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What We’re Reading

By Justin Anderson / 2013 March 7th

At the Democracy Fund, we’re constantly reading the latest research, reports, and analyses to learn about the challenges facing our democracy and what we can do about them. Over the coming months, I’ll use this space to share links to some of these publications. (If you are interested in news and updates from our grantees, please visit the News Page.)

  • Participatory Budgeting in Year Two: Reinvigorating Local Democracy in NYC (Huffington Post) Melissa Mark-Viverito, NYC Council Member, 8th District, discusses the second year of Participatory Budgeting in New York City while highlighting the process and successes from Year One. Related stories: Vallejo Participatory Budgeting Video (Pepperdine University School of Public Policy, Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership) - CA Forward has produced a short video on the participatory budgeting process currently underway in Vallejo, CA. The City of Vallejo is the first US city to undertake a city-wide participatory budgeting process. The Spread of Participatory Budgeting Across the Globe: Adoption, Adaptation, and Impacts (Journal of Public Deliberation, Vol. 8, Issue 2) This special issue of the Journal of Public Deliberation brings together leading scholars and practitioners of PB in order to expand our understanding about why PB programs are being adopted, how governments are adapting the rules and principles to meet different policy and political goals, and the impact of PB on civil society, state reform, and social well-being.
  • 2012 American Values Survey (Pew Research Center for the People and the Press) The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has released a new report examining partisan polarization surges from 1987-2012. Overall, there has been much more stability than change across the 48 political values measures that the Pew Research Center has tracked since 1987. But the average partisan gap has nearly doubled over this 25-year period – from 10 percentage points in 1987 to 18 percentage points in the new study.
  • Most Believe at Least One Political Conspiracy Theory (Political Wire) A new study from Fairleigh Dickinson University finds that 63% of registered voters buy into at least one political conspiracy theory, with 36% who think that President Obama is hiding information about his background and early life, 25% who think that the government knew about 9/11 in advance, and 19% who think the 2012 Presidential election was stolen.
  • Red Brain, Blue Brain: Evaluative Processes Differ in Democrats and Republicans (PLoS ONE) A recent study of young adults suggests that liberals and conservatives have significantly different brain structure. As shown in the study, although the risk-taking behavior of Democrats (liberals) and Republicans (conservatives) did not differ, their brain activity did. Democrats showed significantly greater activity in the left insula, while Republicans showed significantly greater activity in the right amygdala. In fact, a two parameter model of partisanship based on amygdala and insula activations yields a better fitting model of partisanship than a well-established model based on parental socialization of party identification long thought to be one of the core findings of political science.
  • The Exaggeration of Political Polarization in America (The Monkey Cage) Andrew Gelman of the Monkey Cage responds to a new paper from Jacob Westfall, et. al. addressing the Americans’ perceptions of polarization between Democrats and Republicans. The study uses data collected in the American National Election Studies between 1970 and 2004 to examine Americans’ perceptions of polarization between Democrats and Republicans. Respondents reported their own attitudes on partisan issues, such as whether the government should increase spending and provide more services, and they estimated the attitudes of Democrats and Republicans.
  • This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For ( Citing cost (an estimated $850,000,000,000,000,000), lack of interest blowing up planets, and a largely ignored security flaw in design, the White House has chosen not to pursue a proposal to construct a Death Star for the United States. Instead, we should focus on increasing careers in math and science, and support of exploratory programs for NASA.
  • Is civics in crisis? Or just changing its shape? (Ethan Zuckerman – My Heart’s in Accra) Ethan Zuckerman responds to criticism of a spoof of “Jaywalking,” where students at Olympia High School in Olympia, Washington made a video called “Lunch Scholars,” in Jan, 2012. The video has been largely citied as an example how unprepared American youth are to compete in the global economy as well as underscoring the lack of civic knowledge in US schools.
  • Journalism for Democracy (Nieman Journalism Lab) Herb Gans, on journalism, 86 years old and losing none of his insight “Because the popular news media limit themselves to covering top-down politics, they often pay little if any attention to the political processes that swirl under and around the bulwark. Only rarely do they report directly on the problems of and dangers to American democracy.”

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