2023-2024 NGA Chair’s Initiative
Americans are deeply concerned and exhausted by the hyperpartisanship and polarization in our country, and rightly so. We’ve forgotten how to persuade without hating each other. But our nation’s history shows there’s a better way, and we all need to re-learn how to Disagree Better.
Disagreeing Better in New Hampshire
On September 12, 2023, National Governors Association Chair Utah Governor Spencer Cox and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu welcomed Governors, national experts and students to Manchester, New Hampshire for the first in a series of bipartisan events to help address toxic polarization in America – the aim of Governor Cox’s 2023-24 NGA Chair’s Initiative: Disagree Better. The bipartisan event was also attended by Maine Governor Janet Mills, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee and Vermont Governor Phil Scott.
Centered on the theme of Correcting Misperceptions and Highlighting Commonalities, the event featured panel discussions with bipartisan experts leading nationwide efforts to reduce partisan animosity and foster healthy conflict; a debate facilitated by Braver Angels, a nonprofit dedicated to political depolarization; and a service project, “Show Up for Teachers.” Learn more about the Disagree Better initiative below.
Disagree Better: Healthy Conflict for Better Policy
Americans need to disagree better. And by that we don’t mean that we need to be nicer to each other, although that’s helpful. We need to learn to disagree in a way that allows us to find solutions and solve problems instead of endlessly bickering.
The “exhausted majority” of Americans want this, and the science is clear about interventions that reduce polarization. As doers and builders, Governors are in a unique position to model what healthy conflict looks like.
The Disagree Better initiative will look at the problems of polarization, elevate the solutions that groups around the country are already implementing, and feature Governors showing what disagreeing better looks like. Through public debates, service projects, public service announcements and a variety of other tactics, Americans will see a more positive and optimistic way of working through our problems.
We’re also going to put these principles to work on a real-world policy challenge that needs resolution: the longtime stalemate over immigration. In collaboration with the business community and other stakeholders, our hope is to find enough consensus among Governors to identify common principles around immigration policy.
We know that conflict resolution takes work and involves difficult conversations. It’s much easier to sow division than to persuade or find solutions. But we also know that no one ever changed someone’s mind by attacking them.
Through healthy conflict, we’re confident that we can find common ground and improve our families, our communities and our nation. Together, we can disagree better.
– Utah Governor Spencer Cox, NGA Chair
In the News
- Mediaite: ‘We Need to Do Better’: Democrat Cuts Ad For Republican Governor’s Initiative to Fight ‘Toxic’ Partisanship In The U.S.
- CNN: Bipartisan governors challenge Americans to disagree ‘better’ over politics
- The Hill: Bipartisan governors want Americans to ‘disagree better’ over politics
- NPR: Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah wants Americans to learn how to disagree
- Axios: New NGA chair Utah Gov. Spencer Cox wants Americans to “disagree better”
- The Salt Lake Tribune: As head of National Governors Association, Cox seeks to turn down the political heat
- Washington Post: Why this governor is promoting ‘healthy conflict’
- Additional coverage…
about the Initiative
Disagree Better is an effort to show that as Americans, we can work through our differences to find solutions to the most difficult problems facing our states and our nation. This effort includes a series of public-facing efforts, assisted by NGA and chosen from a toolkit of interventions that are customizable for each state/governor. These strategies include:
- Hosting a service project within your communities, potentially with your state Legislature and their spouses from both sides of the aisle.
- Recording an ad with a neighboring governor from a different party, a legislator from the opposing party, or a campaign opponent. NGA Chair Utah Gov. Cox, a Republican, and NGA Vice Chair Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, explain more in this video.
- Recording a brief civic education ad, explaining that our nation’s founding and the Constitution were designed for people from different backgrounds and with different views.
- Writing an op-ed with someone from the other party on a topic of common ground.
- Hosting a debate at a college or university that models healthy conflict to future generations, including in partnership with organizations like Braver Angels and Bridge USA.
First Lady & Friends
Governor Spencer Cox joined First Lady Abby Cox on the First Lady & Friends podcast to talk about some life updates, their recent trip to Atlantic City, NJ for the National Governor’s Association where the governor was elected chair of the NGA, and the importance of building bipartisan relationships with other Governors.
Over the next year, we’ll host four NGA convenings across the country to expose Governors to the good work already happening and connect them with the leading organizations, so they can help elevate and accelerate such work in their states.
The goal is for Governors to model how to disagree better, setting an example and creating the permission structure and template for other public officials at every level to follow.
Help America #DisagreeBetter
We all have a role to play in overcoming toxic polarization. While a big part of the Disagree Better initiative focuses on Governors working together toward a more positive way of solving our national challenges, you don’t have to be an elected official to make a difference in our political culture. We’re inviting other members of the “exhausted majority” – of all ages – to join us.
If you’re not sure how to participate, take a look at the ideas below. Drawing on a variety of resources, these action items comprise a toolkit that anyone can use to get started. A number of national organizations are tackling toxic polarization in a thoughtful way — fanning out in campuses and communities to engage Americans in constructive dialogue and service projects. You’ll find those opportunities and more below. From home to school to work to leisure time, we have strategies for every setting. There are plenty of ways to get involved and do your part to help America Disagree Better.
#DisagreeBetter At Home
Toxic polarization has moved beyond the political arena to impact our relationships with family, friends and neighbors. Even our hobbies are sources of conflict. Try these resources to navigate those crucial relationships and bring peace to the dinner table.
#DisagreeBetter in Your Community
Americas are losing faith in the institutions that used to bind us. From the classroom to the break room to the sanctuary, we need leaders to help guide the way back to common ground. Explore these opportunities to apply Disagree Better to promote harmony in these institutions that are so essential to American life.
When policy discussions become more about scoring points than achieving progress, we all lose. These tools help empower elected officials and voters alike to elevate cooperation over conflict, and compromise over rhetorical combat.
Research and Resources on Healthy Conflict
Dozens of groups across the nation are involved in depolarization work, and the Disagree Better NGA Initiative will work to elevate their research and resources.
Here is a list of individual leaders and organizations we have relied on in developing Disagree Better:
the Power of Service
The research is clear that participating in service activities breaks down barriers, lifts up others and improves mental health. As part of the Disagree Better NGA Initiative, Utah First Lady Abby Cox will be leading efforts to incorporate a service project at each of the four NGA convenings throughout the year.
- American Enterprise Institute
- American Council of Trustees and Alumni
- American Exchange Project
- Bipartisan Leadership Project
- Boston Debate League
- Brookings Institution
- Freedom House
- Heterodox Academy
- Hewlett Foundation
- Listen First Project
- Meeting of America
- Millennial Action Project
- Moral Courage
- More in Common
- National Constitution Center
- New Pluralists
- One America Movement
- Raffa Social Capital Advisors
- Stand Together and Koch Foundation
- Story Corps
- Sutherland Institute
- The Pew Charitable Trust
- Unify America
- UNITE: The Dignity Index
bridging the partisan divide
In a panel discussion held during the NGA Annual Meeting, Governor Cox invited leaders engaged in bridging the partisan divide to share their thoughts.
Moderator Mónica Guzmán, Senior Fellow for Public Practice at Braver Angels, kicked off the discussion by asking panelists to define the problem.
Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics International and the founder of Unite, identified the issue as “the erosion of trust” and “the rise of contempt as the problem-solving tool of choice.”
“We are kidding ourselves if we treat our opponent with contempt and claim to be about the people’s business,” Shriver continued. “We are no longer about the people’s business; we are no longer about solving problems. We are now about making points that aggrandize and feed our own addiction to safety and security but do nothing to solve the problems of the country.”
Yuval Levin, Director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, commented: “The problem is not that we’ve forgotten how to agree; the problem is we’ve forgotten how to disagree. The forgetfulness is created by a political culture that encourages us to see the various institutions that we’re all a part of … not as [forums] to get things done together but as platforms for ourselves as individuals.”
See a readout from the session, or watch the discussion below.