For Essay 1, I would like you to explore the state of democracy in the United States using a recent report published by Pew Research, a non-partisan research organization. Over the last 10-20 years, Americans have increasingly expressed distrust and frustration with the state of democracy in the United States. Regardless of political affiliation, almost any American can point to some issue or problem that illustrates to them how well (or not) democracy works in the United States. Interestingly, even casual assessments expressed in private conversations or posted on social media reflect an understanding of what a democracy should look like. Using the report, I would like you to construct an image of what a healthy and functioning democracy ideally looks like in the United States according to most Americans and then using the same data, assess how is American democracy living up to that ideal. Simply, American democracy – the ideal vs. the reality as seen by ordinary Americans. As used here, “ideal” does not necessarily mean that it characterizes a “perfect” democracy nor is it offering a moral assessment of whether it is preferable to other options. It means that it represents the standards created and used by Americans to assess whether democracy is working or not.
A hard copy is also available in Canvas. Save a few trees and yourself some money – don’t print it out!
Please keep in mind that this essay is both an exercise in reading and understanding data and then using the data to develop and support your own analysis of a particular topic. I do not expect a full-on research report, hence the essay format, but please take the time to read the report and familiarize yourself with the data and if necessary, use other credible sources to help you better understand the topic.
In your essay, please be sure to answer the following questions:
1. According to the respondents, what does American democracy ideally look like? What are the features or characteristics of a healthy and functioning democracy here in the United States? (Hint: please pay attention to the percentages of people who say X is an essential feature of American democracy. For example, if less than 20% of the people agree with X, then maybe it’s not so important. The questions posed by Pew generally reflect the academic “ideal” standards of democracy.)
2. According to the respondents, what is the reality of American democracy? What issues/problems/features that inhibit or prevent American democracy from living up to its ideal?
3. Now using your critical thinking skills, how satisfied (or not) are you that this survey accurately reflects the public’s views on the state of American democracy? Why?
Please support your answer to this question with evidence; don’t just give your opinion. Also, don’t just point to the number of respondents as a point of critique; Pew did statistical sampling and other measures that match the standards of professional research to ensure it is a representative sample of the American population to the greatest extent possible.
4. Using your informed judgment and additional research where necessary, what are two areas where the gap between the ideal and reality is particularly important for understanding the current state of American democracy and that need to be fixed in order to close that gap between the ideal and the reality?
Please note that you do not need to cover every data point from the report. Instead, as the “Hint” above suggests, please aim to cover the topics that are important to the respondents.
While I will be looking for the answers to the above questions, please do not merely cut-and-paste the above questions into the document and then answering the questions as if this were an exam. Please write an essay that explores and discusses the relevant points in creative and interesting ways. Your essay should be 3-4 double-spaced pages long. Please remember to proofread independently of the spellcheck function and double-check any changes made by auto-correct!