Demos (U.S. think tank)

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Small Demos logo.png
Formation 2000; 18 years ago (2000)
Founder Charles Halpern, David Callahan, Stephen Heintz
Type Think tank
Headquarters New York City, New York, United States
Incoming president
Sabeel Rahman
$7,242,655 (2015)[1]

Demos is a United States-based public policy organization that works on social, economic and political equity issues.[2] It was founded in 2000 and has been described as presenting a liberal[3] view on policy issues. The organization's focus includes election reform, voter rights and voter registration, civic engagement, financial reform, and sustainable economics. [4]


A multi-issue national organization, Demos combines research, policy development and advocacy to influence public debate and catalyze progressive change. The name "Demos" is derived from the Greek word "ὁ δῆμος" meaning “the people” and is the root for the word “Democracy." [5]


In the late 1990s, Demos was conceptualized by Charles Halpern, President of the Nathan Cummings Foundation (1989–2000). Halpern wanted to create a counter-argument to the growing influence of the many right-wing think tanks and establish a multi-issue organization that would focus on progressive policy development and advocacy. David Callahan, a Fellow at the Century Foundation, and Stephen Heintz, Vice-President of the EastWest Institute, joined Halpern in helping to found Demos. Founding Board members included Arnie Miller, of Isaccson Miller, an executive search firm; David Skaggs, a Colorado Congressman; and Barack Obama, then an Illinois State Senator.

In March 2000, Demos opened its first office in New York with Stephen Heintz as President. In this first year, Demos’ work focused on two issues: (1) economic inequities in America and the growing prosperity gap and (2) increasing civic participation and developing a more inclusive democracy. These two areas continue to be a large part of Demos’ core work. Demos’ work became especially relevant after the 2000 Presidential Election’s voter complications increased concern about the efficacy America’s election systems.

In 2001, Stephen Heintz stepped down and was replaced by Miles Rapoport, Connecticut legislator (1985–94) and Secretary of State (1995–98) with a background in social-change advocacy and community-building.

In March 2014, Rapoport left Demos to become the President of Common Cause.[6] Heather McGhee, formerly the Vice President of Policy and Outreach, became President of Demos.[7] McGhee is now a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos. On July 17, Demos named Sabeel Rahman, an award-winning scholar, author and teacher from Brooklyn Law School, as the new president.


According to their website,[8] Demos currently has three broad goals: 1. Achieving true democracy by reducing the role of money in politics and guaranteeing the freedom to vote 2. Creating pathways to ensure a diverse, expanded middle class in a new, sustainable economy, and 3. Transforming the public narrative to elevate the values of community and racial equity.

Democracy Program[edit]

The Democracy Program is Demos’ oldest. It works to strengthen democracy in America through research focused on encouraging civic participation and reducing barriers for voter participation. The program builds on Demos’ core belief that inclusive and active citizen participation is necessary for a strong democracy. Much of their work is focused on securing full implementation of Section 7 of the National Voting Rights Act (NVRA), which mandates that public assistance agencies provide voter registration services, as well as support for state-based campaigns to establish Election Day Registration policies.

Economic Opportunity Program[edit]

The Economic Opportunity Program focuses on research and policy ideas to provide new opportunities for low-income families, people of color, and young adults to achieve economic security. The program’s work includes reports on household debt and credit checks, the economic security of young Americans and the elderly, and policies aimed to help community college students complete their degrees.

Fellows Program[edit]

The Demos Fellows Program develops and sustains fellows from diverse backgrounds, who produce books, research and commentary to shape a more vibrant and informed public conversation about policy. The Emerging Voices Initiative nurtures the careers of exciting young thought leaders, particularly those of color, to help address the profound lack of diversity among public commentators and to bring urgently needed new ideas into the debate.

PolicyShop Blog[edit]

PolicyShop is the official Demos blog, which "strives to offer timely commentary and analysis on a range of national and state policy issues." Frequent topics of commentary include jobs, middle class economic security, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Voter ID laws, campaign finance reform, and energy and sustainability.

Voter registration[edit]

The Democracy Program has worked to improve states' compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), focusing mainly on expanding voter registration opportunities at social service agencies for low income voters. Demos was part of a settlement in a lawsuit, filed in 2005, alleging Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, Governor Bob Taft, and their predecessors failed to protect the fundamental rights of eligible Ohio voters to cast a meaningful ballot, as required by the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[9] This settlement is binding and requires the state to provide for uniformity and consistency in Ohio election procedures so that the opportunity to vote can be enjoyed equally by all Ohio citizens.[9]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Demos FY2015 Form 990" (PDF). Retrieved 27 January 2017. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ E.g.,
  4. ^
  5. ^ Herbert, Bob. "Demos, A Voice of Reason". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 March 2012. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b Rosenfeld, David (November 8, 2011). "Righting the Voting Income Gap". Pacific Standard. Retrieved July 5, 2016. 

External links[edit]