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Future Hindsight is a weekly podcastthat takes big ideas in civic life and democracy and turns them into action items for everyday citizens.

Aug 28, 2020

Political Learning

In response to the elections of Obama and Trump, grassroots political movements sprung up on the right and the left. Members of these groups demonstrated an eagerness to learn about and understand local and state politics, which is where they are most actively engaged. After the 2016 election, Resist groups used many of the Tea Party movement’s tactics, like writing to law makers, running local candidates, and knocking on doors to get out the vote.

Impact on Politics

Grassroots movements are highly impactful across the political spectrum, often revitalizing local capacities of both political parties. Resist groups on the left are dominated by women, who are organizing and insisting on a more open and inclusive Democratic Party. Increasing voter turnout has had the strongest impact on both sides. Boosting the margins for the Democratic candidate in a swing state could lead to electoral victory in 2020.

Organized Groups Swing Elections

Organized groups helped swing the 2016 election. Donald Trump met with select groups who hold power over large swaths of voters, notably far right evangelical ministers, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the NRA. In the case of the Fraternal Order of Police, Trump pledged to protect white officers, leading to an endorsement from the Order—something Mitt Romney did not receive. Research shows that endorsement led to extra Republican votes in key battleground states like Pennsylvania.

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Theda Skocpol (PhD, Harvard, 1975) is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University. At Harvard, she has served as Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (2005-2007) and as Director of the Center for American Political Studies (2000-2006). In 2007, she was awarded the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science for her "visionary analysis of the significance of the state for revolutions, welfare, and political trust, pursued with theoretical depth and empirical evidence." Skocpol's work covers an unusually broad spectrum of topics including both comparative politics and American politics. Her books and articles have been widely cited in political science literature and have won numerous awards, including the 1993 Woodrow Wilson Award of the American Political Science Association for the best book in political science for the previous year. Skocpol's research focuses on U.S. social policy and civic engagement in American democracy, including changes since the 1960s.

Caroline Tervo is a research coordinator in the Harvard Government Department, working with Theda Skocpol and others on studies of citizen grassroots organizing, state and local party building, and the local effects of federal policy changes. A native North Carolinian, Tervo holds a BA in government from Harvard University.

You can follow her on Twitter @CarolineTervo.