Founded in 2005, Civitas Institute is a Raleigh-based nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research organization with a statewide mission focus “to remove barriers to freedom so that all North Carolinians can enjoy a better life.”
To achieve their mission, Civitas produces timely public policy research and analyses, conducts polls that capture voter sentiment, and hosts educational events for decision makers and limited government proponents. The Pope Foundation helped establish Civitas and still makes annual general operating grants to the organization. Francis X. DeLuca led Civitas for over 11 years. After DeLuca’s retirement in early 2018, former Americans for Prosperity North Carolina State Director Donald Bryson joined the Civitas team as the new President & CEO.
Bryson says the research and polling Civitas produces is influential, but not ideological. “I think Civitas has done and continues to do, an excellent job driving the public policy debate. That’s our job, to inform the debate.”
Civitas’ work focuses on three main policy areas: education, elections, and budget and taxes. Their website offers overviews of these critical issues via informative articles and research – highlighting things like pork in state budgets and analyzing programs like education savings accounts. Annual publications include a legislative agenda and policy guides that make constructive suggestions on how to improve life and reduce regulation in North Carolina. A monthly newspaper, NC Capitol Connection, also gives a platform to share the most pressing issues affecting the state
Civitas also conducts 8-10 polls each year, gauging the public’s view of state leaders and issues. Employing a third-party pollster, Civitas poses questions about elected officials’ job performance, voter confidence in the economy, and thoughts on potential new laws. Questions are posed to registered voters, and results are presented at nearly monthly lunch meetings that are open to the public.
“That’s why we do polling,” Bryson says. “It’s not to shift public opinion one way or the other; it’s not to do push polls. Our analysis and our polling are to inform the debate. Our primary audience would be educated citizens – people who want to learn more about public policy specific to North Carolina, and then our secondary audience is our legislators. We think that good debate drives good policy, and the more that people are informed of those debates, the better.”
Beyond research and polling, Civitas provides an avenue for likeminded small government advocates to connect. Their annual Conservative Leadership Conference (CLC) is known as the premier conservative event in North Carolina. Offering keynote addresses from thought leaders and workshops to discuss issues like higher education and energy, CLC provides access to the full spectrum of conservative thought and leadership.
Since opening its doors, Civitas has played an essential role in shaping North Carolina’s public policy discussion. The nonprofit has worked to empower citizens to become more active members of our democracy, educate emerging civic leaders, and inform elected officials about conservative solutions to North Carolina’s problems. Armed with an efficient staff and a strong conservative voice, Civitas plans to continue to advocate for the kind of fiscal sensibility that keeps North Carolinians free and prosperous.
Will Rierson, 2018-19 John Blundell Fellow, contributed to this piece.