One of the Most Significant Political Experiments in U.S. History.
Explore the Helena Members working on this project and our A1R Advisory Committee.
Helena Member, Director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy, and Professor at Stanford University
Helena Member, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, former Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, author of "Ill Winds: Saving Democracy from Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency."
Charles F. Adams Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, author of "Beyond Adversary Democracy"
Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at Univeristy Chicago Harris School, Booth School, Department of Psychology, and College; Senior Fellow: NORC at the University of Chicago
President & Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
David and Diane Steffy Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Director of Domestic Policy Studies and Lecturer in the Public Policy Program at Stanford University
Rev. Donald P. McNeill, C.S.C., Professor of Transformative Latino Leadership, Joseph and Elizabeth Robbie Professor of Political Science, Director of the Institute for Latino Studies, and Fellow at the Institute for Educational Initiatives at the University of Notre Dame
President of the Feminist Majority Foundation and former President of the National Organization for Women (NOW)
Helena Member, Director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics and the Carmen H. and Louis Warschaw Chair in Practical Politics at the University of Southern California
Ezra K. Zilkha Chair: Brookings Institution Governance Studies Program
Partner: Jones Day
A National Political Experiment
America in One Room was a historic gathering that brought together the most representative sample of the American voting electorate in U.S. history. Over the course of three full days, this group engaged in a civil and nuanced deliberation on the critical issues facing the United States.
The entire sample took the same in-depth questionnaire before and after the event. This process yielded important data concerning how Americans think about values, candidates, and policy issues when given the chance to think deeply, engage with different opinions, and deliberate in a fact-rich and respectful environment.
Initial Press Coverage Selections:
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526 people, representative of all Americans who are eligible to vote, spent the weekend together to talk politics. Donald Trump's name barely came up. They arrived from all over the country: 9 of them named John, 10 who’d come from mobile homes, 4 who lived in South Dakota. 27 considered themselves extremely conservative; 30 said they were extremely liberal. 21 were out of work and looking for it. 2 came with service dogs. At least one did not tell her parents she was attending, because talking politics is so hard at home that she didn’t want to admit she was flying to Texas to talk politics with people she didn’t know. These voters were invited by a team of political scientists to spend a weekend in a resort outside Dallas to prove that there might be a better way to disagree. As they arrived, and in breaks between their discussions, The New York Times took a portrait of nearly every one of them. Collectively, their faces are a reflection of all American voters.Visit the link in our profile to read and see more. @celestesloman and @chadbatka took these portraits.
When citizens come together to discuss complex issues, a strange thing happens: They listen and change their minds. Our What in the World segment, from today's show: pic.twitter.com/8WKZiSr2rj
— Fareed Zakaria (@FareedZakaria) October 13, 2019
Here’s an interesting read—a reminder that behind every opinion lies a human being with real experiences and a story to tell. Sometimes we’ll agree and sometimes we won’t, but if we want our democracy work, listening to each other isn’t optional. https://t.co/8d4fPUprlu
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) October 9, 2019
Assembling a Representative Sample of the American Electorate
America in One Room (“A1R”), a Helena Project designed and led in partnership with the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, NORC at the University of Chicago, and By the People Productions, was a robust national experiment to reinvigorate the national political discourse.
It demonstrated the benefits of giving voters the time, space, and knowledge to become informed about the core issues facing Americans today. The event employed a model known as Deliberative Polling® to measure shifts in public opinion on five core issue areas before and after the event. A stratified random sample of 523 registered voters (“delegates”), recruited by NORC at the University of Chicago, was selected through a rigorous scientific process in order to represent the political, cultural, and demographic diversity of the American electorate.
A control group of more than 844 registered voters were also recruited, making the sample size exceptional in its scale and scope. From September 19-22, 2019, the delegates met in Dallas, TX, where they participated in moderated small group discussions and plenary sessions with competing experts and politicians. They deliberated in depth on specific policy proposals in the five issue areas identified in earlier polling as the most important to the voters in the current election cycle: immigration, health care, the economy, the environment, and foreign policy.
To aid in their discussions, delegates used a detailed briefing booklet which discussed policy proposals in the five issue areas, balanced with arguments for and against each proposal. This booklet was prepared and vetted by policy experts from across the political spectrum, as well as by a distinguished Advisory Committee.
The results from A1R show dramatic changes of opinion. The most polarizing proposals, whether from the left or the right, generally lost support, and a number of more centrist proposals moved to the foreground. Crucially, proposals that were further on the right typically lost support from Republicans and proposals that were further on the left typically lost support from Democrats. After intense dialogue across divisions, 95% of delegates agreed that they “learned a lot about people very different from me – about what they and their lives are like” and the percentage of delegates saying the system of American democracy was “working well” doubled from 30% to 60%. They also learned a great deal about America’s biggest policy challenges, and expressed a desire to stay more informed. It seems America’s divisions are not immune to deliberation.
During a time in which we face down some of the most critical decisions in our history, the country is supposedly more divided than ever. America in One Room proves that this doesn’t have to be the case. Again and again, our data shows that Americans of all genders, races, political parties, and socioeconomic classes can come together and build consensus, even on the most polarizing issues. It is Helena’s hope that these findings will help lead us beyond partisanship and toward an era where it is possible to create a democratic consensus among informed citizens.
Facilitating a Non-Partisan Dialogue
Embedded below are the briefing materials utilized throughout the event by the 526 America in One Room delegates.
Results found that voters—under the right conditions—are willing to keep an open mind and shift their opinions on divisive issues. More polarizing policy proposals further on the right typically lost support from Republicans while proposals further on the left typically lost support from Democrats.
The debate on immigration included several proposals that elicited a more welcoming position on both legal and illegal immigration. This change was mostly due to a softening of the opposition expressed by Republicans in their initial surveys.
On certain economic issues, Democratic support dropped for potentially expensive government programs such as increasing the federal minimum wage, guaranteeing universal basic income and covering the cost of college tuition at public universities for all students who could not otherwise afford it. Meanwhile, support for expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit to more middle-class workers increased, especially among Republicans and Independents.
Similar to what was observed in the economic proposals, support dropped among Democrats for potentially expensive healthcare programs such as Medicare for All, while support for some more centrist proposals–such as increasing the federal subsidies in the Affordable Care Act that help the poor, expanding these federal subsidies to the middle class, and ensuring that people should have reasonable access to health insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions–all rose across party lines. Support for repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), a conservative proposal, dropped among Republicans.
On foreign policy, Republicans increasingly supported a number of internationalist proposals, including the US rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, reaffirming its commitment to defend any NATO ally attacked by a hostile force, and recommitting to the Iran Nuclear Agreement. Delegates overall also reaffirmed the importance of soft power by increasing support for using diplomacy and financial support to promote democracy and human rights.
On the environment, delegates increased their majority support for rejoining the Paris Agreement, and even for exceeding the cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions the Paris Agreement sets forth. In both cases, the increases were primarily from Republicans. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions using taxes and market incentives saw the strongest post-event support; however, the goal of requiring zero carbon emissions for cars, trucks, and buses lost support, especially among Democrats.