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Connections – Summer 2003: The Public-Government Relationship

Connections is a yearly (previously biannual) periodical published by the Kettering Foundation featuring articles devoted to a theme. Each issue of the foundation’s annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research and contains articles, feature stories, and book reviews relevant to the foundation’s work. Editing responsibilities for Connections rotate among Kettering program staff.

The Summer 2003 edition shares research related to the “relationship between the public and the government“. Below is an excerpt from the introduction…

Kettering is now considering new research on ways to bridge the divide that separates The People from The Government. We don’t expect Americans’ concerns about state power to go away, but closing the gap seems essential. We are looking at the four main intersections where the public encounters the government: (1) when prospective officeholders meet the citizenry in campaigns, (2) when people cast their ballots, (3) when citizens attempt to influence legislation, and (4) when Americans encounter  government bureaucracies and their regulations.

Problems occur at each intersection. Negative campaigns increase cynicism. Candidate images that are carefully scripted on television give citizens little contact with those who would represent them. Americans are less and less likely to show up at the polls because they believe their vote isn’t as influential as the vast sums of money donated by  powerful interest groups. When people do vote, it may be for initiatives that  not only bypass legislative bodies but also bypass the public deliberation that should inform their choices. Relationships with the federal establishment have been equally problematic. Efforts to enact needed laws may end in stalemates as a result of hyperpartisan polarization. Then the courts fill the vacuum, though only after long and costly battles. And what about people’s trouble with bureaucracies and their rules? Just ask anybody.

There is one bit of good news. The foundation has seen some indications that even though citizens are frustrated by their relationship with the government, they are becoming less resigned and more convinced they have to do something to bring about the changes they would like to see. We plan to  document this trend in an update of the Main Street study. 

In this issue of Connections, Kettering Foundation program officers and associates assess lines of research that might help clear out these intersections. As with every issue, we hope our readers will help us identify where the opportunities are greatest. We are particularly appreciative when we get reports on what others are doing, as was the case with the last Connections.

– David Mathews, President of the Kettering Foundation

…along with the contents of the newsletter…

Contents of the Summer 2003 Edition

Reassessing the Relationship between The Public and The Government
David Mathews

Our Political Awakening
Richard C. Harwood

Is There a Public Interest in Political Campaigns?
Cole Campbell

Voter Participation
Carolyn Farrow-Garland

The Vanishing Voter
Thomas E. Patterson

Understanding the Nature of Representation in a Democracy
John Cavanaugh

Opportunity for State Legislatures
Les Ihara, Jr. 

Communicating the Value of Deliberation
Amy Harper

Erskine College Hosts a Legislative Orientation
Virginia York and Jay West

Public Engagement with Government Agencies
John Dedrick

Deliberation Where You Least Expect It: Citizen Participation in Government
Archon Fung

Books Worth Reading

This edition of the newsletter is currently available as a free download from the Kettering Foundation website.

Resource Link: http://kettering.org/wp-content/uploads/Connections_Summer_2003.pdf

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