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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

International Perspectives: Deliberative Democracy

Professor James Fishkin recently ran a deliberative poll in London. John Parkinson of the University of York explains:
As a political theory, deliberative democracy has been around for a while now. It’s 30 years since a young American academic called Joseph Bessette coined the term, but he was talking about the deliberation that went on among elected representatives in the U.S. Congress.
Most democracy theorists latched onto the term 20 years ago, with some, most notably J├╝rgen Habermas, using it as a theory that better explained how democratic societies work: how large-scale public debate is generated, and how arguments move from the kitchen table to parliament and back again.
He notes the advantages of deliberative polling but adds an important caveat:
It starts with a poll to measure existing opinion on a range of topics, creates a range of formal and informal deliberative opportunities in large groups and small, and then runs the poll again to see what’s changed. However, deliberation does not merely change opinion on pre-existing questions: it can change our opinions on what questions are important in the first place; it can throw up entirely new ideas.