*This is one in a series of "Hackathon" projects that Student Strategy Team members put together throughout the course of the 2016-2017 school year.
The Problem: The United States is becoming increasingly more politically polarized.
The Solution: Create a nonprofit, bipartisan foundation to attack political polarization from different angles.
Date: December 2, 2016
When deciding what problem we wanted to tackle, it seemed only fitting that we would focus on the problem that was the foundation of all of our discussion group sessions throughout the semester. Our discussion groups were based around the question “Are we becoming more or less polarized as a nation?”. Given the result and the aftermath of the recent election, it is safe to say that our nation is becoming more politically polarized.
Source: Politico, http://www.politico.com/2016-election/results/map/president
When you look at the map of the spread of electoral votes throughout the United States, there are clear geographical divides in support for the two major political parties. Most of the South and the Midwest are red, while the Northeast and West Coast are blue. While it looks like most of the country is Republican dominated when looking at this map, it is important to note that the areas that are red on this map are significantly less populated than many of the blue areas. This is reflected when looking at the popular vote.
Source: CNN, http://www.cnn.com/election/results
While Donald Trump won the election via the electoral college system, Hillary Clinton actually earned more votes in total. This bizarre outcome has happened in two elections in the last sixteen years. The fact that one candidate won the electoral vote and a different candidate won the popular vote indicates that there is a deep political divide in our country.
In the aftermath of the election there has been much discussion about the different “bubbles” that we live in, and the lack of sharing and understanding ideas different from our own. Virtually all of the polls had Hillary Clinton winning, and by a very large margin. Five-Thirty-Eight, a widely-read and popular political blog, predicted that Hillary had more than a 70% chance of winning. How were all of the polls so wrong? How was it overlooked that Trump was consistently drawing crowds of thousands and thousands on a daily basis, while Clinton struggled to fill ballrooms. Here on Georgetown University’s campus, we felt completely blindsided, and the election result came as a sobering shock.
We see two main sources for this political polarization; one being a lack of civic engagement and education and two being the influence of the media. In order to combat this, we decided to create a nonprofit, bipartisan foundation that focuses on creating and implementing initiatives within these two areas. We decided to name this organization The Magnet Foundation because opposite magnetic poles attract each other (and the opposite poles are color coded red and blue) and our organization is trying to bring together these opposite ends.
The purpose of The Magnet Foundation is to foster common understanding across people of all ideological convictions and to bolster open-minded political engagement. Everyone has different political beliefs and we do not want to change that. Politics is not about getting everyone to think the same way. Rather, we want to make the political system work for everyone. We are going to help eliminate ideologically-divisive barriers to productive political dialogue and action. The basis of our political process lies in our ability to combine differing beliefs and values to form policy that caters to everyone. In a time of widespread political division and frustrating gridlock, we aim to help create a more representative, productive and flourishing political environment--one that is strengthened, not harmed, by diversity of thought.
The Foundation strives to address the political polarization from two different angles: media and civic engagement. We sponsor initiatives that help tackle polarization from each of these different lenses. Our media initiatives seek to bridge the gap between different opinions in newspapers, radio, TV, and social media. Our civic engagement initiatives serve to educate people, because we believe that a more politically educated populace improves the ability to work together.
When people view political information through the media, whether it be watching the news, going to a news website, or reading an article they saw on Facebook, they typically only see information from one side of the aisle. This tendency is exhibited perfectly on this page from the Washington Post that shows the a more liberal person’s Facebook feed and a more conservative person’s Facebook feed side-by-side. When people see information from only one side of the aisle, they are not seeing the full picture and giving themselves the opportunity to form their own opinion on an issue. The Magnet Foundation has a media initiative called Outlooks that aims to target this particular problem. Outlooks is a news aggregator that puts together a collection of reputable news sources across a variety of ideological perspectives. This will show users side-by-side comparisons of how different news sources cover the most important stories. In making different viewpoints accessible, it is our hope that we help citizens develop a deeper understanding of how those around them perceive domestic and global happenings--breaking down the silos that divide us. This is just one example of multiple initiatives that serve to break down the news and information barriers that politically divide our nation.
One of the main drivers of political polarization is the inability and unwillingness of people to try to understand one another’s beliefs. People have a tendency to surround themselves with others who share their beliefs. This leads to a lack of awareness and understanding of other people’s beliefs. One of The Magnet Foundations chief civic engagement and education initiatives is its American Pathways program. This program, based on the Jewish Birthright program, brings together high school graduates from across the United States for a 14-day travel program that explores the United States. American Pathways invites students from diverse backgrounds to explore together our vast and beautiful country. Through travel across the United States and by encouraging direct dialogue between students, American Pathways gives students a basis for understanding all the wonderful and diverse regions, backgrounds, and experiences that constitute this country.
In essence, our project aimed to address the roots of a significant crisis in American politics. Succumbing to partisan divisiveness and building walls between groups of people has resulted in a gridlocked government, tense personal relationships and a growing discontent with political leaders. We saw much of this polarization stemming from lack of civic education and irresponsible media usage; thus, we decided to tackle those foundational issues with the hope of bringing people together for the advancement of the common good. We believe that our organization is a strong first step toward bridging the gap and forging a shared understanding and vision for America.
The Student Strategy Team of Katie Rogers, Aaron Bennett, Jacob Gladsyz, Kate Sullivan, and Julian Colombo were advised by Martin O'Malley 61st Gov of MD; former Mayor of Baltimore; Candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the US, and GU Politics Fall 2016 Fellow.