After one of the most contentious U.S. presidential elections in recent memory, increasingly hostile political discourse has made the gap between conservatives and liberals seem more insurmountable than ever. Yet there is a growing sense among Americans of all political stripes that the institutions designed to safeguard democracy and serve the public no longer do so. The next generation of policymakers and advocates must seize this moment to rejuvenate America’s civic culture and restore faith in political institutions. 

Carnegie’s James C. Gaither Junior Fellows Conference is a premier annual event held in Washington, DC, for young public policy professionals. This year’s conference explored the erosion of civic norms and declining faith in political institutions in the United States.

This year’s conference brought together leading thinkers and a select group of young domestic and foreign policy professionals from across the political spectrum to discuss how to address Americans’ waning commitment to bipartisan discourse and low confidence in government. The conference included panels and speeches featuring notable experts as well as innovative breakout sessions and online polls that give participants the chance to directly engage experts and each other. Participating experts drew upon their experiences dealing with democratic challenges both in the United States and abroad to shed light on how to rejuvenate American political discourse and institutions.

The James C. Gaither Junior Fellows Program extends special thanks to Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP). 



1:00 to 1:30 p.m.

1:30 to 1:45 p.m. 
Opening Remarks

William J. Burns, President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

1:45 to 2:20 p.m.
Keynote Address

Heather Hurlburt, Director, New Models of Policy Change, New America


2:30 to 3:45 p.m.
The Populist Moment: Understanding Citizens’ Frustration with American Democracy (Panel)

A bipartisan and interdisciplinary discussion that aims to analyze the factors driving Americans’ waning commitment to civic norms and low confidence in democratic institutions.

Panelists include: 

Kyle Kondik, Managing Editor, Sabato's Crystal Ball (Moderator)
Stuart Rothenberg, Senior Editor, Inside Elections
A.B. Stoddard, Associate Editor and Columnist, RealClearPolitics
Marcia Johnson-Blanco, Codirector, Voting Rights Project, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Lilliana Mason, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland 


3:55 to 4:40 p.m.  
From Diagnosis to Treatment: Brainstorming Solutions to Polarization and Disunity (Breakout Session)

Conference participants will be assigned to breakout groups of 8 to 10 individuals where they will both assess the merits of the arguments presented in the preceding panel and use that panel as a launchpad for policy recommendations. 

4:50 to 6:05 p.m.
American Democracy in Comparative Perspective: Pathways to Democratic Renewal (Panel)

A discussion that brings together democracy experts and civic engagement practitioners that have worked in the United States and in other countries and regions to identify ways the U.S. government and civil society can rejuvenate U.S. democracy.

Panelists include: 

Mary Beth Goodman, former Senior Director for Development and Democracy, National Security Council (Moderator)
Michael Shifter, President, Inter-American Dialogue
Hala Harik Hayes, former Program Associate, AmericaSpeaks
Sarah Yerkes, Fellow, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 


6:15 to 6:25 p.m.
Closing Remarks

Thomas Carothers, Senior Vice President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

6:30 to 7:30 p.m.




William J. Burns

William J. Burns is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He previously served as U.S. deputy secretary of state.

Heather Hurlburt

Heather Hurlburt is director of the New Models of Policy Change initiative at New America's Political Reform program. Hurlburt leads research into how policy advocacy is adapting to be effective in our current environment of intense political polarization.

Kyle Kondik

Kyle Kondik is managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, the University of Virginia Center for Politics' authoritative, nonpartisan newsletter on American campaigns and elections.

Stuart Rothenberg

Stuart Rothenberg is a senior editor at Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. He served for over two decades as the editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan political newsletter covering U.S. House, Senate and gubernatorial campaigns.

A.B. Stoddard

A.B. Stoddard is an associate editor and columnist at RealClearPolitics. She has covered the U.S. Congress since 1994, for States News Service, the Hill newspaper, and as Senate producer for ABC News.

Marcia Johnson-Blanco

Marcia Johnson-Blanco is codirector of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She manages the project's programmatic and advisory portfolios, which include voter protection and election reform efforts aimed to help traditionally disenfranchised populations.

Lilliana Mason

Lilliana Mason is an assistant professor in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland. Her research interests include American political behavior, political psychology, partisan and social identity, and polarization.

Mary Beth Goodman

Mary Beth Goodman was the special assistant to former U.S. president Barack Obama and senior director for development and democracy at the National Security Council, where she was responsible for advising the president and national security advisor on global development, health, democracy, and humanitarian issues.

Michael Shifter

Michael Shifter is president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank devoted to enhancing cooperation within the Western Hemisphere. He formerly directed Latin America democracy and governance programs at the National Endowment for Democracy and the Ford Foundation.

Hala Harik Hayes

Hala Harik Hayes has more than fifteen years of experience working in the public and nonprofit sector with a particular focus on designing, facilitating, and managing large-scale interactive meetings. She was formerly a program associate at AmericaSpeaks.

Sarah Yerkes

Sarah Yerkes is a fellow in Carnegie's Middle East Program, where her research focuses on Tunisia's political, economic, and security developments as well as state-society relations in the Middle East and North Africa.

Thomas Carothers

Thomas Carothers is senior vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is a leading authority on international support for democracy, human rights, governance, the rule of law, and civil society.




The James C. Gaither Junior Fellows Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace offers one-year research fellowships to uniquely qualified university graduates to work in tandem with Carnegie’s scholars on projects including nuclear policy and cybersecurity, energy and climate change, democracy and rights, geoeconomics and strategy, and regional area studies related to the Middle East, East Asia, South Asia, and Russia. The 2017 Junior Fellows Conference is organized primarily by the current class of Junior Fellows.