U.S. Democracy

Overview

The Hewlett Foundation’s U.S. Democracy Program focuses on strengthening democratic norms, values and institutions—especially Congress—in a time of political polarization.

The program was founded in 2020 as a successor to Hewlett’s Madison Initiative, an exploratory grantmaking effort first launched in 2014. The U.S. Democracy Program is nonpartisan. It supports nonprofit organizations across the ideological spectrum—academic researchers, advocacy groups, think tanks, and civic leadership organizations—who seek to understand and improve the political system so that elected representatives are better equipped to solve society’s greatest problems and in turn, earn public trust and support.

Goals

  • Uphold key values of U.S. democracy including pluralism, political tolerance, negotiation and compromise, and the central role of Congress in our democracy.
  • Strengthen Congress as an institution so that it has the capacity to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities as the first branch of government. These include passing laws and budgets, conducting effective bipartisan oversight, and operating with a culture of deliberation, leadership, and civility.
  • Improve campaign finance and election processes to reduce polarization, give voters more choices, and better represent the diversity of opinions among constituents.
  • Combat digital disinformation’s negative impact on democracy and elections, including how it spreads inflammatory and inaccurate information and contributes to polarization.
  • Support research, data, media, and collaboration to inform and improve the work of democracy philanthropists, scholars, advocates, journalists, political reformers, and policymakers.

Ideas + Practice

U.S. Democracy

We can’t take popular government on a continental scale for granted. Making that work is the great American experiment.

Larry Kramer, president, Hewlett Foundation

Our Grantmaking

R Street Institute
for general operating support
New America
for support of the Political Reform program
FairVote
for general operating support
Proteus Fund
for support of More Equitable Democracy, a new project to support alternative electoral systems

Our Team

Daniel Stid [Headshot]
Daniel Stid 
Program Director
Carla Bernal 
Program Associate
Neha Singh Gohil 
Communications Officer
 @nehasgohil
Kristy Bernard Tsadick 
Deputy General Counsel
Vanessa Tucker
Vanessa Tucker 
Program Officer

Learn More

It is hard to look at events in recent years without concluding that democracy in America is in trouble. Surveys routinely find that most Americans think poorly of the federal government and, in particular, of Congress, which is meant to be “the people’s branch.” Such frustration and mistrust threaten to undermine our representative democracy.

Against this backdrop, the Hewlett Foundation considered how to help alleviate problems associated with partisan political polarization, with a special focus on Congress, elections, and the growing threat of disinformation. We recognize that rebuilding norms and institutions in Congress, promoting more robust and representative campaigns and elections, and strengthening democratic discourse in this age of polarization will not happen quickly. We are prepared to invest in the long-term efforts needed to shore up and strengthen the values, norms and institutions of our democracy.

We are explicitly agnostic on particular policy outcomes, and work with organizations from across the political spectrum with whom we share the goal of improving our system of government. Ultimately, the health of a representative democracy depends on whether its legislative institutions are working in ways that its citizens support. Moreover, as a private charitable foundation, we are strictly prohibited from attempting to influence election outcomes, including participating in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elected office.

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