Americans across the political spectrum believe that our democracy is at risk. A growing body of evidence shows that citizens with disparate political perspectives share a sense of frustration and dissatisfaction with our current system. In response, organizations and philanthropists are pursuing innovations to strengthen American democracy. 

In our inaugural Democracy Renewal Project grantmaking cycle, Public Agenda seeks to support this movement to renew democracy with evidence on how to achieve full access to electoral participation for all citizens while strengthening trust and confidence in elections. While both of these goals are at the foundation of legitimate and sustainable democracy, they are often pursued separately. In the worst cases, bad faith efforts to persuade members of the public that elections are not trustworthy have laid the groundwork for legislative restrictions on ballot access. While it is essential that pro-democracy actors do not capitulate to these narratives, ideally efforts to build access would not provide momentum for disinformation that may accelerate anti-democratic dynamics. Our goal is to support research that addresses both access and trust. We have timed this grantmaking cycle to enable researchers to take advantage of the 2024 election cycle.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Public Agenda does not support any candidate or party. As a matter of mission, Public Agenda does not seek to advance any specific political ideology or policy agenda. We will fund projects that contribute to the health and strength of a pluralistic democracy.


Public Agenda is committed to providing rigorous, actionable evidence to diverse pro-democracy stakeholders. Preference will be given to projects that have a strong potential to produce evidence that can inform the work of practitioners, advocates, policymakers, and funders. 

Evaluation of proposals will be driven by the utility of results for practice, with no preference for any specific research methodology. We will prioritize projects with results that can provide immediate (post-2024 election) practical guidance for advocates and activists, policymakers, and funders in decision making about reforms and practices, and strategies for pursuing them. 

Public Agenda’s purpose in funding original research is to support the development of a body of findings that we will synthesize, translate, and communicate to practitioner communities as soon as possible. We encourage funded researchers to publish results in peer-reviewed journals. 

We recognize that effective access- and trust-building interventions will be context-appropriate. Pro-democracy organizations often focus on groups that are underrepresented in democratic participation (e.g., persons with disabilities, immigrants, young people, BIPOC communities) or more likely to express distrust of election processes and outcomes. We welcome research focused on distinct populations and geographies. 

We encourage research partnerships with practitioner organizations and, where possible, will be glad to assist applicants with identifying potential partners. Please contact us if you are interested in identifying a potential research partner. Public Agenda has relationships with both practitioner and research networks, and we may be in a position to connect applicants with organizations that are actively working to increase access and build trust in elections. 

As a pro-democracy organization, Public Agenda recognizes the necessity of contributions from people with diverse identities, experiences, and perspectives. We understand that the movement we seek to support requires expertise drawn from a wide range of disciplines.


Public Agenda’s research focus for this cycle is how to achieve full access to electoral participation for all citizens while strengthening trust and confidence in elections. We imagine proposals may address questions including, not but limited to:

  • Are there specific narrative or messaging strategies that encourage skeptical members of the public to see access to electoral participation as a component of a trustworthy electoral system?
  • How do combinations of electoral systems and communications strategies affect confidence in elections? How can public education campaigns or other messaging strategies about existing and alternative electoral systems (e.g., first-past-the-post, ranked choice, top-two, open primaries, blanket or jungle primaries) instill greater trust in election processes and outcomes? 
  • How do combinations of communications strategies and ballot access reforms (e.g., automatic voter registration, same-day registration) affect confidence in elections? What are the most effective strategies for building public trust through strategic communication about ballot access reforms? For example, under what conditions can public education campaigns explaining new voting processes build trust? What about other forms of targeted messaging, such as social media or other advertising?
  • What conditions are necessary to instill confidence in voters when it comes to convenience voting such as mail-in ballots, same day registration, etc.? 
  • Whom do voters trust to implement and enforce ballot access and security measures? Can civil society organizations recruit visible, trusted constituencies as poll workers? Does training veterans, firefighters, or members of specific civic associations as poll workers achieve the twin goals of protecting access while building trust? What communication strategies optimize this approach?
  • Can engaging members of these (or other) trusted constituencies as public spokespeople for the trustworthiness of election administration contribute to public trust?
  • Which approaches to electoral access and public or voter education show resilience in the face of ongoing exposure to mis- and disinformation?
  • At which stages of the election, from registration, ballot casting to tallying of ballots, are trust building interventions most effective? Does an early emphasis on the trustworthiness of the electoral process, for e.g., registration, lends itself to greater confidence in the outcome of elections later on?
  • What approaches build and maintain trust in light of the diverse state and local electoral laws and processes (e.g., same day registration, mail-in voting) that define the American electoral landscape?  

This list of research questions is not exhaustive, and we encourage applicants to propose projects that are not explicitly described above. 


Democracy Renewal Grants are open to researchers affiliated with public or nonprofit U.S. universities, and the affiliated university must administer the grant. We expect to award ten or more grants of up to $50,000. Grants made through Public Agenda’s Democracy Renewal Project cannot cover indirect overhead.

The Principal Investigator (PI) for a proposed project must have a doctoral-level degree. Doctoral candidates may be part of the research team and may be named a Co-PIs as long as at least one Co-PI has a doctoral degree.


To apply for a Democracy Renewal Grant, submit all application materials using the form at the bottom of this page. Please adhere to the file naming and upload instructions in the guidelines below. 

The deadline to apply is 11:59pm ET on January 17, 2024.

Applications must include all of the following information, and we strongly recommend that applicants use this application template.

Please reach out to Emily Sandusky, Public Agenda’s Director of Research Accelerators, at [email protected] with any questions about your potential grant application.

1. Project Information

  • Principle Investigator (PI) or Co-PIs
    • First Name
    • Last Name
    • Title
    • Department
    • Institution 
    • Email
    • Phone number
  • Project title
  • Start and end dates
  • Total requested amount
  • Brief project description including major research questions or aims, research methods and data analysis plan, and expected contribution to practical efforts to increase access to electoral participation and trust in election outcomes. (maximum 300 words)

2. Project Narrative

Formatting: All text should be double-spaced and in 12-point font. The project narrative may not exceed 2,000 words. Include the word count in parentheses at the conclusion of the narrative. If tables, graphs, or other images are helpful in explaining your project, they can be included. While they will not count against the word limit, we encourage you to limit the use of images to one or two. Citations can be included as endnotes and do not count against the word limit.

  • State the problem or major research questions guiding the proposal. 
  • Provide a rationale for the project that includes:
    • a clear and practical description of the conceptualization of access and trust in the research
    • a brief description of the demographic characteristics and geographic location(s) of the population(s) the researchers seek to understand 
    • a description of the expected contribution to the knowledge base for pro-democracy practitioners (i.e., information that is relevant to planning, implementing, and understanding the outcomes of pro-democracy strategy, intervention, and reform)
    • a very brief literature review indicating how the project complements and advances existing theory and empirical research
  • Include the specific hypothesis and/or research questions to be tested or addressed.
  • Describe any pilot programs, pre-analysis plans, or initial data collection that is completed, and how the grant supported activities will test or build on initial findings.
  • Describe the proposed research methods, participants, and data collection instruments, including, as applicable:
    • research design, including where appropriate, a description of the context of the study
    • information about the proposed sample or case definition and selection procedures
    • description of the intervention
    • description of measures and data sources
    • status of data access and procedures for data collection
    • status of relationship with partner organizations
  • Describe proposed modes of analysis, including, as applicable:
    • If you are conducting a quantitative analysis, please provide details of the analytic approach, including any model specifications, as well as robustness tests, as appropriate
    • If you are using qualitative data, provide details about analysis procedures and if using coding, the plan for establishing that coding is reliable
  • Outline, as applicable, plans for research transparency (e.g., pre-analysis plans, depositing de-identified data in public repositories).
  • Outline the project timeline, indicating proposed start and end dates, major activities, and key milestones. [see Note on project length below]

Note on project duration: Projects must be completed with final reports submitted to Public Agenda as research is completed, but no later than June 30, 2025. Final reports must include an in-depth explanation of methodology, findings and conclusions, and any relevant graphs, tables, and graphics.

3. Project Budget 

Public Agenda is willing to fund a wide range of activities, including researcher salary and benefits, research assistance, data purchase, compensation to partner organizations, and costs associated with conducting experiments. Public Agenda will consider requests for salary support for principal and/or co-principal investigators at a maximum contribution of $15,000 per academic year, not including fringe costs.

Our grants cannot cover indirect overhead. 

Applications must include the total expected cost of the project, a detailed breakdown of costs, and a brief justification of each budget item. We strongly recommend that applicants use the table in the application template to provide budget information. 

Public Agenda has limited available funds for grants and does not guarantee that projects will be awarded at the full requested amount. If applicable, please include a brief description of all other secured or anticipated funding sources for the proposed work. Co-funding and/or cost-sharing by the grantee university is encouraged and should be reported in the budget.

4. Project Team 

Formatting: All text should be double-spaced and in 12-point font. Maximum 250 words.

Identify the roles, responsibilities, and knowledge base of the PI, Co-PI(s), and any supporting researcher(s). In the case where your project includes Co-PIs and other supporting researchers, this document should articulate how the team will work together to complete the research project, highlighting what each team member will contribute to the project. Describe the working relationship between the project team and research sites and/or partner organizations, if applicable.

We encourage applicants to include a letter of support from any research sites and/or partner organization included in the project team.

In addition to the brief narrative description of the project team, include abbreviated curricula vitae (max three pages) for each member of the project team that highlight relevant publications and works in process, partnership with practitioner organizations,  public scholarship, and relevant non-academic experience such as prior work outside of academia, board positions, etc.   

5. Optional Appendices 

You may include the following supplemental and supporting documents as appendices to your application.

  1. Scientific instrumentation relevant to the study (e.g., interview protocols or survey instruments)
  2. Letters of agreement or collaboration

Note on IRB Approval: Proof of Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval is not required at the time of proposal submission.  In the event that IRB approval is needed for this project and it is chosen for funding, the PI or Co-PIs will be responsible for obtaining IRB review and approval in accordance with institutional policies and applicable law.


Proposals will be evaluated by Public Agenda staff and the Democracy Renewal Project Advisory Panel. The Advisory Panel consists of practitioners and subject-matter and methodological experts

All applications will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Focus on research questions addressing both access to the electoral process and trust and confidence in elections 
  • Appropriate framing of research questions within the existing literature 
  • Methodological rigor of research design and analysis  
  • Potential to produce actionable evidence that can inform the work of practitioners, advocates, policymakers, and funders in the near term
  • Evidence of researchers’ orientation to partnership and public scholarship, and potential for collaboration between researchers and Public Agenda to support dissemination of findings to practitioner communities 


Our goal is to create a learning community focused on empirical questions relevant to democracy renewal in order to provide pro-democracy stakeholders with actionable evidence. In that spirit, we ask that grantees commit to the following:

  • Sharing research progress with Public Agenda through bi-monthly conversations 
  • Coordinating with Public Agenda to share research findings as they become available (e.g., practitioner briefings, Public Agenda reports, etc.)
  • Attending bi-monthly virtual learning community meetings of grantees and others, depending on the the alignment between the topic and your research 

We are committed to amplifying the research, practical application, and learning of scholars and practitioners as part of this effort. We will create and actively seek opportunities to bring attention to the work through conference presentations, interviews, blog writing, etc. We encourage grantees to both participate in and co-create spaces for knowledge sharing and partnership throughout the term.

Please reach out to Emily Sandusky, Public Agenda’s Director of Research Accelerators, at [email protected] with any questions about your potential grant application.