States Driving Legislative Change on Today’s Most Critical Issues

It’s no surprise to hear that the divides in our country are at an all-time high. A new Gallup poll released earlier this month found that party preferences among Americans are strongly divided. The poll found that 45% of U.S. adults identify as Republican or Republican-leaning independents, and 44% identify as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents, which is the first time since 2011 that the margins of party preferences are nearly split evenly.

While the divides between Americans have grown closer, we’ve also seen growing fractions within each political party grow stronger too. In recent years, we’ve seen a rise of in-battling among both political parties, with a rise in liberal and conservative influence within the Democratic and Republican parties delaying or completely derailing party’s legislative goals.

The messy Speakership battle in the House this month put the dysfunction in Washington on full display for the first time this Congress and foreshadows that gridlock will continue to hinder any chance for compromise on the passage of meaningful legislation.

Following the Speakership election, a USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll found that most Americans (61%) believe that a Republican House and Democratic President are less likely to get anything done in this “new era of divided government.” In fact, 58% of Americans stated that they believe it is unlikely that Republicans will do any compromising with Democrats over the next two years.

Because of years of gridlock in Congress, state legislatures across the country have had to fill in the gaps and legislate on issues that the federal government has been unable to do.

The regulation of Big Tech companies is one of the most recent examples of where states are taking action as a result of Congress’ inaction. From concerns over online privacy, content moderation, antitrust, child safety and taxation, there has been widespread support for the regulation of Big Tech in Congress – both among Republicans and Democrats. But despite a strong desire for federal fixes to these problems, legislative solutions have ultimately been stalled.

In the absence of federal policy, states have taken their own action. California signed into law a new online safety bill late last year that requires large internet companies, like Facebook, to implement changes to their sites to make the platform safer for children. States like Florida and Texas are seeking legislative solutions to prevent social media companies from censoring certain types of speech. And in New York and Minnesota, state legislators are trying to advance legislation to overhaul antitrust laws.

As the 118th Congress kicks off, leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties have expressed the urgent need to pass federal legislation to regulate Big Tech. Just this month, President Biden penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal urging Republicans and Democrats to unite on “bipartisan action from Congress to hold Big Tech accountable.”

While there may be widespread support in Congress for regulating Big Tech, both sides are divided in their approach. Consider the debate of content moderation, which both sides cite as a problem but offer differing solutions. The main goal for democrats is to “prevent the spread of misinformation,” while Republicans are concerned about censorship of content by social media companies.

There is mounting pressure for Congress to act, but given this new era of divided government that we find ourselves in, it’s likely that states will continue to be the driving force of change legislatively on technology policy, as well as many other pressing issues facing our country that the continued gridlock in Congress will prevent action on.