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Reforming Politics: Civility, Compromise and Common Ground

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Americans say our divisions are getting worse. How can voters lead constructive change?

More than 8-in-10 Americans think the country is divided, and a large majority says public debate has gotten worse in recent years. The deep partisan gap in politics is a major barrier to constructive change.

In this podcast, we explore the need for common ground with Amy Dacey, Executive Director of the Sine Institute of Policy & Politics at American University, and Pearce Godwin, CEO of Listen First Project, and a leading member of #WeavingCommunity.

During the 2016 presidential election, Amy served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Democratic National Committee. Pearce is from a conservative political background, and formerly worked on Republican Party campaigns.

We speak with both of them about the new Common Ground Scorecard initiative and other recent efforts to boost civic engagement and compromise.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep. 13- Reforming Politics-Civility, Compromise and Common Ground

Amy K. Dacey

Amy K. Dacey is Executive Director of the Sine Institute of Policy & Politics at American University. For more than two decades, she managed prominent national organizations, advised leading elected officials and candidates, including President Barack Obama and Senator John Kerry, and counseled a variety of nonprofits and companies.

Before joining AU, Amy was President of AKD Strategies, a strategic firm working with nonprofits, and Foundations in the progressive policy space. During the 2016 presidential election, she served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Democratic National Committee. During the 2004 elections, she worked for then-Senator John Kerry on his presidential campaign and, following his narrow loss, helped to lead Kerry’s political operation. She also managed Rep. Louise Slaughter’s congressional campaign in 1998.

From 2010 to 2013, Amy served as Executive Director of EMILY’s List, the organization dedicated to electing Democratic women to national, state, and local offices, and led the organization’s revitalization, restructuring and rebranding efforts. In addition, she served in various leadership positions for several other organizations, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Fund for America, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Recently, Amy served as Executive Vice President and Managing Director for MWWPR, one of the world’s top independent public relations agencies.

A native of Auburn, New York, Amy received her bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University and her master’s degree in political science from American University.

Pearce Godwin

Pearce Godwin—described as the national voice for bridging divides—is Founder & CEO of Listen First Project, Executive Director of National Conversation Project, and leader of the #ListenFirst Coalition of 300 partner organizations. He catalyzes the #ListenFirst movement to mend the frayed social fabric of America by building relationships and bridging divides. His passion is combating the universally felt crisis of distance, division, and dehumanization across differences with conversations that prioritize understanding.

Pearce graduated from Duke University and received an MBA from UNC-Chapel Hill. He spent five years working in Washington, DC—in the U.S. Senate and as a national political consultant for presidential and statewide campaigns. Before moving home to North Carolina in 2013, Pearce spent six months in Uganda, Africa where he wrote It’s Time to Listen. That message—printed in dozens of papers across the United States—launched Listen First Project and led thousands to sign the Listen First Pledge—“I will listen first to understand.”

In 2017, as division turned to violence across the country, Pearce left his marketing job, fully committing to turn the tide of rising rancor and deepening division with the #ListenFirst message. In 2018, Pearce helped create the first National Week of Conversation and hosted the kickoff event, Listen First in Charlottesville. Pearce then launched the overarching, collaborative movement platform National Conversation Project, which scales the #ListenFirst movement by promoting annual National Weeks of Conversation, #ListenFirst Fridays, Rapid Response & Featured Conversations on Major Issues, Locally-Focused #ListenFirst Movements, and any conversation creating social connection. This burgeoning movement has already reached millions of people with the #ListenFirst message—5 million during National Week of Conversation 2019 alone as 100+ organizations have adopted the common #ListenFirst message for mainstream scale.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Pearce is leading the #WeavingCommunity campaign in partnership with David Brooks’ Weave Project and powered by hundreds of partner organizations in service to our neighbors and nation, with support from Facebook and other sponsors. America is divided and broken, but we can make it stronger by building relationships starting where we live. #WeavingCommunity is a campaign celebrating acts of bravery, caring and connection that heal the pain and weave the future we want.

The #ListenFirst movement has been recognized by journalists at CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, USA Today, Associated Press, and The New York Times as Pearce has spoken about the mission on national television and to live audiences around the world. Pearce recently shared his perspective on current events in USA Today: “It feels like the American experiment is failing. Here’s how we can still save it.”

WATCH: Introducing Our Common Ground Scorecard

Want more progress and less division in politics? Our new Common Ground Scorecard can help inform your vote.

We all need our government to work effectively – but it won’t unless we elect those with the capacity to reach across the aisle. That’s why we created the Common Ground Scorecard, a free mobile-friendly tool that helps voters of all parties evaluate how well your elected officials are doing at listening, leading productive conversations and finding bipartisan points of agreement.

VIDEO: View our short tutorial on how to use the Common Ground Scorecard.

Give the scorecard a try, and see how it can help inform your vote for candidates who will work for more progress, and less division.

Why America needs you to vote for candidates who cooperate, not partisans who fight

In this Opinion Editorial piece for USA Today, Common Ground Committee Co-Founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen make a case for why it’s so important for voters to identify and support candidates in the 2020 election who seek common ground on political issues. 


Voters need a new mindset that makes willingness to find common ground a “must have” quality for any candidate.

The “new normal” that defined 2020 has made its presence known this election season. The upcoming presidential debates will not have in-person audiences. Door-to-door campaigning has mostly vanished. One thing that hasn’t changed in this climate is the rabid partisanship that has been synonymous with our politics for more than a decade.

Elections are known for partisan bickering, and that has been on full display. But the issue goes much deeper. Negotiations over a second stimulus remain stalled and action now seems unlikely until after the election. After the killing of George Floyd, Republican Sen. Tim Scott’s police reform bill couldn’t get past even a procedural vote to begin debate. And most disturbing of all, partisan rhetoric has devolved into violence in cities like Portland, Ore., and Kenosha, Wisc.

To be sure, there are hints of cooperation on the federal level. Congressional leaders are attempting to revive negotiations following the shooting of Jacob Blake, as the nation cries out for action. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the 2020 Health Statistics Act, which would improve our government’s efforts to fight the pandemic.

But when our disagreements turn into violence and critical legislation is stalled, we can’t afford piecemeal progress. Voters need a new mindset that makes willingness to find common ground a “must have” quality for any candidate.

Politics has always had some degree of hostility, but it has not always been such a lightning rod. In 1960, just 4% of Democrats and 4% of Republicans said they would be disappointed if their child married someone from the opposite party, according to the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research. By 2018, that number jumped to 45% and 35%, respectively per Public Religion Research Institute.

Voters’ attitudes have shifted

This thinking has also seeped into our voting habits. After the 2018 midterms, Pew Research found that voters from both parties cited opposition to the other party as a reason for their vote, more so than support of that particular candidate. Just 10 years earlier, Pew found that votes for Barack Obama and John McCain were made primarily in support of those candidates.

It would be easy to solely blame our leaders for this shift. After all, the behavior we witness on a near daily basis on our screens or in our papers feeds into the idea that the other side is an enemy to be defeated rather than a potential partner. But politicians reflect the behavior they think voters want to see. It’s become clear that many see demonization as a required step along the path to victory.

To paraphrase Rep. Barney Frank, who spoke last year at an event hosted by our organization, Common Ground Committee, we are not calling for Americans to vote for candidates they don’t believe in. But we’ve reached a point where we need to strongly consider those who have demonstrated a commitment to working across the aisle — because what we’re doing now is not working.

Politicians who are not interested in hearing what the other side has to say are not interested in making progress, they are simply interested in getting their way.

If we had told you this time last year that most of our workforce was remote, or that the majority of Americans have rallied behind significant police reforms, you may not have believed us. A shift in thinking is never easy, but if there was ever a time, it’s this moment.

Consider actions, not just words

When you go to the polls in November or send in your mail-in ballot, don’t immediately flock to the candidate you think will best dominate the other side. Consider the individual who best represents your ideals but also knows that collaboration is essential in getting things done. Consider their concrete actions rather than just their words.

Find open-minded politicians with the Common Ground Scorecard

This new mindset will require a new set of tools to cut through the noise. That’s why we introduced the Common Ground Scorecard, a tool that measures the degree to which officeholders and candidates for elected office embody the spirit and practice of what we call Common Grounders — people who seek solutions through listening and productive conversation.

The same way voters would research where a candidate for public office stands on issues like climate change, the Scorecard provides a venue to see where they stand on common ground.

Along with the Scorecard, we urge voters to use other voting tools available to help them make informed decisions. Examples include Vote Smart, the Bipartisan Index from the Lugar Center and Ballotpedia.

The historic challenges our nation faces won’t be solved by partisan shots in the coming weeks and months. And they won’t be solved by treating this election like any other.

It is long past time to head to the polls with a new mindset that prioritizes solutions and ideas over demonization and tribalism. With new tools and thinking, we can begin to move the incentive needle away from demonizing the opposition and toward working together to make progress on the tough issues our nation faces.

Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen are co-founders of Common Ground Committee, a citizen-led initiative focused on demonstrating productive public discourse.

– This article was published in USA Today on September 17th, 2020.

WATCH: Finding Common Ground & New Hope Through Music

In this hyper-partisan age, where can we find the inspiration to move past our division? Former Christian Science Monitor politics editor Gail Russell Chaddock recently sat down for a virtual conversation with Common Ground Committee co-founder Bruce Bond and musicians Adam Gussow and Rod Patterson. They explore the power of music to uplift us, invite us to think differently and renew our hope for a shared future.

Watch the highlights now for a thought-provoking conversation on America’s path forward and the story behind the making of Come Together, a new music video jointly produced by Common Ground Committee and Sir Rod & The Blues Doctors that issues a rousing call to open our ears and our hearts – whether we wear red, or we wear blue.

Want more? Tune in to the full hourlong conversation: “Behind the Scenes of the New Music Video ‘Come Together.'”

Two Friends – One Democrat & the Other Republican – Search for Common Ground

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In partisan times, what can a liberal writer and conservative veteran teach us about coming together?

How far apart are we really? A liberal writer from Berkeley and a conservative military vet decided to explore that question together during a series of long road trips in an old Volvo. They drove through 44 states and on nearly twenty thousand miles of road and highways, meeting an extraordinary range of people along the way.

Union - Jordan Blashek & Christopher HaughAt a time of political gridlock and hyper-partisanship, Republican Jordan Blashek and Democrat Chris Haugh formed an unlikely friendship that blossomed, not in spite of, but because of their political differences.

The result of their road trips is the new book Union: A Democrat, A Republican, and a Search for Common Ground. In this podcast episode, we discover what they learned about American politics, culture, civics, and our potential to find common ground.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep. 10 – Two Friends – One Democrat & the Other Republican – Search for Common Ground

Jordan Blashek

Jordan Blashek is a businessman, military veteran, and attorney from Los Angeles, California. After college, Jordan spent five years in the US Marine Corps as an infantry officer, serving two combat tours overseas. He holds degrees from Yale Law School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Princeton University. Jordan is based in New York, where he invests in entrepreneurial efforts to grow the American middle class as a part of Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt.

Christopher Haugh

Christopher Haugh is a writer from Kensington, California. After graduating with highest honors from the University of California, Berkeley, Chris attended Oxford University and started speechwriting as an intern in the Obama White House. He went on to join the U.S. Department of State’s Policy Planning Staff where he served as a speechwriter to the Secretary. In 2018, Chris graduated from Yale Law School where he was a Yale Journalism Scholar. Chris is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York.

WATCH: Behind the Scenes of the New Music Video “Come Together”

Can we find the inspiration to move past our country’s division? In this virtual discussion, former Christian Science Monitor politics editor Gail Russell Chaddock talks with Common Ground Committee co-founder Bruce Bond and musicians Adam Gussow and Rod Patterson about how a musical collaboration is inviting listeners to think differently and find hope for the future.

Learn more about the making of “Come Together,” a music video produced by Common Ground Committee and Sir Rod & The Blues Doctors that issues a rousing call to open our ears and our hearts – whether we wear red, or we wear blue.

Read the backstory: How a journey started in 1986 by a Black blues musician and a white Ivy League graduate continues to bridge divides.

Watch now to find out what inspired the music, enjoy a not-to-be-missed impromptu jam session, and see how we can each play a role in healing conflict, upholding the ideal of respect, discovering shared purpose and finding common ground.

What does it take to lead in times of crisis?

In times of social turmoil and economic uncertainty, the American people have looked to elected officials for both hope and leadership. Here’s what presidents throughout history have shared as a common message in times of crisis – and why it’s so essential to our work in the present moment, as we seek to navigate a shared path through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finding Common Ground Then & Now: Let’s Put Country Before Party

No doubt, these are challenging times. But in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic there are signs of hope – like legislators of both parties voting unanimously to pass the largest economic package in our country’s history. How can we keep this spirit of cooperation going?

For some key lessons for this pivotal moment, we looked back at highlights from a 2013 forum on how President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill transcended a fierce political rivalry to create a bipartisan working relationship

Finding Common Ground Then & Now: Lessons from President Reagan & House Speaker Tip O’Neill

As the nation’s leading conservative and a classic liberal, these two leaders held very different ideological views. But several key factors made it possible for them to work together to make progress on important issues like stabilizing Social Security and reforming the tax code, including:

  • A common background and time spent together socially, which opened the lines for regular one-on-one communication
  • A shared experience as part of a World War II generation that thought of themselves, first and foremost, as staunch Americans
  • A sense of urgency to not just make speeches that appealed to their bases, but to deliver the goods by creating policies to benefit all Americans
  • A willingness to persuade allies to make concessions for the sake of progress

Today, our leaders no longer share the common experience of having lived through a world war that inspires citizens to put country before party. Yet the moment we are now living through is creating a new shared experience that calls us to set aside differences, and work for the collective well-being of every American.

As leaders, citizens and neighbors, let’s seize this moment to build on this spirit of cooperation by putting our focus on rising above party politics, and seeking ways to advance the common good.

Common Ground News Roundup: August 2019

Can left and right find common ground? Our news roundup says there’s hope.

Looking for good news on bipartisan progress and new research on solutions for overcoming the polarization of today’s politics? Read the top five stories from our August 2019 reading list.

1.) Senators: Here’s a bipartisan plan to fix America’s roads and bridges

CNN – Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Tom Carper (D-DE) of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public works issue a call to get a major bipartisan highway infrastructure bill done. Read more.

2.) New voices of moderation: the ‘alterna-squad’ Democrats

Christian Science Monitor – Five freshman women lawmakers in Congress have built an identity around moderation in a party often portrayed as veering sharply left. Read more.

3.) Republicans don’t understand Democrats—and Democrats don’t understand Republicans

The Atlantic – America’s political divisions are driven by hatred of an out-group, rather than love of the in-group. The question is: Why? Read more.

4.) How to increase empathy and unite society

The Economist – Expressions of political differences have become less cordial, making it harder to find common ground. But we can design institutions and interactions so people get along better. Read more.

5.) What are the solutions to political polarization?

Greater Good Magazine – What creates conflicts among groups? Here are five solutions to political polarization grounded in the psychological processes that shape how we interpret identity. Read more.