Like many people, the outcome of the 2016 election knocked us completely off balance. When we considered our purpose and strategy for the Trump era, we knew that we couldn’t go forward with business as usual.
That meant getting out of Washington. It meant listening to more and different people and considering new approaches to our research and our thinking. It was in this spirit that our district visit project was born. Our goal was to visit a handful of districts—generally those that voted for a different party at the Presidential level than the Congressional level in 2016—to meet and hear from people where they live.
These conversations are deliberately not conducted as traditional focus groups. Over two separate week-long visits, we host several intimate conversations in casual settings like an office, restaurant, or library. We meet with local leaders and citizens across a swath of backgrounds, professions, and political affiliations. We ask the same general set of questions, which focus on what it’s like to live there, not on politics. Sometimes politics comes up, sometimes it doesn’t. Ultimately, our goal is better to understand the major sources of hope and anxiety in different communities around the country.
Our written reports attempt to summarize what we learned from the people we met. Anecdotal conversation with three dozen folks cannot comprehensively capture what life is like for everyone living in these communities, but it can offer a glimpse into some of the major tensions and challenges facing these places. Some of what we’ve heard on these trips so far has been unique to each respective district; some themes have come up repeatedly.
Most of all, during the tumult of Trump’s presidency, these visits have been an important reminder of the humanity, complexity, and urgency behind the country’s most pressing policy issues.