Public Agenda, a research-to-action nonprofit dedicated to building a democracy that works for everyone, today announced its inaugural slate of grantees for the Democracy Renewal Project

Funding of $500,000 will be dispersed to 10 teams of scholars from political science and related disciplines to conduct practice-relevant studies showing how to achieve universal access to elections while strengthening trust and confidence in elections–two fundamental pillars vital for the legitimacy and resilience of our democracy. That rare list of recipients includes University of New Mexico Political Science Professor Wendy Hansen.

In the current highly polarized political climate, Americans’ trust in election integrity has substantially declined. Given the importance of election confidence to our democracy, I am very excited to be part of the 2024 New Mexico Election Study and grateful to Public Agenda for supporting research on projects that will strengthen American democracy, and specifically for supporting our research on election confidence among New Mexican voters,” Hansen said.

As part of the Democracy Renewal Project, Hansen and Lonna Rae Atkeson of Florida State University, in partnership with Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the New Mexico Secretary of State, will study the effects of nonpartisan academic election observers. Titled ‘New Mexico Election Studies: 2024 Election Observers & Election Confidence’, Hansen and Atkeson will implement a field experiment at vote centers in Sandoval County to investigate whether the presence of clearly identified university elections observers and non-partisan election observers bolsters voter confidence.

“Public Agenda launched the Democracy Renewal Project because a major barrier to success in efforts to strengthen democracy is the lack of high-quality, actionable evidence,” said Andrew J. Seligsohn, president of Public Agenda. “I’m pleased by the breadth, quality, and importance of the studies we are funding through this first cycle. These projects will be valuable to people seeking to make improvements to our democracy, and they demonstrate the value of investing in rigorous research that’s focused on questions at the heart of pro-democracy practice.”

The funded projects will explore various aspects of electoral participation, including the impact of placing election observers at polling sites and informing voters about accessible records, as well as strategies for public officials to foster trust and bipartisan engagement. Additionally, studies will examine the impact of targeted outreach on access and trust, particularly among communities and families affected by the criminal justice system, and will produce new data to inform future research on equitable ballot access and communications by election officials. 

As the funded research projects are completed, Public Agenda will transform findings into practical tools and resources tailored for pro-democracy advocates, policymakers, and funders. 

Hansen and Atkeson have previously worked together on critical election integrity research. Learn more about that contribution through UNM here