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New Study Uses Crowdsourcing to Strengthen American Democracy

A group of people stack here hands together.
Jul 20 2021
Faculty, Fellow, Research, Stanford

Americans have always disagreed about politics, but now levels of anti-democratic attitudes, support for partisan violence, and partisan animosity have reached concerning levels. While there are many ideas for tackling these problems, they have never been gathered, tested, and evaluated in a unified effort. To address this gap, the Stanford Polarization and Social Change Lab is launching a major new initiative. The Strengthening Democracy Challenge will collect and rigorously test up to 25 interventions to reduce anti-democratic attitudes, support for partisan violence, and partisan animosity in one massive online experiment with up to 30,000 participants. Interventions can be contributed by academics, practitioners, or others with interest in strengthening democratic principles in the US. The researchers who organize the challenge — a multidisciplinary team with members at Stanford, MIT, Northwestern, and Columbia Universities — believe that crowdsourcing ideas, combined with the rigor of large-scale experimentation, can help address issues as substantial and complex as these.

“Anti-democratic attitudes and support for political violence are at alarming levels in the US. We know partisan animosity has been increasing for years, and may play a role in the concerning anti-democratic attitudes we’re seeing,” said Robb Willer, director of the Polarization and Social Change Lab and Professor of Sociology at Stanford. “We view this project as a chance to identify efficacious interventions, and also to deepen our understanding of the forces shaping these political sentiments.”

“There are many potential ways to reduce anti-democratic attitudes, support for partisan violence, and partisan animosity. We designed our project to achieve goals beyond the scale of typical scientific studies,” said Jan Voelkel, a Ph.D. student at Stanford and one of the co-organizers of the challenge. “The Strengthening Democracy Challenge estimates the relative effectiveness of different interventions, provides a high-quality testing opportunity to scholars and practitioners who may currently lack access, unifies the currently dispersed knowledge across different social sciences and practitioners, and is committed to unbiased and complete reporting of results.”

Co-organizer of the initiative, Jan Voelkel, is a 2021 SIGF Fellow.

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