Stranger in My Own Country

The tone and tenor of the 2016 election and the increasingly charged ideological debate in the United States have left many Americans feeling disconnected and disoriented. To bring our country together and move beyond divisive rhetoric, we need to better understand the anxieties that people are experiencing. Stranger in my Own Country is the first in a series of studies seeking to better understand the factors that are motivating nativism, racism, and other cultural anxieties among the American electorate.

The findings in this study are the product of in-depth interviews, a national public opinion survey, and message testing carried out by a group of Republican-led researchers in the fall of 2016 as a part of an effort to better understand the attitudes driving the behavior of supporters of Donald Trump.

Our preliminary findings revealed deep cultural anxiety around four themes:

  1. Americanism: Fear of losing core, defining values that make America unique.
  2. Race: Fear that demographic change is weakening community ties and excluding people.
  3. Immigration: Fear of losing control of our borders and endangering ourselves.
  4. Islam: Fear of letting people into the country who are hostile to America.

Our findings suggest that the recent rise in populism and nativism among voters is driven by feelings of disaffection and alienation from America’s core institutions and culture. These voters feel disconnected from government, community, and a “new” America they aren’t comfortable with. However, the research offers hope that targeted messages on pride and unity in America can create significant movement in key attitudes among these voters that may help fewer Americans feel like strangers in their own country.

Please view our slideshow below, download a PDF of the presentation, or check out our fact sheet on key findings.

Our research team included:

  • PROJECT LEAD: Mindy Finn, Civic entrepreneur, former strategist for the RNC, NRSC, Mitt Romney, and George W. Bush;
  • RESEARCH LEAD: Alex Lundry, co-founder and Chief Data Scientist at Deep Root Analytics, and ran analytics for Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush;
  • PROJECT ASSOCIATE: Kelsey Jarrett, former member of the Google+ Political Partnerships Team, former digital strategist for the NRSC and the RNC;
  • RESEARCHERS: Lisa Dropkin, Stacia Tipton and Karen Emmerson at Edge Research; Patrick Ruffini and Kristen Soltis Anderson at Echelon Insights; and Emily Ekins at the Cato Institute

The initial findings described here are the product of three pieces of research focused on the attitudes of strong supporters of now President Donald Trump during the 2016 election cycle. First, hour-long, in-depth interviews were conducted by Edge Research with voters in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Then, a national survey was conducted by Echelon Insights that oversampled whites without a college degree was used to quantify attitudes observed in the earlier interviews. Finally, researchers from the Cato Institute tested how voters respond to digital and print media to see what kinds of messages could impact attitudes towards Muslim Americans.

The results conveyed in this presentation are by no means definitive, but rather the first step in our effort to understand the current positions of the electorate. Over the coming months, Democracy Fund Voice will continue to ask difficult questions and support the efforts of researchers and leaders across the political spectrum to engage with voters in ways that address underlying anxieties, frustrations, and concerns, resulting in greater unity and understanding among an increasingly diverse America.

Veterans Against Islamaphophia

Type of Activity: Project Grant
Grantee: Human Rights First
Amount: Up to $200,000 in 2016-2017

What is Human Rights First?

Human Rights First is an independent advocacy and action organization that challenges America to live up to its ideals. This grant will support HRF’s work to organize retired military leaders and other veterans to speak out against Islamophobia and promote the argument that anti-Muslim speech and policies are fundamentally un-American.

Why do we think this project is a good idea?

We believe the United States is an inclusive nation and at its best when it embraces diversity and champions human rights. This project will address the recent rise in Islamophobia, xenophobia, and subsequent divisive rhetoric in the United States. Through its Veterans for American Ideals platform, Human Rights First is uniquely suited to engage retired military leaders and veterans to participate in this discourse and encourage meaningful change.

How is Voice supporting the project?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a grant to Human Rights First in the amount of up to $200,000 in 2016-2017.

Building Civic Resilience to Terrorism Project

Type of Activity: Planning Grant
Grantee: New America Foundation
Amount: Up to $40,000 in 2016-2017

Type of Activity: Grant
Grantee: New America Foundation
Amount: Up to $115,000 in 2016-2017

What is the Building Civic Resilience to Terrorism Project?

This project will explore strategies to strengthen media responses and civic resiliency in the face of major shocks and disruptions.  More specifically, this project explores how official communications, social media, and news media can either incite or calm reactions to terrorism, and to identify best practices and pitfalls. As these strategies are determined, we hope that the research and knowledge gained will result in improvements to the public sphere, civil liberties, and improve our democracy. This grant is funded through the New America Foundation, a think tank and civic enterprise committed to renewing American politics, prosperity, and purpose in the Digital Age.

Why do we think this project is a good idea?

We believe the unprecedented tension in the current elections cycle and the recurring violent incidents at campaign events could speed the erosion of democratic institutions and intercultural partnership in the United States. In such a climate the occurrence of a terrorist attack would expedite this erosion. This project explores how official communications, social media, and news media can either incite or calm reactions to terrorism, and to identify best practices and pitfalls.

How is Voice supporting the project?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a twos grant to the New America Foundation in the amount of up to $155,000 in 2016-2017.

Faith and Public Dialogue

Type of Activity: Grant
Grantee: Faith in Public Life Action Fund
Amount: Up to $886,500 in 2016 – 2017

What is Faith in Public Life Action Fund?

Faith in Public Life Action Fund (FPLAF) is a strategy center that seeks to advance faith in the public square by building coalitions and supporting campaigns through which the faith community can influence public debate. They will engage a diverse group of faith leaders from across the political spectrum in a call to elevate the tenor and quality of public debate, and to foster more civil politics.

Why do we think the project is a good idea?

Faith leaders play a unique role in the lives of many Americans. The unique moral standing of faith leaders has the potential to shape the tenor and tone of the public dialogue and how policy and politics are covered by the media while spreading a message of tolerance and respect to political leaders and the public.

How is Voice supporting the project?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a grant to the Faith in Public Life Action Fund in the amount of up to $886,500 from 2016- 2017.

Strategies for American Muslim Communities

Type of Activity: Grant
Grantee: The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding
Amount: Up to $52,238 in 2016 – 2017

What is the The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding?

The Institute conducts objective, solution-seeking research that empowers American Muslims to further community development and fully contribute to democracy and pluralism in the United States. This grant will support ISPU so that it can provide research support to a convening of a diverse group of leaders and experts to develop strategies to combat fear mongering against the American Muslim community.

Why do we think a convening on Anti-Muslim rhetoric is a good idea?

This project will address the deterioration of civil discourse that is damaging our democracy’s political process. While other groups have joined together to attempt to combat this rhetoric, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding has unique networks and capacity to help bring together the people who can most effectively address this serious problem.

How is Voice supporting the Convening?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a grant to The Institute for Social Policy Understanding in the amount of up to $52,238 from 2016 – 2017.

Revive Civility Campaign

Type of Activity: Advocacy Grant
Grantee: National Institute for Civil Discourse
Amount: Up to $127,050 in 2016 – 2017

What is the Revive Civility Campaign?

Revive Civility is a nationwide campaign to demand civility in the 2016 campaign. The campaign encourages and provides tools for Americans and leaders to take solution-oriented actions to restore and call for civility in our public elections.

Why do we think this campaign is a good idea?

We believe that hate speech, fear mongering, and rhetoric that condones political violence are dangerous for our democracy. The National Institute for Civil Discourse is a national champion for more civil discourse and it’s Revive Civility Campaign will call for our political leaders to lift up the tone and tenor of our politics.

How is Voice supporting the NICD Civility Campaign?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a grant to the National Institute for Civic Discourse in the amount of up to $127,050 from 2016 – 2017.

ReThink Media’s Security and Rights Collaborative

Type of Activity: Grant
Grantee: Rethink Media’s Security and Rights Collaborative
Amount: Up to $500,000 in 2016 – 2017

What is the Security and Rights Collaborative?

ReThink Media’s Security and Rights collaborative builds the communications capacity of nonprofit think tanks, experts, and advocacy groups working toward the protection of human and civil rights. Democracy Fund Voice’s grant supports the Collaborative’s efforts to combat political fear mongering in our public discourse by developing and deploying new messaging strategies for the American Muslim community via collaborations with related experts and advocacy groups.

Why do we think this project is a good idea?

We believe rhetoric that dehumanizes and isolates specific groups of people in our society weakens our democracy. In recent years, political leaders from both parties have exploited public fear in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, and Orlando, in ways that breed prejudice and xenophobia. Through this project, ReThink Media will combat political fear mongering and provide a voice for those who are being targeted by these attacks.

How is Voice supporting the Project?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a one year grant to ReThink Media for up to $500,000 to support message research, refinement, and deployment to respond to the escalation of anti-Muslim bigotry.