11/14/2013 - When Larry Kramer became president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation a year ago he arrived with a question: How had the United States become so politically polarized?
Getting an answer to a question that big would take a sophisticated approach. He knew the California-based Hewlett Foundation, which seeks to solve social and environmental problems in the United States and abroad, had enjoyed a longtime partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts and with the Pew Research Center, a Washington-based “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America and the world.
So when Kramer had breakfast this year with Alan Murray, who recently left a top position at the Wall Street Journal to become president of the research center, it was not surprising that they soon were talking about joining resources and expertise to dig into the question of what political polarization means for the country.
Both men are keenly interested in the democratic process. Kramer is an acclaimed constitutional scholar and was dean of Stanford University’s law school before becoming president of the Hewlett Foundation in 2012. Murray had chronicled the partisan divisions of the past three decades with growing unease while at the Journal. Part of the reason he came to the research center was its reputation for nonpartisan polling and analysis that provide reliable and trustworthy information that is accepted by all sides in the frequently divisive world of political debate. Kramer and Murray knew that leveraging their organizations’ interests and resources could help illuminate answers critically important to American democracy.
The outcome of their breakfast meeting was that the Hewlett Foundation, joined by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, is now supporting a survey of 10,000 voters to be conducted next year by the Pew Research Center. The center regularly polls voters, but the new survey will be much bigger and will create a broad, new portrait of the nation’s political landscape. Talking to such a large cross-section of the electorate will allow analysis of subgroups of voters not achievable through the typical national polls that are often only 10 to 20 percent of that size, and it should provide new insights into American political opinion.
“I have a strong bias in favor of working with others. That’s how you are most effective,” Kramer says. “You have to have partners, and Pew is a very strong partner. It’s a high-quality organization.”
Hewlett has worked with Pew for a decade on environmental issues, cultural projects, and global survey research. Campaigns to preserve the boreal forest of northern Canada and protect U.S. wilderness and western lands—longtime goals of the Hewlett Foundation—have seen enormous success. Canadian officials have protected or pledged to protect 350 million acres of the boreal, ensuring that critical wildlife habitat is preserved and forests essential to how the Earth breathes and cools itself are maintained. Seeing the potential to build upon those accomplishments, Hewlett and Pew have recently agreed to renew their partnership, joined by Ducks Unlimited and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, with a multiyear shared commitment to continue to work together on those conservation priorities even as Hewlett branches into new areas such as, in Kramer’s words, “fixing the democratic process.”
“The Hewlett Foundation is an inspirational partner, and Larry is a gifted and visionary leader,” says Pew President Rebecca W. Rimel. “We are inspired by what we have already accomplished together and enthusiastic about our goals for the future.”
All of the work shares a method for success that Kramer says illustrates the complementary philosophies of the Hewlett Foundation and Pew: an intense focus on achievable objectives, with goals clearly outlined and results measured. He says Pew’s roots as a grantmaking foundation until becoming a nonprofit policy organization a decade ago makes it “a partner that understands both sides of the street—grantmaking and how to do the work.”
Kramer says Pew staff provides expertise in the policy arenas in which the organizations share an interest, as well as experience in effective communications and capability in advocacy that has a proven record.
In addition to Pew’s political survey, Kramer is also exploring opportunities to collaborate with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ election initiatives project that seeks to improve the administration of U.S. elections. Pew is working to help states implement efficient, cost-effective, research-based solutions that make voter registration more accurate and improve access to information.
“Pew’s election work has already accomplished a great deal, and I’m a big fan,” Kramer says.
It has been widely recognized for more than a decade that the U.S. system for administering elections badly needs improvement. Among other problems, voters frequently still face Election Day delays because of a lack of basic information on the location of polling places, questions about eligibility, and long lines that sometimes leave citizens standing for hours. In past years, Pew has championed federal and state legislation to ensure that military and overseas voters are able to cast timely ballots (see Page 30), and more recently Pew has created initiatives that make voting more accessible by putting information online and improving the accuracy of voter rolls (see Trust, Winter 2013). Some 25 million people looked up information about the 2012 election using the Voting Information Project, a joint initiative of Pew, Google, and other partners, and more than 300,000 people registered to vote as a result of Pew’s partnership with several states to bring registration practices into the 21st century.
Like those achievements, virtually all of Pew’s work is based on deep research, grounded in facts and driven by a strong, nonpartisan approach. That is another essential facet of Pew’s methodology that appeals to Kramer.
As he considers the national political divide, Kramer says, “there’s a huge amount that we need to know before we can make the system better.”
Next year’s survey from the Pew Research Center will be a starting point and build upon two decades of analysis by the center. Murray says working with partners often improves how the center does its work. "Good partners like Hewlett help us sharpen our research agenda,” he says, “and ensure our studies are directly relevant to society's most pressing concerns.”
Daniel LeDuc is the editor of Trust.
For information about philanthropic partnerships at Pew, please contact Senior Vice President Sally O’Brien at 202-540-6525, firstname.lastname@example.org.