As millions of Americans prepared to cast their votes on Nov. 8 in the first federal election since the unprecedented events following the 2020 election, many across the country felt that the midterms would be a major test of American democracy.
At a timely Civil Discourse Project panel discussion held one week before the election, faculty, staff, students and members of the public had the opportunity to explore topics ranging from how Americans view democracy and the security and reliability of Ohio's elections to how we all can sort through relevant information (and misinformation) to make up our minds responsibly.
"Your Other Midterms: A Forum on Citizenship, Elections, and the Test of American Democracy," was held Nov. 1 at Drinko Hall on Ohio State's Columbus campus. The event was presented as part of the Civil Discourse Project and co-sponsored by the Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) and the Institute for Democratic Engagement & Accountability's (IDEA) Shop Class for Democracy project. Watch a video of the forum.
With hotly contested races and issues on the midterm ballots around the country, the forum aimed to help community members proactively think about strategies all citizens can learn and use to constructively disagree.
Panelists included Michael Neblo, IDEA director and College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Professor of Political Science; Sahar Heydari Fard, Ohio State assistant professor of philosophy; Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials; and moderator David Staley, Ohio State associate professor of history.
"There are a handful of candidates who have said, 'If I lose, it's because of fraud,'" said Ockerman. "We have to get back to a place where, win or lose, people accept the results."
In addition, the increase in affective polarization, when people feel that those who hold different beliefs are bad, and an erosion of valuing democratic norms can be very destructive for our country if allowed to escalate, noted Neblo.
"The single biggest thing we can do to slow us down is to listen to people who have different views. Every single citizen can do that," said Neblo.
"Engaging in constructive dialogue can lead to a better understanding among people of opposing political views," Heydari Fard added.
"Sometimes you don't have to go that far away," she noted. "There are friends and family who think differently from you, and you can see things from a different perspective. You need to reach out to people who are different from you. If we do that, we can start to fix some of the holes in our social networks."
Creating a distinctive Ohio State experience
Through the Civil Discourse Project, members of the Ohio State community can choose to face difficult issues head-on within a culture of civility and care. Led by OAA in collaboration with university partners, the initiative brings together expert resources from across the university to provide students, faculty and staff opportunities to learn about civil discourse and practice skills to engage with different views and opinions they encounter. Building on the platform of Ohio State's Shared Values, the project aims to integrate civil discourse into a distinctive Ohio State experience.