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By and For the People? Cultural Mindsets of Democracy and the US Political System

December 15, 2023

We live in a time of democratic uprisings and authoritarian threats. In the United States, there’s an urgent need to protect basic democratic rights while transforming our political system to better respond to popular demands. While democratic reformers have
different ideas about what is needed to protect and strengthen US democracy, there is widespread agreement that this must be a priority.

In this report, we sketch out the major cultural mindsets Americans use when thinking about democracy and the US political system, along with the ways in which those mindsets help and hinder democratic reform.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • While many understandings of government are highly focused on the individual leaders in power, a prominent mindset that the system is rigged offers opportunities for communicators to tap into a more structural understanding of our political system.
  • When thinking about democracy, people tend to focus narrowly on voting. However, we did identify the presence of other mindsets that offer fuller understandings of popular self-government and representation.
  • Mindsets fluctuate between seeing the US Constitution as a solid and stable foundation and as a changeable product of its time—creating both challenges and openings for constitutional reform.