement, a guest opinion writer featured in the Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News, and hosts the podcast Race, Violence & Medicine. Back in 2016, Dr. Brian Williams led the trauma team that treated police officers ambushed by a sniper on July 7, 2016 – the largest loss of life for US law enforcement since 9/11.

If you want to listen:

“The lack of understanding of the history of policing in this country and how it has meant to isolate and control Black Americans…is a problem.”

– Brian Williams, MD.

Professor Ilyasah Shabazz

Professor ShabazzProfessor Ilyasah Shabazz is an author, artist, mentor, and implementer of cultural and community outreach initiatives, serving diverse populations. She promotes higher education for at-risk youth, interfaith dialogue to build bridges between cultures for young leaders of the world, and participates in international humanitarian delegations. She is the daughter of Dr. Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X.

If you want to listen:

“If we’re taught hate, we’re never going to solve any problems.”

– Professor Ilyasah Shabazz

Sheriff Errol D. Toulon, Jr.

shreiff toulonSheriff Errol D. Toulon, Jr. is the 67th Sheriff of Suffolk County, New York and is the first Black American to be elected to a non-judicial countywide office. He has more than 30 years of criminal-justice experience centered upon corrections intelligence and combating gang violence. Prior to serving as Suffolk County Sheriff, he worked for the New York City Department of Correction.

If you want to listen:

 “When I realized that I was going to win [the election for Sheriff], several people informed me that I’m not only the first African-American to be elected to Sheriff but the first African-American to be elected to a county-wide position in Nassau or Suffolk county…history.”

– Sheriff Toulon

Donna Brazile

brazileDonna Brazile is an adjunct professor, author, syndicated columnist, television political commentator, Vice Chair of Voter Registration and Participation at the Democratic National Committee, and former interim National Chair of the Democratic National Committee as well as the former chair of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute.

If you want to listen:

If you want to watch:

 “We have to get to a place where we can foster civility in our conversation.”

– Donna Brazile

Maya Wiley

maya wileyMaya Wiley is a former candidate for New York City mayor. She is a nationally renowned expert on racial justice and equity. She has litigated, lobbied the U.S. Congress, and developed programs to transform structural racism in the U.S. and in South Africa. She previously served as the Senior Vice President for Social Justice at the New School University and the Henry Cohen Professor of Public and Urban Policy at The New School’s Milano School of Management, Policy & Environment.

If you want to listen:

“We do live in a violent society. That is a violent society born out of slavery and racism and genocide against Native Americans. In the context of today, the violence that we’re seeing in communities of color are absolutely driving a policing focused on containment and control of entire communities because of the color of the skin of the people who live there.”

– Maya Wiley

Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice Condoleezza Rice is an American diplomat, political scientist, civil servant, and professor. She is currently the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. From 2005 to 2009, she served as the 66th Secretary of State of the United States, the first Black woman to have held this post.

If you want to watch:

“When you are in the business, as an individual citizen, of helping other individual citizens, that is actually the highest form of democracy.”

– Condoleezza Rice

Michael Steele

steeleMichael Steele is an author, political commentator, and attorney. Steele made history when he was the first Black American to be elected as the seventh lieutenant governor of Maryland. In 2009, he was chosen to serve as the Republican National Committee chairperson. He is currently a political analyst for MSNBC and his writings on law, business and politics have appeared in The Wall Street JournalThe Washington TimesPolitico.com, and The Journal of International Security Affairs, among others.

If you want to listen:

If you want to watch:

“While the civil rights march continues and while there’s been a lot of ground covered, there are a whole lot of folks who got off that road or never got on that road who are still teaching that bad behavior to the next generation.”

– Michael Steele

Common Ground Committee is committed to providing tools to encourage productive conversations on today’s key issues. Visit our portal, Bridging Racial Divides where you can find a custom news feed on the latest stories about racial issues in America, and an array of video, blog, and podcast content. We hope that hearing from and watching these prominent guests gives you the courage to tackle difficult interactions with others. Going forward, our team plans to continue amplifying the voices of Black Americans standing up and fighting against hate in the nation.