The Strengthening Democracy Challenge brought academics, practitioners, and industry experts together in a collective effort to identify effective interventions to improve Americans' commitment to democratic principles of political engagement. With contributors' help, we identified promising, short interventions and scientifically evaluated them in one of the largest randomized experiments in the social sciences. While some existing interventions are in-person, time-intensive, and involve repeated exposure, we focused on short, scalable interventions that can reach millions of people.
is an intervention?
Social scientists often call an idea that has the potential to change how people think or behave an "intervention." In the case of the Strengthening Democracy Challenge, an intervention is any idea that may reduce anti-democratic attitudes, support for partisan violence, and/or partisan animosity.
kinds of interventions were submitted?
We solicited interventions that people can experience online, in less than 8 minutes, that will reduce Americans' anti-democratic attitudes, support for partisan violence, and/or partisan animosity. Submitters were encouraged to ask people to do one or some combination of the following (for examples of each, please see here):
Interventions met the following criteria:
Ethical: Our Institutional Review Board needed to approve that interventions were ethical.
Online: Intervention were deployable online.
Scalable: Many people needed to be able to engage with interventions at the same time. For instance, interventions could not be that every participant has an online chat with the author.
Short: Interventions were no longer than 8 minutes.
Comprehensible in English: Interventions were to be easily understood by an English-speaking audience.
Costless: Interventions could not pay participants anything extra. For example, economic games that require additional payment are not allowed.
Aligned: No extra measures could be added to evaluate interventions. We predetermined how to measure outcomes.
For more details, check out our handbook.
did people submit an idea?
There is increasing concern that anti-democratic attitudes, support for partisan violence, and partisan animosity threaten the health of American democracy. Many people have ideas for how to address these problems, but there hadn't been an opportunity to gather and rigorously test many of these ideas at the same time until now. We needed the ideas of the crowd and the rigor of massive experimentation to address this large issue.
By contributing their ideas, contributors helped to address some of the most crucial issues facing the United States today. Selected contributors learned whether their idea worked, and qualified to receive authorship and a cash reward.
Everyone whose intervention was selected for testing by the Strengthening Democracy Challenge ...
will be offered authorship (listed as “Qualifiers”) on the primary publication resulting from the challenge,
will be honored at a our virtual conference, in which the results of the Depolarization Challenge will be presented to the public.
We will award a series of cash prizes*:
Reducing Anti-Democratic Attitudes: A $15,000 prize will be divided between those teams submitting interventions that significantly reduced anti-democratic attitudes.
Reducing Support for Partisan Violence: A $15,000 prize will be divided between those teams submitting interventions that significantly reduced support for partisan violence.
Reducing Partisan Animosity: A $15,000 prize will be divided between those teams submitting interventions that significantly reduced partisan animosity.
We will also give special awards to those teams led by (1) graduate students and (2) practitioners* whose interventions most reduced (a) anti-democratic attitudes, (b) support for partisan violence, and (c) partisan animosity (resulting in six additional awards). Finally, awards will be given for the interventions rated as most novel by the advisory board in three categories: submitted by a graduate student-led team, submitted by a practitioner-led team, and overall.
*Here we define a "practitioner" as any submitter who does not do research for an academic institution."
In addition, those teams submitting interventions that most reduced anti-democratic attitudes, support for partisan violence, and/or partisan animosity will be given awards as the “overall winning intervention” for each outcome.
did we measure and evaluate?
To identify the best interventions, we conducted a large survey experiment. The survey experiment involved recruiting a representative sample of 32,000 US adults from an online panel, who then were randomly assigned to participate in one of the interventions or a control condition. We filtered our sample based on attention checks, to ensure that participants were relatively attentive to intervention materials. The behavior and attitudes of people in the control group can be thought of as a baseline, enabling us to know what American partisans do and think in the absence of the interventions you submit. We identified the extent to which exposure to the interventions made a difference relative to the control group.
What kinds of behaviors and attitudes did we use to measure the effect of interventions? In the experiment, we examined three primary outcomes: anti-democratic attitudes, support for partisan violence, and partisan animosity. For details on how we collected these outcomes, please download our handbook.
We measured anti-democratic attitudes as a composite of four items about voting rights, whether court rulings should be obeyed, freedom of the press, and whether election results unfavorable to one's own party can be ignored. The wording of all items can be found here.
Support for Partisan Violence
We measured support for partisan violence as a composite of four items asking participants about various levels of support for threatening, intimidating, or violent behavior toward people of the opposite party. The wording of all items can be found here.
Participants rated their feelings toward people in the opposing political party. In addition, they were asked to distribute money between themselves and someone from the opposing political party. Partisan animosity was the average of how much money they withhold from and how cold they feel about people in the opposite political party. The wording of all items can be found here.
Anyone - academics, practitioners, and others - from the US and around the world had the opportunity to submit their ideas. We were particularly interested in people who were not academics, but who had ideas about how to reduce these outcomes.
were the participants?
Our sample of Republicans and Democrats was recruited to be representative regarding sex, age, ethnicity, education, and region within parties. More details can be found in the handbook.