The Work for a Better Future Never Ends
In 1787, Dr. James McHenry, a Maryland delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, overheard a conversation that has become a well-known part of the American narrative. A woman asked Benjamin Franklin whether the new Constitution made the country a monarchy or a republic. Franklin’s answer: “You have a republic—if you can keep it.”
The American people have kept their republic for more than two centuries—by preserving its democratic values and norms while also adapting to changing times. You’ll find examples of both of these virtues of the American character in this issue of Trust.
The story of our republic began at the Constitutional Convention and deeply inspired Pew’s work—from the mission set by our founders to our collaborations with so many philanthropic partners today.
The right to vote is, of course, the fundamental democratic value upon which all others stand. The story of the 2016 election—nearly 230 years after ratification of the Constitution—can be told through the lines of voters at polling places, the campaign volunteers knocking on doors, and the strong opinions that populated social media. These are all signs of a robust democracy. But the story of America’s most recent election is also about how well the election system performed in making sure that those voters were able to register, find their polling places, and cast their ballots.
As part of Pew’s mission to nurture American democracy, we have worked with public and private sector partners for the past 10 years to create tools that make voting easier, more efficient, and less costly. The Voting Information Project (VIP), a partnership among Pew, the states, Google, and many others, provided voters with official information about the election process and helped them successfully cast their ballots. In all, VIP data were accessed more than 123 million times in the days leading up to the November election.
The Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which houses a sophisticated data matching process, is another tool that state election officials used to prepare for the 2016 election. ERIC began with assistance from Pew and is now governed and funded by its member states, which have increased from seven in 2012 to 20 and the District of Columbia now. By cross-referencing state voter rolls against other official government data, such as motor vehicle records, ERIC members have identified over 25 million individuals who were eligible to vote but not registered —including over 13 million in 2016 alone—and sent them registration information. You can read more about Pew’s elections work in this issue of Trust.
We have also followed Mr. Franklin’s advice by finding the right balance between preserving the past and reimagining the future. That includes working to expand and maintain our system of national parks, which Pulitzer Prize winner Wallace Stegner called America’s “best idea.” Unfortunately, the National Park Service now faces almost $12 billion in deferred maintenance costs for damaged roads, crumbling bridges, and eroding trails. The Statue of Liberty National Monument, which includes Ellis Island—that great steppingstone to a better future for millions of new Americans—requires at least $160 million in repairs. You’ll learn more about how Pew is working to restore our national parks in our cover story.
Franklin’s admonition also encourages us to continually nurture and adapt our democratic values and traditions to meet a changing world. Every year, every century, and every presidential term brings its own challenges and opportunities. Michael Dimock, president of the Pew Research Center, recently took a deep dive into the extent that the nation changed during President Barack Obama’s administration. The review covers the social, demographic, and political evolution of the past eight years; America’s place in the world; and how we interact, especially via social media. The result tells us a great deal about how we have changed and who we are today.
The story of our republic began at the Constitutional Convention and deeply inspired Pew’s work—from the mission set by our founders to our collaborations with so many philanthropic partners today. While no one can predict what is around the next corner, we do know that if we steward our nation’s values and cultural treasures, we will never lose what Benjamin Franklin so deeply hoped we would keep.