American elections – especially in swing states – are bitter, uninformative experiences. Many Americans, even those who vote consistently, feel alienated and marginalized by campaigns and the media coverage around them.
It’s no surprise that campaigns tend to produce more heat than light – choosing to drive people apart instead of focusing on our shared goals. It seems to work for them. But it’s not working for our democracy. In most elections, the vast majority of the electorate doesn’t show up to vote. The numbers look better in presidential elections, but even then, more than a third of eligible voters sit it out. Americans, clearly, are frustrated.
It’s time for more substantive, engaging conversations about politics, elections, and solutions to the issues that affect us all. That’s why, in the 2016 Presidential Election, we connected with the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron and a consortium of Ohio media organizations, led by the Akron Beacon Journal, to launch Informed Citizen Akron and its statewide corollary, Your Vote Ohio.
Informed Citizen Akron shifted the traditional model of media coverage, one dictated by campaigns and national stories, choosing instead to focus on the priorities of citizens through civil, substantive discussion of critical issues. With our media and community partners, we sought to support Ohio voters to break through the divisive campaign rhetoric and drive more informative, more inspiring coverage of the 2016 presidential election.
To create a narrative of the election that focuses on the issues that matter most to Akron and Ohio residents, we had to put voters first. That meant listening to people and engaging Ohioans directly to tell media what they need to know.
Our focus was driven by three key questions:
- What are the issues that really matter to voters, and what do they want to know about those issues?
- What are the candidate’s substantive stances on those issues, and what does the electorate want to know about candidates?
- How can local and state media help drive a more productive public conversation about issues and candidates that informs and encourages voters?
To do that, our team at the Bliss Institute conducted four in-depth polls statewide to assess Ohioans attitudes toward the campaigns and media coverage of the election. At the Jefferson Center, we engaged citizens to learn about how media covers elections, to learn and talk about the issues and the candidates, and to recommend ways Ohio media can better cover the election and political issues so that voters can make more informed decisions at the polls. Media outlets throughout Ohio used the feedback generated through polling and public conversations to shift their coverage beyond the horse race and provide information that resonates with voters and improves the public discourse about the election. You can see examples of their coverage at Your Vote Ohio.
The recommendations of Ohioans are instructive for media organizations around the country looking to improve relationships with their audiences and communities. These recommendations will also serve as the foundation for our media innovation and engagement work in Ohio into 2017 and beyond, through the Your Voice Ohio initiative. See the recommendations and other outcomes from our deliberative events below.
1st Citizens’ Jury: June 2nd-4th – A diverse group of Akron area citizens came together to identify ways Ohio media can provide better information about the issues that matter most to Ohioans. Read the full report.
2nd Citizens’ Jury: August 11-13 – A diverse group of Akron area citizens came together to identify ways Ohio media can provide better information about candidates and their stances on the issues. Read the full report.
3rd Citizens’ Jury: September 22-24 – Citizen Jurors gathered to answer the question, “What role(s) or niche(s) might Ohio media occupy in order to better serve our comunities across Ohio now and into the future?” Read the full report.
Though we’re finalizing our evaluation efforts now, initial results suggest that Informed Citizen Akron:
- led to more informed and engaged citizens,
- increased the level of trust between local media and residents, and
- provides a model for constructive collaboration between citizens and media to promote better journalism and more informed communities.