1. A Portrait of American Voters
What makes America tick?
In this time of polarized opinion here and abroad, understanding the political and social forces at work in the US has never been more urgent.
We propose to create a free online resource that provides a vivid and real portrait of American voters.
We plan to take advantage of a new method, Deliberative Polling®, which combines the best features of public opinion polling yet creates the potential to gather stories and detail from the participants -- giving the participants a human dimension. With this method, a microcosm of the electorate meet online. They gather in small, moderated discussion groups, ask questions of experts, and discuss and consider the main issues facing the US. Deliberative Polling® thus also provides a positive model of democracy in action.
In comparing the available tools for studying the US, we can say that conventional national opinion polling offers a sense of precision and mathematical omniscience. But the result produces faceless statistics lacking any human explanation -- giving the impression that the population of the US is a single, mysterious "black box" with one set of characteristics.
Print or broadcast "man-on-the-street" interviews provide human stories -- but are limited to intermittent and selective glimpses, fixed in time. It is hard to know where interviewed subjects fit statistically in the overall picture of American opinion -- and viewers rarely get to revisit the same subjects at a later date.
Pundits and talk-show formats simply create an "echo-chamber" effect, where opinion becomes a marketable commodity reinforcing the beliefs of a like-minded audience.
One goal of our approach is to diminish the "echo chamber" effect, and find areas of common belief as well as areas of genuine difference among a representative group of real Americans.
On the internet, participants will be represented by region on a map of the US. Behind each icon, when accessed through the site, will be an individual's personal web page, with a wealth of detail, bringing you into the reality of each American's daily world.
They will keep a personal online diary, or weblog, updated weekly. We want them to reveal how their communities work, what they like and don't like about politics, work, and life.
The site design will organize the demographic and cultural information about the participants. Users will be able to create graphs, maps and data sets of information based on the participants responses.
As media surveys show, people's opinions frequently shift the more informed they become. The project will serve as a useful test bench for researching the ways people use media and respond to information. We would examine where there are popular misconceptions, and why.
The participants will take part in weekly 'town hall' meetings. Visitors to the site would have a separate forum, and would be able to periodically post questions to the participants. There would be a special section for international visitors with questions about the US.
One-Country.com can be envisioned as a living poll, updated weekly. It will be an incubator for informed democracy, as the participants learn about the world through news sources and from dialogue with each other. And through the access provided by the internet, One-Country.com may also become something like a journalism-machine -- as visitors to the site will be able to watch a representative sample of Americans grapple with the issues that the voting public needs to address in 2006 and beyond.
One-Country.com will serve as a practical bookmark for showing the proportion and range of belief in the US. It can put a human face on the social and religious patterns emerging in US democracy.
In the second phase of One-Country.com, an online sign-up tool will allow visitors to form their own deliberative groups. After filling out a questionnaire, participants will be sifted into groups of mixed political orientation, and matched with a volunteer online moderator to begin to conduct their own regularly scheduled online dialogues. This will create a scalable application for the involvement of the general public in group, moderated online political dialogue.
Expected users of One-Country.com: the general public, everyone with an interest in understanding American democracy, and anyone with internet access; especially students, academics, journalists, and activists both in the US and around the world.
An article that was an inspiration for this project -- an insightful perspective on the US from England:
As described in the Economist, the US is a rapidly evolving society, undergoing a religious reawakening. Beyond the idealistic goals of creating a space where 'red' and 'blue' can communicate, the idea will be to explore the patterns that are emerging in the US, in firsthand voices.