The Bridging Movement Alignment Council (BMAC) is a group of more than 40 nonprofit leaders dedicated to bridging divides in a polarized nation. We began working together in December 2020, pursuing a variety of strategic initiatives to advance the bridging field and demonstrate the value and promise of bridging in civic life.
One strategy aimed to apply our work to salient public policy issues, and BMAC’s Issues Working Group created a pilot to explore whether and how we might do that. Energized by the movement in Congress on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, we saw a powerful opportunity to applaud efforts among policymakers reaching across the aisle, and to call for more collaboration across differences.
Further, the working group recognized an opportunity to illustrate for policymakers and the public how toxic polarization worsens the “perception gap” – in other words, causes people to believe that the “other side” is more hostile to their position on key issues than is actually the case. When the organization More in Common looked at this phenomenon in 2019, they found that:
- Americans’ views are a lot more similar to their political opponents’ views than they realize.
- “On average, Democrats and Republicans believe that 55 percent of their opponents’ views are extreme, but in reality only about 30 percent are.”
- People who post about politics on social media show a much bigger perception gap than those who don’t.
Additional research from Voice of the People shows that there are dozens of policy ideas that people across the political spectrum – including majorities of both Republicans and Democrats – support.
In that spirit, partners from across the bridging field launched a variety of events, initiatives, and content to engage Americans of diverse backgrounds and perspectives in dialogue on the infrastructure bill. What we found was a tremendous appetite among the public for informed, constructive dialogue.
Throughout September 2021, nine organizations participated in six events and efforts to educate and convene Americans in discussion on the infrastructure bill. Here’s what we did:
Over 2,500 members of CommonSense American, a program of the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD), each spent at least 90 minutes reviewing a brief on infrastructure. The brief included extensive empirical benchmarks about the current state of American infrastructure and funding needs. It also included the strongest case for each competing perspective.
After reviewing the brief, the members of this politically and geographically balanced group completed a survey. Highlights from the results include:
- Most members believed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill was an improvement over previous proposals—65% supported the bipartisan bill compared to 50% who supported President Biden’s modified American Jobs Planand 34% who supported the modified Senate Republicans’ Plan.
- 89% believed that the bipartisan bill should be considered on its own merits without being tied to Democratic spending priorities legislation (the reconciliation bill).
America Talks Infrastructure
Co-hosted by AllSides, YOUnify, Living Room Conversations, Civic Genius, NICD, and FixUS, America Talks Infrastructure brought Americans together to have small group video conversations about their experiences with infrastructure in their own communities, and what they would like Congress to do on the issue. Participants ranged in age from 21 to 84. They came from every region of the country (26 states) and from across the political spectrum. Using a series of questions during registration plus an in-event matching algorithm, we ensured that each small group contained a mix of political ideologies and demographic backgrounds. Over 80% of participants completed a post-event survey about their experience:
- 91% said that it was important to them that Congress work in a bipartisan fashion on infrastructure.
- 80% said that they would like the bill to be considered on its own merits, independently of the reconciliation bill.
- 78% of participants found more common ground than they expected.
In the video below, participants share a few thoughts about their conversations:
The ActiVote app engages and empowers voters to educate themselves about the issues, add their voice to the national dialog and then most importantly vote in every election! For this initiative, participants were presented with brief descriptions of 11 elements of the infrastructure bill and asked to choose between five nuanced options. After reviewing each element, they were asked about their overall opinion on the bill if given the opportunity to vote up or down. Next, they were asked about the approach Congress should take towards advancing both the Infrastructure and Reconciliation Bill. And finally, their opinion on the high-level overview of the reconciliation bill as it was known at the time. The survey attracted 19,924 answers, for an average of 1,423 per question. Here’s what ActiVote found:
- There was overwhelming bipartisan support for significantly investing in several infrastructure elements.
- On H.R. 3684, a clear majority of Democrats (88%) and Independents (69%) supported it, as well as a significant minority of Republicans (30%).
- For SCR14, Democrats were strongly supportive (85%), Republicans were strongly against (82%), and Independents were evenly divided.
- When it comes to whether Congress should link passage of the infrastructure bill to the larger reconciliation bill, voters were clear about what they wanted: 72% wanted their representatives to focus less on playing games, and more on voting their conscience.
For a more detailed analysis of our Infrastructure results, please refer to the full report here.
Network for Responsible Public Policy
In 2009, the Network for Responsible Public Policy (NFRPP) launched to provide the stories that would educate, inform, foster civic engagement, and generate a sense of shared purpose. As an organization, NFRPP is committed to credible information, which includes reliable data, facts, research, analyses, and critical thinking. We invite our audiences to engage, ask questions, draw their own conclusions, seek more stories, and help to keep our democracy dynamic and viable. Our surveys overwhelmingly find that participants are more likely to benefit from our stories, question their assumptions, ask questions, listen, speak up in the face of falsehoods, and embrace more nuanced positions. Those participating with NFRPP are also more likely to become involved in elections and issue advocacy. To engage our audience in this larger initiative on infrastructure, NFRPP held an online public event featuring four preeminent experts on various aspects of infrastructure, moderated by Peter Coy, economics writer for the New York Times opinion section and a more than 30-year veteran of BusinessWeek and Bloomberg Businessweek. View the full event below:
BridgeUSA is a student-led organization created in 2016 by young people for young people. Deeply concerned about polarization and division on our college campuses, we decided that enough was enough. It was time to build a movement that champions dialogue, ideological diversity, and a solution-oriented politics. Since our start at Notre Dame, CU-Boulder, and UC Berkeley, we have expanded to over 40 college campuses around the nation and recently launched high school chapters. As part of this initiative, BridgeUSA chapters held several dialogues on Infrastructure and economic mobility through its Generation Roundtable project, including a college-wide dialogue at Arizona State University. CEO Manu Meel reminds us that “Young people across the country are watching” for role models and leaders who can help them steward our nation’s experiment in democracy.
Civic Genius Issue Briefs
Civic Genius aims to overcome political polarization and rebuild American civic culture through everyday opportunities to learn and engage. For the BMAC infrastructure initiative, Civic Genius created a suite of content to educate and complement the dialogues and initiatives our partner organizations hosted with Americans across the country. Some participants in these dialogues were highly informed on the issue of infrastructure (for example, those engaged in NICD’s Commonsense American program), while others needed higher-level briefing materials to quickly get up to speed on the big questions and political realities of the topic. These resources included a plain-language issue brief, eye-catching graphics showing where Americans across the political spectrum had common ground, a quiz to test your knowledge on American infrastructure, and a video designed to grab attention from an on-the-go audience:
On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure bill into law. Reflecting on our experience, what can we, and other civic organizations, learn?
For one, in the span of only a few weeks, a coalition of nonpartisan organizations convened thousands of individuals from across the political spectrum to learn, discuss, and deliberate in a way that respected diverse experiences and valued good-faith points of view. The demand was there.
How many more Americans out there are imagining what we could achieve if our conversations were rooted in the common ground that already exists among us, rather than the division we think exists? As we move on to the many issues our nation is grappling with, we encourage Congress and elected officials at all levels of government to tap into the deep well of Americans who want to see them succeed in finding solutions that work for all of us.
As Congress continues to consider major action to address our nation’s infrastructure, many Americans are engaged on questions of whether and how to shore up our roads and mass transit, expand broadband internet access, improve our water systems, and more.
This project was supported by a coalition of bridging leaders:
- Keith Allred, executive director, National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) (BMAC Issues Working Group co-chair)
- Jillian Youngblood, executive director, Civic Genius (BMAC Issues Working Group co-chair)
- Brandyn Keating, CEO, YOUnify
- John Gable, CEO & Co-Founder, AllSides
- Sara Gifford, ActiVote
- Rhoda Schermer, Network for Responsible Public Policy
- David Eisner, President & CEO, Convergence
- Mike Murphy, Director, FixUS
- Joan Blades, Co-Founder Living Room Conversations
- Kamy Akhavan, Executive Director, USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future
- Manu Meel, CEO, BridgeUSA
- Pearce Godwin, Founder & CEO, Listen First Project