Behind the scenes of Policy 2020, a new Brookings resource to inform Americans about issues in the presidential election 

An election worker sets up a voting booth in the library of Spring Hill Elementary School, which is being used as a polling station in McLean, Virginia November 5, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS) - GM1E9B51PZY01

In October, the Brookings Institution launched Policy 2020, a new resource for voters that provides fact-based, data-driven, non-partisan information on policies relevant to the 2020 election. This was the culmination of months of work across the Institution, involving everything and everyone from web and graphic designers, to video producers, and to scholars and social media managers 

“From the start we knew the 2020 U.S. general election was going to be unique in both the wide range of candidates and the urgency of the issues about which the electorate care,” said Communications Vice President Emily Horne. “Lots of media outlets and other explainers are focused on the differences between candidates’ policy positions; that’s not Brookings’s goal. Instead, Brookings experts are explaining the facts undergirding the most important policy debates in America today, so voters can make up their own minds about potential solutions.” 

In these explainers, called Voter Vitals, experts analyze different issues without focusing on individual platforms or candidates. Each Voter Vital is also translated into Spanish in order to reach a wide range of Americans interested in policy issues.  

“In translating our Voter Vitals, Brookings is the first think tank to release a major multi-issue policy series in both English and Spanish,” said Horne. “We think this sends a powerful signal about who the world’s leading policy think tank views as our audience.” 

Another central feature of Policy 2020 is the Brookings’s Big Ideas for 2020, a series of bold, creative policy proposals for America’s next elected president and next Congress. These ideas, some of which are new and some of which outline specific roadmaps for policy proposals already in the public domain, have the potential to make American institutions more equitable, effective, and transparent while enhancing the U.S. role on the world stage. 


When Lisette Baylor, art director at Brookings, first received the request for the project in May, she started by creating a mood board, a sort of collage to generate ideas about the look and feel for the website that included typography styles, colors, photographs, and other inspirations. Considering the shift in audience and need to appeal to voters, she wanted to move away from the common red, white, and blue color scheme typical of election-related campaigns.  

Baylor did this by incorporating yellow, a color that she considers unbiased, energetic, and that brings more liveliness to the page. Her first mockup was almost entirely yellow, using pastel tones to differentiate different types of content. In the five months it took to launch the project, she and Alley, a New York City-based web development firm, created between 20 to 30 mockups.  

“Having a more relatable look and feel to the design of the site was also a thoughtful direction to try and engage a more general audience, who are outside of the typical Brookings content users,” Baylor explained 

This desire to reach American voters also influenced her design choices, in order to reach a general audience during the election cycle and to elevate scholarly research with designs that felt approachable and not intimidating.  


All the content for Policy 2020 is hosted on a microsite within the larger Brookings website helmed by Eric Abalahin, director of website operations and managing editor, along with Alley.  

“The Policy 2020 website constitutes a new look for Brookings,” Abalahin said. “The design and development of the site was a collaboration between our in-house web and design teams and Alley, and we went for a vibrant and visually stimulating look and feel to appeal, in particular, to voters who are interested in learning about the issues shaping the 2020 elections.” 

Beyond design, functionality is the most important aspect of developing a new site.  

The mobile-first design seamlessly incorporates visual elements such as charts and video, experimenting with new features to drive home key messages and to promote sharing across platforms, such as tweetable key facts in our Voter Vitals. Brookings’s web development team kept the templates relatively simple, both to make sure that scholars’ content is at the forefront and to ensure the best user experience across a wide variety of browsers and devices. 


Senior Fellows David Wessel and Elaine Kamarck, and Vice President for Governance Studies Darrell West are instrumental in marshalling Policy 2020 scholarship from across all five Brookings research programs, covering the topics most on voters’ minds from health care to federal debt to immigration.  

“We have been heartened by the enthusiasm of scholars across all programs for both the Voter Vitals primers on election issues and the Big Ideas memos to candidatesand for their patience in putting up with our editing as we strive to make Voter Vitals accessible to people who want to be but are not very well-informed,” Wessel said.  

In the introductory video on the Policy 2020 site, Wessel emphasized the importance of reaching a wider audience and creating a user-friendly presence.  

Kamarck stressed the importance of having facts in a time when partisanship is increasing, and every candidate chooses their own set of facts in a debate. Through the Big Ideas pieces, scholars can propose their own policy proposals almost as a memo to a candidate.  

West manages and edits all of the Big Ideas and inaugurated the series with a deeply-researched proposal for abolishing the electoral college 


Moving forward, the Brookings Podcast Network has been soliciting questions on the 2020 election from college students and recent graduates for a Policy 2020 Ask an Expert segment to be used in the Brookings Cafeteria podcast. Brookings has also launched a video series complementing the Voter Vitals and has featured podcast episodes on healthcare and an overview of Policy 2020. In January, Brookings will launch its first “email mini course,” which will let subscribers get in their inboxes a series of short lessons on how the political parties narrow the field of presidential candidates in primaries and caucuses. 

Brookings is proud to help inform American voters with nonpartisan, fact-based research and policy analysis on the key issues that will matter most in 2020.  

Learn more about Policy2020 here and sign up for the newsletter here.