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Monday, August 27, 2018

Democracy When the People Are Thinking

Stanford political scientist James Fishkin has a new book titled Democracy When the People Are Thinking: Revitalizing Our Politics Through Public Deliberation.  From the book's website:
Democracy requires some connection to the “will of the people.” But there are impediments to how that will is formed and how it is connected to public decisions. Efforts to manipulate public opinion, the competitive pressures of campaigns, discussions among the like-minded on social media, distortions of campaign finance all make it difficult for a mostly inattentive mass public to come to considered judgments. “Deliberative democracy” offers a useful method of supplementing our current political practices. There is a need for research and experimentation into entry points for a thoughtful and representative public voice. Such efforts provide a solution to a recurring dilemma—do we listen to the people and get the angry voices of populism or rely on widely distrusted elites and get policies that seem out of touch with the public’s concerns. Populism or technocracy? Deliberative democracy can provide a thoughtful and representative public voice.

Four criteria must be satisfied for popular control: inclusion (the opportunity for everyone to participate), choice (there must be different options to choose from), deliberation (so that the people think about the choices and their implications), and impact (the choices must have an effect, either on the choice of policies or of office holders). What forms of democracy can be used, either by themselves or in combination, to satisfy these four criteria? The book distinguishes four: competitive democracy (popular elections via political parties), elite deliberation (by representatives), participatory democracy (forms of direct democracy as with ballot measures), and deliberative democracy (deliberation by the people themselves). None of these methods is self-sufficient but how might they work in combination? Other topics include manipulation, the “realist” argument for the lack of popular control via elections, and the Athenian system of popular control, especially in the fourth century BC.

Eight criteria are discussed for microcosms or mini-publics that can offer input to policy. These include demographic and attitudinal representativeness, sample size, the opportunity to engage policy arguments for and against proposals for action, knowledge gain, opinion change, distortions from polarization and domination by the more advantaged, and whether there are identifiable reasons for the final considered judgments. These criteria are applied in depth to four case studies from different parts of the world: California (on a statewide basis), the city of Ulaanbaatar (capital of Mongolia), two projects in Uganda (in Bududa and Butaleja), and a European-wide Deliberative Poll in Brussels engaging a sample from all twenty-seven countries deliberating in twenty-two languages. These four cases illustrate the prospects and challenges of applying Deliberative Polling to specific policy choices. They illustrate different entry points for the considered judgments of the public. Both qualitative and quantitative data are considered in each project.

Consider four main arguments against applications of deliberative democracy—domination by the more advantaged, polarization, lack of citizen competence, and the gap between mini-publics and the broader society. We consider why these problems seem intractable according to the political theory literature. Drawing on the case studies in Part III, we show that these challenges can be overcome. Thought experiments for deliberation are considered, drawing on work from John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas. The argument for applied deliberative democracy, as in Deliberative Polling, is developed. “Deliberative systems,” where deliberation enters a democratic decision process at one point or another, are discussed. Topics include reform of the US presidential selection process, commissions within specific issue domains such as the Texas utility experience, the Japanese use of Deliberative Polling, and the use of Deliberation Day. The issue of constitutional change is also discussed, drawing on the recent Deliberative Poll in Mongol