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New research: Heritage Foundation come top in US think tank ranking

August 5, 2019 #Insights
New research: Heritage Foundation come top in US think tank ranking
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New research shows only 9% of Americans can name a think tank.

The same research revealed that 55% of the public say they know what a think tank is, but cannot name one. The Heritage Foundation (5.7%), Brookings Institution (3.9%), and the Cato Institute (3.0%) are the most well-known American think tanks.

This think tank ranking follows on from detailed research into public perceptions of political communicators that we published previously. It shows that the US public don’t know who or where ideas for the future of the nation come from at a time of massive political upheaval. It also reveals an opportunity for those think tanks that can engage the public with inspiring ideas about the country’s direction.

Read the research in detail at Democracy 2.0: a new role for the policy expert?, and thought pieces on Why the public should matter to think tankers.


We interviewed n=1,217 US adults aged 18+ by online omnibus survey. The sample was nationally representative by age, gender and region. The survey was conducted in partnership with research agency YouGov.

We filtered out answers where it wasn’t clear which think tank was being referred to, or where the organisation cited was not a think tank (e.g. universities, businesses). Where the respondent got the name of the think tank wrong, but we were confident we knew which they were talking about, we accepted it as a valid response.

What, if any, think tanks that operate in the US can you name?

Name any think tank 9.0%

Heritage Foundation 5.7%
Brookings Institution 3.9%
Cato Institute 3.0%
RAND Corporation 2.2%
American Enterprise Institute 1.4%
Center for American Progress 1.2%
Hoover Institution 1.1%
Council on Foreign Relations 0.6%
Federalist Society 0.4%
Pew Research Center 0.4%
Kaiser Family Foundation 0.2%
Wilson Center 0.2%
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 0.2%
Competitive Enterprise Institute 0.2%
Goldwater Institute 0.2%
Hudson Institute 0.2%
Human Rights Watch 0.2%
Urban Institute 0.2%
Alliance Defending Freedom 0.1%
Alliance for America 0.1%
Aspen Institute 0.1%
Belfer Center 0.1%
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions 0.1%
Center for Media and Democracy 0.1%
Center for New American Security 0.1%
Center for Progressive Politics 0.1%
Center for Public Integrity 0.1%
Center on Wisconsin Strategy 0.1%
Civitas 0.1%
Center for Strategic and International Studies 0.1%
Earth Institute 0.1%
Freedom House 0.1%
Guttmacher Institute 0.1%
Heartland Institute 0.1%
Institute for Policy Studies 0.1%
John Locke Foundation 0.1%
Judicial Watch 0.1%
Ludwig von Mises Institute 0.1%
Luwig von Mises Institute 0.1%
Nation Institute 0.1%
New America 0.1%
Niskannen Center 0.1%
People’s Policy Project 0.1%
Rockefeller Institute of Government 0.1%
Rocky Mountain Institute 0.1%
Roosevelt Institute 0.1%
Santa Fe Institute 0.1%
Show Me Institute 0.1%
Southern Poverty Law Center 0.1%
The Freedom Foundation 0.1%
The Tax Foundation 0.1%
Third Way 0.1%

Image credit: Artem Maltsev on Unsplash.

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