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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.

common ground 2020

In a Year Like No Other, Delivering Discourse That Heals

By Erik Olsen & Bruce Bond, CGC Co-Founders

The year 2020 was eventful in ways most people never anticipated. For Common Ground Committee (CGC), the arrival of the pandemic meant we had to rapidly pivot from our brand-defining in-person events to come up with a whole new plan for pursuing our mission to bring healing to the incivility and polarization that plagues our nation. We are grateful to report that CGC rose to the occasion.

We Kicked Off With a Great Forum Event in February

The year got off to a good start in February with an exciting forum event at the Columbia Journalism School that we had planned for over a year, Finding Common Ground on Facts, Fake News & The Media. In an explosive era for modern journalism, our panelists Maggie Haberman of the New York Times and Chris Wallace of Fox News found much common ground. The event was covered by The Hollywood Reporter, The Hill, and the Washington Examiner, which provided a link to the entire event. It was the most significant press coverage CGC received to date, and was a great success.

Even In the Midst of a Global Pandemic, We Never Lost Sight of Our Mission

It soon became apparent that plans for future live forum events would be put on hold as the pandemic put an abrupt halt on public gatherings, throwing many organizations in the non-profit sector into turmoil and uncertainty. As the public response to the pandemic rapidly became a very partisan issue, we responded with an op-ed in USA Today on March 20 entitled, “To Stop Coronavirus, We Must Set Aside Partisanship. Here’s How We Can Do It.

We went on to produce three other op-ed pieces in 2020. In USA Today, we described the need for expanding vote-by-mail in the current pandemic environment. Another USA Today op-ed we wrote called out the need to support candidates willing to work across the aisle. Finally, we published a piece in The Hill calling for healing after the election and asking newly elected officials to embrace the country’s need for its leaders to find common ground.

In May, The Common Ground Podcast Was Born

In 2020, CGC also accelerated plans to launch a podcast series, “Let’s Find Common Ground. The series debuted on May 7 with three simultaneous podcast episode releases, all addressing issues arising from the pandemic and the need for leadership and common ground.

Late in May our podcast committee was alerted to the story of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man in rural Georgia killed by three white men who were trying to conduct a “citizen’s arrest.” What was notable was that the men had filmed the incident, thinking that it would give evidence of their innocence. It was a tragic event of mindless brutality. We responded with a healing message by putting together a podcast episode with noted common grounder Daryl Davis, a Black musician who, solely through conversation and building relationships, caused members of the Ku Klux Klan to hang up their robes and give up their racism.

Shortly before the expected release of the podcast the video of George Floyd’s death while in custody was released, sparking widespread unrest in cities across the country. We quickly asked Daryl to do an update on the podcast to include his thoughts about this latest issue. He did so, and that yielded a very timely, effective podcast addressing the problems of racism and the corresponding actions of members of law enforcement. Exceptionally inspiring, it has become one of our most popular podcast episodes.

As race continued to dominate the headlines we produced a series of podcast episodes covering racial equity and law enforcement reform that included interviews with Art Acevedo, the Hispanic Chief of Police for Houston and Errol Toulon, the Black Sheriff of Suffolk County, NY. Sheriff Toulon was joined by his wife,Tina, who is white. The Toulons candidly shared their experiences as a mixed race couple and the perspective it has given them.

In June, We Launched Our YouTube Channel

In June CGC launched a YouTube channel containing over 100 videos of CGC work starting in 2010 and organized in various categories. These include audience reaction, identifying where common ground was found, full forum events, press coverage of CGC activities (including NBC coverage and interviews from the TODAY show and MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin), and partnership activities with other organizations from the Democracy Reform Movement.

We Created the Common Ground Scorecard Just In Time for the Presidential Election

As the summer unfolded and the media focus shifted to the Presidential campaigns, CGC unveiled its latest product, the Common Ground Scorecard. This web-based program is something we had thought about for years and in 2020 finally brought to life. The Scorecard yields an objective score that identifies the degree to which officials and candidates for office are likely to reach across the aisle to find common ground rather than stick to ideology or hold the party line. Essentially it measures the degree to which elected officials are “common grounders.” The tool includes candidates for the presidency, vice-president, members of the U.S. Senate and House and state governors. The Scorecard also includes an option for candidates to pledge to engage in common ground activity while in office.

Over the next several weeks over 15 candidates agreed to take our pledge and local news organizations from Hawaii to Boston picked up the story of how candidates ranked in our Scorecard. In September, Marist College’s highly respected political research organization, the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, evaluated the Scorecard and was impressed. They found it to be “a rigorous assessment, using a number of quantitative factors, to score public officeholders on how much of a ‘common grounder’ they are…. It’s not about issue position but rather focuses on how much an office holder reaches out to those on the ‘other’ side.”

We closed out our 2020 programming with a fascinating webinar featuring members of the cast of Stars and Strife, a documentary about polarization in America and what can be done individually and collectively to address it. NYT columnist David Brooks moderated an in-depth, candid and substantive discussion with former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, BLM of Greater New York’s Hawk Newsome, business leader Katherine Gehl and the film’s writer and director, David Smick.

Looking Ahead to 2021

As we have successfully made a significant shift in how we pursue our mission, we look forward with great anticipation to 2021. We are planning more webinars with notable panelists, continued delivery of our podcast series, enhancement of our Scorecard and new programming elements and tools.

In addition, we anticipate working with like-minded organizations in what is called the “Democracy Reform” movement that we are a part of. We believe strong partnerships are key to the successful pursuit of our mission moving forward.

We also believe every one of us has an important role in bringing light, not heat, to our country’s civil discourse. In this year of unprecedented crisis and division, we are thankful to be part of a community that continues seeking common ground.

Check back with Common Ground Committee and stay up to date on all of our latest events, podcast releases and more! 

Eric Olsen - Common Ground

New York NOW Interview: Erik Olsen on Lawmakers Finding Common Ground

With voters more divided than ever, is there an appetite for candidates who work across the aisle?

Our co-founder Erik Olsen talks to New York NOW host Dan Clark about the conclusions that can be drawn from the 2020 election, what our Common Ground Scorecard reveals about New York legislators – and how the dynamic of Washington could change in the coming term.

Curious to see how your elected officials rank? Find them here.

Seeking Common Ground in Congress

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With a bitterly contested election underway, is it possible for Congress to work across partisan divides?

With just days to go before a bitterly contested election, we speak with two Members of Congress, one Republican and one Democrat, who are reaching across rigid partisan divides to seek out compromise and constructive change.

Democrat Abigail Spanberger is the U.S. Representative for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, who is serving her first term. In 2018, she defeated a Republican incumbent to win the district, which includes most of the northern suburbs of Richmond.

Brian Fitzpatrick is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional district. His district includes all of Bucks County, a mostly suburban area north of Philadelphia.

Reps. Spanberger and Fitzgerald both score highly on the new Common Ground Scorecard rankings.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep. 15 – Seeking Common Ground in Congress

Brian Fitzpatrick

After dedicating his professional life to service and protecting others, Brian Fitzpatrick was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2016 to represent the people of Pennsylvania’s Eighth Congressional District. Following redistricting in 2018, Congressman Fitzpatrick was elected to represent the people of Pennsylvania’s First District which includes all of Bucks County and a portion of northwestern Montgomery County. His top priorities in Congress are increasing economic opportunity and keeping our nation safe.

A Levittown native and graduate of Bishop Egan High School, Brian is a graduate of LaSalle University, Penn State University and the Dickinson School of Law. He is a licensed Certified Public Accountant, Emergency Medical Technician as well as an attorney – having previously served as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney focused on drug crimes.

For 14 years prior to running for Congress, Brian served our country as an FBI Supervisory Special Agent fighting political corruption and supporting global counterterrorism efforts – including being embedded with U.S. Special Forces as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Working to promote freedom and democracy, Brian also served as National Director for the FBI’s Campaign Finance and Election Crimes Enforcement Program and as a national supervisor for the FBI’s Political Corruption Unit where he is recognized as an expert in restoring integrity to governmental institutions. For his work, Brian was an inaugural recipient of the FBI Director’s Leadership Award in 2015 and was named “Investigator of the Year by the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation.

In the 116th Congress, Brian is a member of the Foreign Affairs and Transportation and Infrastructure committees. Brian is the founding member of the Congressional Citizen Legislature Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers committed to fighting for term limits and Congressional reforms, and a member of the No Labels ‘Problem Solver Caucus.’

Abigail Spanberger

U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger is proud to represent Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, which is comprised of ten counties throughout Central Virginia.

Representative Spanberger began her career in public service, first serving as a federal agent with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigating money laundering and narcotics cases, and then serving as a case officer with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). As a CIA officer, she worked at home and abroad to collect vital intelligence, keep our country safe, and work in furtherance of our national security priorities. In the private sector, Representative Spanberger worked with colleges and universities to help them diversify their student bodies and increase graduation rates.

Representative Spanberger serves on the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture and the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. On the House Agriculture Committee, she serves as Chair of the Conservation &  Forestry Subcommittee and as a member of the Commodity Exchanges, Energy, & Credit Subcommittee. And on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Spanberger serves as Vice-Chair of the Europe, Eurasia, Energy, & the Environment Subcommittee and as a member of the Asia, the Pacific, & Nonproliferation Subcommittee.

Representative Spanberger grew up in Henrico County. She earned her B.A. at the University of Virginia and her MBA at a dual degree program between Purdue University’s Krannert School and the GISMA Business School in Hanover, Germany. Representative Spanberger resides in Glen Allen, Henrico County, Virginia with her husband, Adam, and their three children.

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.