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Some Opposition to Deliberation Day
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2005 12:41 pm    Post subject: Some Opposition to Deliberation Day Reply with quote       

The following discussion occured on NCDD’s main discussion list in response to two articles arguing against the idea of Deliberation Day, which were posted by Sandy Heierbacher on June 21, 2004.

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Sandy Heierbacher:

Patricia Wilson of the University of Texas sent me an email the other day suggesting that I bring two articles that oppose Deliberation Day to the attention of people on the NCDD discussion list. As Patricia says, “it’s important for our community of practice to see how others perceive us, and to see if we can find the grains of truth in their views.”

Some of you have heard of Deliberation Day, a proposed national holiday that would take place two weeks before election day (and will, this year, be run in conjunction with MacNeil/Lehrer’s By the People project). The Day is being spearheaded by Jim Fishkin and Bruce Ackerman, who recently published a book on the subject. On Deliberation Day, registered voters would be called together in neighborhood meeting places, in small groups of 15 and larger groups of 500, to discuss the central issues raised by the campaign. Each deliberator would be paid $150 for the day’s work of citizenship. According to Fishkin and Ackerman, “if Deliberation Day succeeded, everything else would change: the candidates, the media, the activists, the interest groups, the spin doctors, the advertisers, the pollsters, the fundraisers, the lobbyists, and the political parties. All would have no choice but to adapt to a more attentive and informed public. When the election arrived, the people would speak with a better chance of knowing what they wanted and which candidates were more likely to pursue the popular mandate.”

This may ring true for many of us on this list, but not everyone agrees. At http://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/January-February 2004/feature_ackerman_janfeb04.html, you can read an overview by Fishkin and Ackerman for Legal Affairs magazine. From links at the top of that page, you can also access articles by Richard Posner and Arthur Lupia. I know some of you are already very familiar with these articles.

I’ve pasted each of these articles below, but here is a short quote from each:

“The Achilles’ heel of Deliberation Day, like so many philosophical proposals to make deliberation a remedy for perceived civic incompetence, is the fact that it is based on idealized versions of human nature rather than on basic scientific facts about how people think about politics and what, if anything, they learn from interactions with others.. THE KEY TO INCREASING COMPETENCE is not putting people in a place where they and others get to state their opinions; it is putting them in situations where they are motivated to pay attention to information that will help them make competent choices. If deliberation advocates focused on the latter as well as the former, they would find that science provides mixed messages about the relationship between deliberation and competence. Many studies reveal that some group interactions actually decrease competence; one example is the organizational malady known as “groupthink.” Other deliberative interaction, as the Harvard political science professor Jane Mansbridge points out, “accentuates rather than redressing the disadvantage of those with the least power in society.”

I will be called cynical for doubting the value of political debate among ordinary citizens, for casting them in the role of passive onlookers of a struggle among ambitious politicians, and for questioning the possibility of meaningful reform of policy. I am merely being realistic. Reform does not well out of deliberation, but reflects passions and interests. Abolitionism, the suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, the opposition to the war in Vietnam, the rise of free-market ideology, welfare reform, and the gay-rights movement were not the product of discussion among voters debating on the model of the academic seminar (the implicit model, naturally, of academic reflection on the political process by the proponents of deliberative democracy, academics all). They were the product of moral and political entrepreneurs tapping into wells of discontent among minorities and eventually getting the attention of the politicians.

I would welcome some honest, inward-looking discussion on this list about these authors’ statements and concerns.

– Sandy



Who’s to say that people make better decisions in groups than they do on their own?
By Arthur Lupia

Bruce Ackerman and James Fishkin are to be commended for the energy that they bring to their cause. They take a notion of deliberation originating in the often arcane field of 20th-century political philosophy and propose to make it the basis for a large-scale public policy. This is no small feat, and these are not waters in which timid intellects wade. I would be happy if their proposal could improve civic competence. But there are reasons for doubt.

The problems with Deliberation Day have little to do with the authors’ specific proposal, though its grand scale raises the stakes for deliberation’s advocates and makes it essential that they address the problems with the concept. The Achilles’ heel of Deliberation Day, like so many philosophical proposals to make deliberation a remedy for perceived civic incompetence, is the fact that it is based on idealized versions of human nature rather than on basic scientific facts about how people think about politics and what, if anything, they learn from interactions with others.

DELIBERATION DAY WILL SURELY ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING. It will expose some people to new ideas and perspectives. But mere exposure does not guarantee an improved electorate. What matters is whether participants learn from each other and, if so, whether what they learn enhances their civic competence.

Ackerman and Fishkin argue that deliberation is likely to elevate the “force of the better argument.” Decades of research on human cognition and decision making, however, indicate that deliberation increases civic competence only if some difficult conditions are satisfied.

By civic competence, I mean a citizen’s ability to accomplish well-defined tasks in her role as voter, juror, or legislator. If deliberation is to increase civic competence, it must cause people to think about politics in very specific ways; not just any change will do. Suppose that we can define a competent vote as the one that a person would cast if she knew where a specific set of candidates stood with respect to a well-defined list of major policy debates. For deliberation to increase her competence, she must not be voting competently initially. Deliberating must cause her to do so. If knowing a candidate’s political party leads her to draw the correct conclusion about which candidate takes the positions she prefers, then deliberation cannot increase the competence of her vote.

How, then, can deliberation affect civic competence? Many deliberation advocates describe deliberation as if it is a place where ideas travel from one mind to another in original form-as if listeners interpret ideas whole, exactly as speakers convey them. In human communication, however, all but the simplest statements and stimuli are parsed. People pay attention to only a tiny fraction of the information available to them, and they can later recall only a tiny fraction of the things to which they paid attention.

The physical attributes of working (short-term) memory force us to ignore almost everything around us. To get our attention, a statement must fend off competitors such as our preoccupation with certain prior or future events, the simultaneous actions or statements of others, and even the color of the wallpaper. For the statement to deliver a specific idea, the target audience must also pay attention to it in a very specific way.

For example, if someone says, “Colin Powell contends that the Iraqis have not disarmed,” audience members must parse the statement in a certain way and combine it with previously held views about the relationship between Powell and the Iraqis to make sense of it. If the target audience focuses exclusively on one aspect of the statement-say they hear Colin Powell and think instead about a foreign policy view of his unrelated to Iraq and the Iraqis-then exposure to the statement will not increase the audience’s competence.

THE KEY TO INCREASING COMPETENCE is not putting people in a place where they and others get to state their opinions; it is putting them in situations where they are motivated to pay attention to information that will help them make competent choices. If deliberation advocates focused on the latter as well as the former, they would find that science provides mixed messages about the relationship between deliberation and competence. Many studies reveal that some group interactions actually decrease competence; one example is the organizational malady known as “groupthink.” Other deliberative interaction, as the Harvard political science professor Jane Mansbridge points out, “accentuates rather than redressing the disadvantage of those with the least power in society.”

Together, such findings reveal that it’s wrong to presume that the more knowledgeable people in a deliberative environment are necessarily the more influential-which, in turn, undermines key claims about deliberation’s benefits. Particularly imperiled is the claim that proposed deliberative mechanisms necessarily or even frequently elevate the “force of the better argument.”

Other scientific research reveals deeper problems. Memory is complicated, and participants in a deliberative democracy session aren’t going to remember everything the authors want them to. Even if a piece of information is attended to, it can only increase competence if it is processed in a way that leaves a unique cognitive legacy in long-term memory, or LTM. If it is not processed in this way, it is, from a cognitive perspective, gone forever.

LTM depends on chemical reactions within and across specialized cells in the brain, with a particular reliance on each cell structure’s “activation potential.” Activation potentials correspond to probabilities of recalling things once they have been noticed; what we usually call learning involves changing these activation potentials. The physical embodiment of learning that smoking is highly correlated with lung cancer, for example, is a change in activation potentials that makes you more likely to associate pain and death with smoking.

Two facts are important here for understanding the impacts of deliberation. First, if a speaker’s attempt to increase another person’s competence does not lead to a change in that person’s activation potentials, then the attempt does not increase competence. Second, not every change in activation potentials is sufficient to increase competence; the change must be significant enough to help someone accomplish a task that couldn’t be done before.

This suggests that participants may not walk away from open deliberation remembering what Ackerman and Fishkin might want them to remember. To see why, think about the most important events in your life: marriage, the birth of a child, completion of personal goals, and great disappointments. Chances are that most of these events took place over a series of hours or days. How much do you remember about them? Even if you focus hard, you can probably generate only a few seconds of distinct memories, tiny fragments of these critical events. Recall from LTM is not like bringing up an old document on your computer that comes back exactly the way you saved it. There is significant decay. Deliberation organizers who ignore how citizens think about politics will be surprised to learn that they have very little control over what participants will remember. In LTM, “the better argument” (if one exists) can easily be crowded out by something else, such as an outrageous statement or gossip conveyed between sessions.

WHAT WILL DELIBERATION DAY ACCOMPLISH? Ackerman and Fishkin offer evidence from Fishkin’s previous deliberative opinion polls, which sampled groups of several hundred citizens before and after they deliberated for two days. They treat large changes as evidence that participants were “better informed.” This is problematic. The changes need not signal increased competence. Instead, they may be a sign of decreased competence; someone taking part might have changed an answer because he misunderstood information presented or because he became confused by a complicated argument. A closer inspection of the authors’ data will likely reveal participants’ opinions moving in opposite directions and many not moving at all.

What must we conclude about the citizens whose views either did not change or moved in the opposite direction of those whom the authors label “better informed”? Perhaps they learned important things that drove them even further from people who disagree with them. Ackerman and Fishkin do not report the extent to which this happens; nor do they comment on how such occurrences would affect the value of their proposal.

The authors’ treatment of heuristic decision making-basing decisions on cues such as a candidate’s partisanship or an automobile’s brand name-is similarly flawed. They note that “poorly informed voters already use various simplifying devices to approximate the same conclusions they would reach if they were well informed.” But since such findings imply that voters can be competent without deliberating, which undermines the case for spending billions on Deliberation Day, the authors attempt to dismiss the research. They claim that the results rest primarily “on statistical models developed from survey data.”

This claim is false. Almost all of the evidence on this subject is empirical evidence from experiments. The hundreds, if not thousands, of experiments on heuristics usage (described in books such as Gerd Gigerenzer and Peter M. Todd’s Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart) go into far greater detail than any deliberative poll about how people think and learn from others. Ironically, the only evidence that Ackerman and Fishkin present to the contrary, a study by the political scientist Larry Bartels, rests exclusively on statistical models developed from survey data, the same technique that they reject above. If we adopt their standard of evidence on this issue, then they have no evidence.

This is not to say that heuristic decision making is a panacea. Like deliberation, sometimes it works-and sometimes it doesn’t. The key to increasing civic competence effectively and efficiently is understanding the conditions under which each method yields competent choices. While Deliberation Day’s authors presume that deliberation improves citizens’ competence, they never establish empirically that its effect on civic competence exceeds that of the heuristic decision making in which we all regularly engage.

DO WE NEED DELIBERATION DAY? After all, informative news programs, well-crafted political commercials, conversations with friends, and newspaper editorials can also change opinions. Underlying Ackerman and Fishkin’s argument is the presumption that the kind of knowledge people gain by deliberating with strangers is superior to other kinds of knowledge. If it isn’t, much of the rationale for Deliberation Day disappears.

Given the importance of this question, it is surprising that the authors never compare deliberative polls to other means of increasing civic competence, such as encouraging target audiences who need more information to read a book or an article or visit a well-designed website. These and other strategies may outperform Deliberation Day or have an effect so similar that they call into question the day’s bang for the bucks and return on the man-hours it requires.

Similarly, Ackerman and Fishkin cite a desire to make people more like “ideal citizens.” They are annoyed that so many citizens learn about politics from the mass media, especially television. Like other deliberation advocates, they make no distinction between people who learn from sources like C-SPAN and The Economist and those who get their political news from Jay Leno.

Ackerman and Fishkin repeatedly portray citizens as “ignorant” and “selfish” because they do not pay attention to politics as the authors do. Like other deliberation advocates, they dismiss or underemphasize the importance of what citizens do instead of deliberating about politics. While some people engage in activities that may have limited social value (in their book, the authors mention shopping mall trips and ski weekends), millions of others are raising families, helping neighbors, counseling friends and co-workers, and engaging in a wide range of socially beneficial activities. It is presumptuous to conclude that society will benefit by taking people away from such activities and inducing them to deliberate about politics with strangers.

PHILOSOPHERS, CIVIC LEADERS, AND SCIENTISTS ALIKE recognize the importance of a competent citizenry in a properly functioning democracy. Most also recognize that civic competence can be improved. I agree. To that end, I ask that people working in this field stop for a moment and contemplate their own competence for the task at hand. It is ironic that a movement founded on the premise that citizens don’t know enough to vote competently thinks it can change how citizens deliberate without really understanding how they think. Science shows that deliberation can lead to thoughts that increase citizens’ competence-and to thoughts that make citizens less competent. In many cases, deliberation may not change thoughts at all.

Ignoring these facts may have dangerous consequences. Deliberation advocates who insist that citizens learn a specific set of facts or engage in a particular set of practices may not really understand how these actions affect the target audience. In many cases, advocates presume that the practices they prefer are better for others. In other words, elitism fills the void left by advocates’ inattention to basic facts about how people think. The result is that advocates who are overconfident in their ability to change human beliefs and behavior end up imposing on others values and programs that favor elite worldviews yet make the target audience worse off and that fail to improve civic competence. Outcomes like these are tragic, wasting resources that could have been used for activities that would more accurately diagnose and remedy problems caused by a lack of civic competence.

From those who ask that America change its democratic practices or that citizens change their political ways, we should demand a demonstration of their own competence in increasing citizens’ democratic skills. We should ask how the conditions under which their approaches can increase civic competence. The deliberative movement’s current foundations are insufficient and dangerous when proposed as the foundation for large-scale public projects. At a minimum, anyone who supports or agrees to participate in such mechanisms should put faith only in those people who can successfully address the challenges posed above.

Arthur Lupia is a professor of political science and senior research scientist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. His books include The Democratic Dilemma: Can Citizens Learn What They Need to Know?


Democracy doesn’t need Deliberation Day. If spending a day talking about the issues were a worthwhile activity, you wouldn’t have to pay voters to do it.

By Richard Posner

The proposal by Professors Ackerman and Fishkin for a Deliberation Day, on which citizens lured by federal financial incentives would engage in collective deliberation over issues and candidates in the forthcoming national election, seems to me to misunderstand what modern political democracy is and should be.

The remote inspiration for Deliberation Day is Athenian democracy, in which the citizenry as a whole was both the legislature and the principal court, and the appointment of most executive officials by lot prevented a distinct governing class from emerging (or at least impeded its emergence). It was a genuine and in many respects progressive and attractive system of self-rule, but one utterly irrelevant to a vast and complex modern polity such as the United States or, for that matter, a small and complex polity such as Belgium.

Modern democracy, for reasons of efficiency and feasibility, is representative democracy, which involves a division between rulers and ruled. The rulers are officials who are drawn from-to be realistic-a governing class consisting of ambitious, determined, and charismatic seekers of power, and the role of the citizenry is to vote candidates for officialdom in and out of office on the basis of their perceived leadership qualities and policy preferences. The system exploits the division of labor and resembles the economic market, in which sellers and consumers constitute distinct classes. In the marketplace, the slogan “consumer sovereignty” signifies that the essentially negative power of the consumer the power not to buy a particular product, a power to choose though not to create-constrains the behavior of sellers despite the vast gulf of knowledge and incentives that separates sellers and consumers. The same relationship exists between politicians and voters.

There is no Deliberation Day on which consumers engage in collective deliberation over competing brands of toasters or about whether to use microwave ovens instead. Consumers economize on their time by responding to alternative sales pitches and using their experience of particular sellers and products to guide their evaluation of the pitches. It is the same in the political marketplace. Voters are guided by their reactions to the presentation of issues and candidates in political campaigns and by their experience of living under particular officials and particular policies.

As we recently learned in the California recall election, the wrath of a disappointed electorate can be mighty. And so can the power of an alienated, “turned-off” electorate. The fact that only about half of all eligible voters (and often even fewer) actually bother to vote in most political elections is commonly taken as a failure of democracy. Not at all. The decision not to vote may reflect equal satisfaction with the candidates, equal dissatisfaction, or rational indifference between them. It is as important that citizens not be forced to vote as it is that the barriers to new parties and to insurgents like Arnold Schwarzenegger be kept low so that our two-party system does not degenerate into duopoly.

Under democracy, presidents and other political big shots have to listen to their underlings, who might otherwise rally public opinion against them. Some of the greatest errors and atrocities of nondemocratic regimes are committed because no one dares to stand up against the tyrant, who becomes progressively isolated from the criticism and feedback that would enable him to correct his course.

Despite the undoubted mediocrity of many of our politicians and the ignorance and apathy of many of our citizens, our system of representative democracy has served us well. Has there been, all things considered, a more successful nation in world history than the United States?

I AM UNCLEAR ABOUT WHAT COLLECTIVE DELIBERATION WOULD ADD to our political system, but I am pretty clear about what it would subtract. It would subtract from the time that people have for their other pursuits-personal, familial, and commercial. Most people work fewer than 250 days a year after the deduction of weekends, holidays, vacations, and sick leave. Adding another national holiday would represent a small but not trivial reduction in the amount of productive work.

Unlike Hannah Arendt, and perhaps Ackerman and Fishkin as well, I do not believe that private concerns are petty and that people are fully human only when they are deliberating about the “common good.” I do not even think such deliberations are productive of much except sound and fury. Widespread deliberation by citizens at large on issues of politics would mainly just reduce the civility of our politics by raising the temperature of public debate, making our politics more ideological and therefore more divisive.

It is one of the glories of a two-party system that by focusing the parties’ attention on the swing voter, the system tends to draw the parties together ideologically, since the swing voters are the least likely to be drawn to ideological extremes. Multiparty systems tend, in contrast, to spawn ideological parties, because in such systems a minority party organized around an ideology can achieve influence or even dominance. It seems to me that the last thing we need in order to solve the problems of our country is ideological strife.

I will be called cynical for doubting the value of political debate among ordinary citizens, for casting them in the role of passive onlookers of a struggle among ambitious politicians, and for questioning the possibility of meaningful reform of policy. I am merely being realistic. Reform does not well out of deliberation, but reflects passions and interests. Abolitionism, the suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, the opposition to the war in Vietnam, the rise of free-market ideology, welfare reform, and the gay-rights movement were not the product of discussion among voters debating on the model of the academic seminar (the implicit model, naturally, of academic reflection on the political process by the proponents of deliberative democracy, academics all). They were the product of moral and political entrepreneurs tapping into wells of discontent among minorities and eventually getting the attention of the politicians.

People are intelligent and engaged about issues that concern them directly and that do not require abstract analysis to understand. The more local and concrete the issue, the more meaningful deliberation by average citizens is; the more remote and abstract, the less meaningful such deliberation is. People know when they are hurting, and the knowledge motivates and engages them in political struggle. They have no interest in debate. That interest resides in the articulate class. Rights are seized; they are not bestowed by average citizens enticed into deliberative conclaves weeks before a national election.

I have difficulty suppressing the uncharitable thought that there may be an element of bad faith in the deliberative-democracy movement generally (I do not mean in Ackerman and Fishkin particularly). I think that what motivates many deliberative democrats is not a love of democracy or a faith in the people, but a desire to change specific political outcomes, which they believe they could do through argument, if only anyone could be persuaded to listen, because they are masters of argumentation. I infer this secret agenda from the fact that most proponents of deliberative democracy advocate aggressive judicial review, which removes many issues from democratic control; are coy about indicating what policies they dislike but would accept; and are uncommonly fond of subjecting U.S. citizens to control by international organizations of questionable, and often of no, democratic pedigree. I sense a power grab by the articulate class whose comparative advantage is-deliberation.

Richard Posner is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author most recently of Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2005 1:46 pm    Post subject: Some Opposition to Deliberation Day – continued Reply with quote       

Steven Mantz:

Hi. This is Steve Mantz, in New York. I have not posted to this list before, though I have followed the discussions with much interest. I would like to respond to the original email which expressed “some opposition to Deliberation Day.”

You say that you oppose Deliberation Day because of its inability to “increase competence,” and because participants would probably be subject to “groupthink.”

I disagree with some of your premises. I do not agree that one basic goal of deliberation is to “increase competence.” That assumes that all of the participants don’t have basic information on the issue, and no expertise of their own. Sometimes, that may be the case.

However sometimes deliberation can include people from vastly different backgrounds who have already experienced an issue, and have firm opinions. The benefit of deliberation is the ability to bring together people from very different groups and backgrounds, who might otherwise never have had the chance to meet to exchange views and resolve their differences.

So I disagree that deliberation can lead to poor thinking. It might lead to that, if everyone there is from the same background and there is no source of concrete data or firm views. In such a case, the participants might fall back on generalities and platitudes (I assume this is what you meant by “groupthink”). However, if there is someone present with concrete experience and data, the discussion can have more value.

Also I disagree with your premise deliberation cannot provide information any better than traditional sources such as op-ed articles, discussions with neighbors, etc. This assumes that there is no undisclosed information and no segment of the community waiting for the chance to make their views known to their neighbors.

I disagree. I believe that in every community, there are some people who have opposing views on an issue, and who would benefit from meeting face-to-face. I believe there is always value to stepping outside the cocoon of media sound-bites and partisan slogans, to get the real story.

This process may not always work perfectly, or lead to a total resolution. However it can increase understanding and lead to new alternatives, once those involved in an issue have a chance to meet with others.

I had a chance to see a form of this in action several years ago. I was part of a group called FIRST in the late ’90s. This was a group focused mainly on Generation X, and on responding to the issues and problems which affected us, as well as the realities which shaped our generational experience.

I believe that generational groups possess a unique validity, since there members will, naturally, reflect every subgroup which one finds in society at large; yet all are linked by a common bond, namely their experience of a particular era.

FIRST had several conventions and workshops, with several kinds of deliberation sessions. The format for most workshops was to focus on a single broad issue or problem. An expert would describe the facts which shaped this issue, from the broadest non-partisan perspective. Then participants would discuss solutions.

There were no rules on these discussions, except that everyone had to work towards a solution; also, no group could be automatically included or excluded from a proposed course of action, without a good reason for doing so.

There was no ideology forced on these discussions. However I found that the above rules imposed there own logic and set of principles.

Some members had to re-examine their own aversion to government programs, and to show whether they really had a better way that would work. Some members had to re-examine their own acceptance of government programs, and to ask whether those programs had really addressed the issue.

The process obviously wasn’t perfect, and I won’t claim that it had the same depth or tangibility that a legislative or policy-making session would. Yet as the process went on, I did some real diversity of views, and heard some real information. I went away feeling that I had learned something.

That’s why I do feel that deliberation can be a resource and a positive experience. I appreciate the chance to discuss this. Thanks for raising those very useful points. I look forward to further discussion. Thanks.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2005 2:00 pm    Post subject: Some Opposition to Deliberation Day – continued 2 Reply with quote       

Lars Hasselblad Torres:

Here’s a little more from the perspective of Fishkin and Ackerman, in the context of what Deliberation Day could do for the UK elections.


”The thinking voter”
May 2004

We should hold public holidays to discuss the issues before big votes Bruce Ackerman & James S Fishkin

“Everything loose,” Frank Lloyd Wright once remarked, “slides toward southern California.” We should see Arnold Schwarzenegger’s triumph in the recall election there last year for what it is: a moment in a larger historical slide towards direct democracy. While it remains a novelty for voters to replace the chief executive in midstream, other aspects of direct democracy have become fixtures of western political practice. No nation would consider entering the EU without a popular referendum. No less remarkably, complex issues of economic policy have now been caught up by the same legitimating imperative: sober Swedes and Danes insist that they – not their elected representatives – should decide whether to adopt the euro.

Britain is not immune. There was a time when common folk were content to understand democracy as a process of choosing between competing teams of Oxbridge graduates at elections. But this era is coming to an end, and we do not mourn its passage.

The real constitutional challenge is to channel a new and healthy popular assertiveness into politically responsible forms. The question is not if, but how, Britons will exercise their popular sovereignty. Unless constructive steps are taken, the use of referendums can discredit the very ideals of political self-determination upon which they are based. If political science teaches anything, it is that ordinary citizens know remarkably little about the most basic institutions of political life. To take just one example: when the British public was asked in 1996 whether the country had a written or an unwritten constitution, a quarter said “unwritten,” a quarter said “written,” and half said “don’t know.” With such low levels of public knowledge, a referendum on something as complex as the euro or the EU constitution may seem like a bad joke.

But this sort of blind voting is not inevitable. When given the chance, ordinary citizens also show a remarkable capacity to engage in productive political learning. Or so we have found, in a series of experiments that James Fishkin and his colleagues have conducted over the past decade. They involve Deliberative Polling (DP), a new form of public consultation. DP invites a random sample of citizens, usually several hundred, to spend a weekend deliberating major issues of public policy. More than 35 have been held throughout the world, with five national projects conducted in Britain. They systematically establish that participants greatly increase their understanding of the issues and often change their minds on the best course of action. No less important, people leave with a more confident sense of their ability to contribute to political life.

This data requires us to rethink the approach to referendums that has become traditional since Napoleon began the modern practice two centuries ago. During all this time, referendums have been one-shot affairs – the people going to the polls to say yea or nay without taking any preliminary steps to deliberate on their choice. But if ordinary people are productive learners when given the chance, we should be considering a two-step approach. Our book, Deliberation Day, argues for a different way of thinking about democratic reform. We propose a new national holiday that will take place two weeks before a referendum is put to the vote. Citizens will be free to use the holiday to catch up on sleep or tend to their garden. But the holiday organizers will also invite all voters to join a few hundred of their neighbours at local schools or meeting places to discuss the choices facing the nation. We envisage the deliberation day (D-day) format proceeding roughly along the lines developed at the deliberative polls, but for the entire electorate.

Suppose that D-day began with a televised debate between the leading spokesmen and women for the yes and no sides. After the national television show, local citizens could engage the main issues in small discussion groups, then move on later to the school or local hall to hear their questions answered by local representatives of the yes and no sides. By the end of the day, they will have moved far beyond the top-down television debate of the morning. Through a deliberative process of question and answer, they will achieve a bottom-up understanding of the choices.

Discussions begun on D-day will continue during the run-up to referendum day, drawing millions of non-attenders into the escalating national dialogue.

All this citizen activity will require a lot of careful preparation. And judging by our US figures, a British D-day would probably cost between £300-£400m – on the assumption that 16-20m voters show up at local centres (26-32m British voters have been turning out in recent general elections).

There are two other cost items in our proposal. Each participant should receive a payment for his day’s work of citizenship, by analogy with jury duty. This will not only increase turnout among the poor, but help pay countless teenagers to serve as babysitters while adults are discharging their civic responsibilities. It also makes sense to schedule the holiday as a two-day affair, including one weekend day. This will allow religious people to choose a day that doesn’t conflict with their religious obligations, and also enable couples to keep one parent at home if child-rearing responsibilities require it.

All in all, a big undertaking – but so is the idea of popular sovereignty. If it makes sense for ordinary citizens, on certain great occasions, to take their political destinies into their own hands, they should do so only after a sober consideration of the pros and cons. If the costs of D-day seem too high, it is far better to call off the referendum, and leave the matter to our elected representatives. Indeed, the high cost of D-day will serve as a check on the trivialization of referendums so visible in California. Instead of cluttering up the ballot with ten or more referendum items, the device should be reserved for matters of truly decisive significance. There is a special dignity to popular sovereignty, but only on the basis of considered deliberation, not blind will.

DP offers a picture of what might be possible. The data establishes, first, that deliberation makes a difference. About two thirds of the attitudes measured in these experiments change significantly after participants think and talk about the issues. Second, opinion changes at DPs don’t happen randomly. The people who change their views tend to be those who have become more informed about the issues. Third, deliberation also changes behaviour. In some key cases, participants vote differently after they deliberate. They also continue to be more active politically when we contact them months later. Finally, the process is very democratic. Voters from all classes learn and change their opinions – not just the more educated.

These conclusions are supported by deliberative polls held in countries ranging from Britain and the US to Australia and Bulgaria. The first deliberative poll anywhere was conducted in Britain on the issue of crime, and broadcast on Channel 4 in 1994. After two days of deliberation, the participants remained very tough on crime – most still wanted to bring back hanging, for example. Nevertheless, they came to the realization that Britain already had the highest rate of imprisonment in Western Europe and that prison was very expensive. So they looked for ways to deal with the root causes of crime and to differentiate the treatment of juvenile offenders from adults. They also acquired more sensitivity to the rights of defendants, showing far less support for the police “bending the rules” to get a conviction.

British DPs on Europe and on the monarchy also suggest that deliberation generates a complex set of responses. On the one hand, the DP on Europe led to a shift in a cosmopolitan direction. Those believing Britain was “a lot better off in the EU than out of it” went from a minority (45 per cent) to a majority (60 per cent) after deliberation. Opposition to the single currency also abated. On the other hand, the DP on the monarchy revealed a discriminating embrace of tradition. Support for the monarchy went up when the participants confronted replacing the monarch with a presidential system. A majority preferred more modest reforms – making the succession gender-neutral, reforming the House of Lords, ending the monarch’s role as head of the Church of England.

Why restrict D-day to the extraordinary referendum? Why not make it a constitutional fixture of every general election? D-day would not only have a salutary impact on the deliberative quality of electoral campaigns. It would also strike hard against the great pathology of modern democracies: government by public opinion poll. Once the leading politicians know that they will be facing their constituents on D-day, existing polls will seem hopelessly old-fashioned. After all, pollsters do not try to report how voters will think after they have discussed the issues in depth and after a balanced discussion with fellow citizens. They report only uninformed preferences. As a consequence, senior politicians will no longer place much stock on the latest poll numbers. Instead, they will be forced to come forward with programmes they are prepared to defend before the kind of informed public that will convene on D-day. Government by pollster will be replaced with government by responsible politician.

If it works, then D-day will do double duty – checking the demagogic dangers of direct democracy and restoring the credibility of Westminster’s claim to responsible government.

Why not give D-day a trial run in the referendum that Britain will soon be having on the European constitution? It raises complex issues on which deliberation can make a large difference to the ultimate result. If such a D-day establishes that ordinary Britons can deal with such matters constructively through public dialogue, it will be time to consider adopting the holiday at every parliamentary election.

Bruce Ackerman and James S Fishkin are professors at Yale and Stanford, respectively. Their book “Deliberation Day” (Yale University Press) is just out. Click here to visit the Centre for Deliberative Polling website.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2005 2:02 pm    Post subject: Some Opposition to Deliberation Day – 3 Reply with quote       

Carrie Stewart:

A wonderful speech that addresses so much of what we are all working on!

Carrie L. Stewart, M.C.I.S.
One World Consulting
Austin, Texas

—–Original Message—–
From: Lazuli Silke [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Monday, June 21, 2004 3:25 PM
To: [email protected]
Subject: [SpeakingOutAgainstRacism] Neshoba County

Dick Molpus Raises the Roof in Neshoba County

June 20, 2004

With Gov. Haley Barbour sitting right behind him, former Secretary of State and Neshoba County native Dick Molpus made a thundering speech in honor of slain civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner Sunday in his hometown. The speech went far beyond his historic 1989 speech in which he became the only public official to have apologized for the murders. Sunday, Molpus not only called for fellow Neshobans to provide evidence they’ve kept to themselves for many years, but also called for Mississippians to get past harmful race rhetoric that has divided the state for so long and to continue the legacy of the three men by taking care of fellow Mississippians. Following is the full text of Molpus’ call to action that was interrupted frequently by applause and drew him a lengthy standing ovation by the diverse audience …

[VERBATIM] To the families and friends of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner we issue a heartfelt welcome. You and yours are forever linked with all of us. We are honored today by your presence.

Also, as I look across this audience I see people I know from across Mississippi and the United States. I am lifted up by your presence, as well.

This is an historic day for a number of reasons. First, we are seeing a remarkable display of unity and connection from the citizens of Philadelphia and Neshoba County. In the June 2nd edition of the Neshoba Democrat I saw a picture of Leroy Clemons, President of the NAACP, with Jim Prince, Editor of the Neshoba Democrat, saying clearly this community has come together and it was time for the “sun to shine through the clouds.” There is no doubt that the work of the Philadelphia Coalition is nothing short of a miracle. I watched with pride as Mayor Rayburn Waddell of Philadelphia spoke for the Philadelphia City Council in passing an unequivocal resolution calling for justice and as the Neshoba County Board of Supervisors, led by James Young, issued their own clear call. The power of human understanding has been shown to us by the 30 individuals who have met every Monday night for two months to plan this event and authored their own eloquent and moving tribute to Messrs. Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. I am more proud of the leadership in
my hometown than at any time in my life.

I believe, however, until justice is done, we are all at least somewhat complicit in those deaths. I recognize that only a handful of hate-filled men actually committed the murders, but we are all, to some degree, implicated. Some will say, “How can that be? Why can’t we just move on?” Most weren’t members of the Klan, those of you under 40 weren’t even born and many of the baby-boomers, myself included, were teenagers. Many of our older citizens would never have ridden the dirt roads to terrorize and they don’t condone murder. But all us who are Neshoba Countians or Mississippians have to acknowledge and face our corporate responsibility in this tragedy and I’m not talking about some fruitless and useless intellectual effort to assign guilt or blame. The debate about who could have or should have done what in 1964 could go on forever. It’s a discussion that carries us no where – there is no resolution. But that does not mean we can move on by ignoring where we are in 2004.

One fact is absolutely clear – hear this: for 40 years our state judicial system has allowed murderers to roam our land. Night riders, church burners, beaters and killers deserve no protection from sure justice.

Our District Attorney, Mark Duncan, is elected by Neshoba citizens and four adjoining counties. Jim Hood, our Attorney General, is elected by all Mississippians. Our U.S. Attorney, Dunn Lampton, is appointed by the President of the United States, an election we all vote in. These are not weak, timid or cowardly men. They have all voiced their support for bringing charges with proven evidence that will lead to a conviction.

But our local responsibility for what happens in the future is also heavy. Clearly, we need to encourage and support those prosecutors. But those of us with local roots must do more.

By most accounts there were twenty men from Neshoba and Lauderdale Counties involved in the planning and actual executions. A number of them have taken to their grave their knowledge of this crime. They have already had their judgment day. Others, however, certainly told wives, children and buddies of their involvement. So there must be witnesses among us who can share information with prosecutors. Other murderers are aged and infirm and may want to be at peace with themselves and with God before their own death. They need to be encouraged to come forward. Now is the time to expose those dark secrets.

When we have heard murderers brag about their killings but pretend those words were never spoken, when we know about evidence to help bring justice, but refuse to step forward and tell authorities what they need to know, that’s what makes us in 2004 guilty. Pretending this didn’t happen makes us complicit. We must provide the help prosecutors need to bring closure to this case.

But justice by itself is not enough. These three young men died while urging people to vote and participate in our democracy. James Cheney, Mickey Schwerner and Andy Goodman were American patriots. Their murderers were domestic terrorists. The end of this saga, however, should not be about cowardly racists finally brought to justice. The final chapter should be about redemption and about moving on, moving on to a better life. The most lasting tribute we can make to these fallen heroes is to move on and to honor their cause.

This is 2004, not 1964. Many of the demons we face today are similar to the ones forty years ago. True, African-Americans have the right to vote, but too few of our citizens black, white, Indian, Asian or Hispanic use that right. Public schools were segregated in 1964. With the growth of segregation academies and white flight many remain that way now. Few politicians today use outright race baiting, but we see the symbols some use and the phrases they utter and everyone knows what the code is – what really is being said. In 1964 there was a dependence on low wage jobs in manufacturing plants. 40 years later most of the plants are gone, but too many still scrape by on dead end jobs to make ends meet. Black, white and Choctaw Indian communities here in Neshoba County and Mississippi struggle with the scourge of school dropouts, teen pregnancy and drug abuse that keep the cycle of poverty unbroken. To build a lasting monument to James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman we must face these issues with a clear, unblinking eye and say “no more.”

And finally, we Mississippians must announce to the world what we’ve learned in 40 years. We know today that our enemies are not each other. Our real enemies are ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, racism, disease, unemployment, crime, the high dropout rate, teen pregnancy and lack of support for the public schools.

We can defeat all those enemies – not as divided people – black or white or Indian, but as a united force banded together by our common humanity, by our own desire to lift each other up.

40 years from now I want our children and grandchildren to look back on us and what we did and say that we had the courage, the wisdom and the strength to rise up, to take the responsibility to right historical wrongs, that we pledged to build a future together. We moved on? Yes, we moved on as one people.


“No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.” Alice Walker
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2005 2:14 pm    Post subject: Some Opposition to Deliberation Day – 4 Reply with quote       

Carrie Stewart:

Ok, here’s my $.02 –

First, I’m not convinced there is a “science” of “human nature”. We have increased understanding of the range or depth of human behavior from social scientific studies which even when generalizable, do not account for all the wonderful variations found in people. I think Lupia’s perspective is not realistic, but cynical. Public Education was created to provide an informed citizenry, yet “civics” classes have all but disappeared. There is no prerequisite of competence for democratic participation. I think he misses the point – it is not the information in the deliberation that will affect people’s behavior, it is the experience of coming together to look at the issues that folks will register in their LTM’s.

Second, Posner echoes the “founding fathers” fear of democracy and the “masses” – they really didn’t intend for *everyone* to participate in democracy – only landowning white men. The groups of folks who would likely self-select for Deliberation Day (payment or not) would be akin, I think to the early citizens of this country, and the members of social movement groups to which Posner refers, although I, personally, would love to see broad, inclusive participation. He also forgets that when people make purchases, they also have recommendations from friends – word of mouth is the most effective advertising. If people pay attention to what someone says about an opinion on breakfast cereal, wouldn’t an opportunity to hear what your neighbor thinks about issues you normally don’t talk about in polite company be worthwhile?

I’m not sure why individuals directly involved in our form of government would poo-poo this attempt to involved citizens, but my elitist barometer is rising ;>). If either of the authors has ever participated in small town New England where Town Meetings still govern, they might see participatory democracy (other than voting) does work. If deliberation Day does nothing more than bring neighbors together to talk, I think it will accomplish a great goal.


Carrie L. Stewart, M.C.I.S.

One World Consulting

Austin, Texas

Steven Mantz:

I agree, Carrie. The measure of an idea’s strength is how well it can be made persuasive and compelling to a group of ordinary, ‘common’ voters. Sorry–it’s not a perfect system, but it does work. Granted, people can occasionally act disorderly, disorganized, a bit unmindful of the actual issues, etc…which seems to be the concern which the original article is focusing on.

But you can gauge a lot about an idea by whether it has the moral power to remain in people’s memory, or whether it is forgotten quickly. So maybe that deliberative, slightly scattered process, is actually a good test of an idea’s strength, i.e., its ability to survive in that process.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2005 2:19 pm    Post subject: Some Opposition to Deliberation Day – 5 Reply with quote       

Robyn Wolf:

Dear Friends of Freedom.

It occurs to me when I read and reflect on the fascinating variety of responses about deliberation, the importance of education and that many were deprived of true education in the past, The purpose of education is to master the art of living a life that benefits all living creatures. To ‘educe’ is to bring out what is already inside us, what is more accurately our heart and soul. There is more known about the nature of our soul if anyone is interested, email me and I’ll share that. Education empowers too.

And part of that in my experience is that the discipline of meditation is essential. The mind can be our servant or our master; without meditation( with a teacher) our mind is our master. Here’s a quote from Sri Easwaran, a truly enlightened man, who was my mediation teacher. He has written extensively about his non-violent peacemaking meditation which includes daily spiritual practices. “The ability of the human spirit to free itself is dependent on a heart sanctified and pure. Abdul Baha

A Thought for the Day From Sri Eknath Easwaran
My mind withdrew its thoughts from experience, extracting itself from the contradictory throng of sensuous images, that it might find out what that light was wherein it was bathed…. And thus, with the flash of one hurried glance, it attained to the vision of That Which Is. — Saint Augustine

Even when we are not speaking or acting, most of us find that our mind still goes on working — thinking, daydreaming, planning, worrying, eating up precious energy that should be going to the body to maintain health. In a sense, our mind is in overdrive all the time. But when we have learned to meditate, we can actually shift the mind out of overdrive and down into fourth gear, then to third, to second, and eventually to first. We may even learn how to put our mind into neutral and park it for a while by the side of the road.

When we can do that, a much higher faculty which the Hindu and Buddhist mystics call prajna, “wisdom,” comes into play. Then we will find that we see deep into the heart of life, with fathomless patience at our disposal. When we have learned to park the mind even for a short period, so much vitality is conserved that every major system in the body gets a fresh lease on life.

From Eknath Easwaran, “Words to Live By” (Nilgiri Press, 1997)

Email -www.nilgiri.org for more on meditation

Robyn Wolf
School of Well Being & wisdom

Robyn Wolf:

Dear Friends of Freedom.

I think Deliberation Day is an excellent idea! I’m convinced that we the people united will triumph and that will continue to be a wave of the future. I also believe that the political realm in America is corrupted and will not last much longer.

Here’s why I say that. We are living in new and different times, the time long prophesied by many religious and spiritual texts, including the Prophets. Some call it the promised land. I have immersed myself for the past 3 years in the wisdom teachings of the most recent prophet of God, Baha’u’llah. I am not writing this to prosetyze, rather to encourage a personal decision to learn to discern the truth for yourself. Three of the nine spiritual principles I live by are

1)The Oneness of Humankind. We are all leaves of one tree and the fruits of one branch. The world of humanity is like a tree and the nations or peoples are the different limbs or branches and the individual humans are as the fruits and blossoms thereof.

2) Independent investigation of truth. Bahá’u’lláh emphasizes the fundamental obligation of human beings to acquire knowledge with their “own eyes and not through the eyes of others.” One of the main sources of conflict in the world today is the fact that many people blindly and uncritically follow various traditions, movements & opinions. God has given each human being a mind and the capacity to differentiate truth from falsehood. If individuals fail to use their reasoning capacities and choose instead to accept without question certain opinions and ideas, either out of admiration for or fear of those who hold them, then they are neglecting their basic moral responsibility as human beings. Moreover, when people act in this way, they often become attached to some particular opinion or tradition and thus intolerant of those who do not share it. Such attachments can, in turn, lead to conflict. History has witnessed conflict and even bloodshed over slight alterations in religious practice, or a minor change in the interpretation of doctrine. Personal search for truth enables the individual to know why he or she adheres to a given ideology or doctrine.

3)The Essential Harmony of science and religion. A major source of conflict and disunity in the world today is the widespread opinion that there is some basic opposition between science and religion, that scientific truth contradicts religion on some points, and that one must choose between being a religious person, a believer in God, or a scientist, a follower of reason.

There can be harmony between science and religion. This view derives from the belief that truth is one. For if truth is indeed one, it is not possible for something to be scientifically false and religiously true? If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science, they are superstitions; for the antithesis of knowledge is ignorance, and the child of ignorance is superstition. Unquestionably there must be agreement between true religion and science. If a question be found contrary to reason, faith and belief in it are impossible, and there is no outcome but wavering and vacillation.

Human intelligence and reasoning powers are a gift that gives us the power to discern the truth in all things, leading to that which is right, so as to discover the secrets of creation. Science results from our systematic use of these God-given powers. The truths of science are thus discovered truths. The truths of prophetic religion are revealed truths, i.e., truths which God has shown to us without our having to discover them for ourselves.

Bahá’ìs consider that it is the same unique God who is both the Author of revelation and the Creator of the reality which science investigates, and hence there can be no contradiction between the two. We must be truly educated to do this and many of us were deprived of education in the past. The purpose of education is to master the art of living a life that benefits all creatures on earth. Consultation is a great way to arrive at the wisest way to respond to the various challenges we face and will continue to face until we solve them. And the outcome to solutions needs to be justice, so that everyone benefits,


Robyn Wolf
School of Well Being & wisdom
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2005 2:26 pm    Post subject: Some Opposition to Deliberation Day – 6 Reply with quote       

Nancy Peden:

Generally, I agree with Carrie but would like to add a few comments as succinctly as I can and I do not want to over-participate but to add to the content, for others to consider and add.

I believe I have basic philosophical differences from the authors and that these articles misunderstand or have a lack of experience of the purpose of groups like NCDD et al.

I believe our intent most basically, is to increase skills, in lay and professional deliberators. And on first read through, the authors seem to misunderstand the uses of the kind of structures that Fishkin and Ackerman have clearly suggested.

(I did find the tone of Fishkin and Ackerman a bit overly idealistic. I don’t know if I would call a day of national service a “holiday.”)

Lupia and Posner seem to not understand process work. What good facilitator is NOT interested in “putting (people) in situations where they are motivated to pay attention to information that will help them make competent choices” as Lupia says is key?

I read/sense a belief in controlling nature, out of a post positivist scientific philosophical paradigm, rather than working with nature, as chaos, complexity, systems and quantum theories propose. Some basic discussion of underlying beliefs and assumptions seems needed.

I believe scientific evidence is context dependent, as is all phenomenon. Of course science sends “mixed messages” because there are mixed results, each time is new and not repeatable, ultimately.

Both Posner and Lupia seem to want simple answers for a human processes that require mature skills for best outcomes. I feel they also seem to deny the human capacity to learn.

Education, and learning together, I believe, are much of our mission. As we participate over time, the groups will mature, not in a nice linear progression, but over time, with consistency and practice. This is our nature and are ability to learn, if we so intend.

I believe these views of mine are not idealism but arise out of training and recognition of human abilities, and a philosophy of hope that is also realistic. I believe we are able to learn and that we learn best through engagement with others.

I am glad for these articles and the moment to reflect and share. Thanks all.

Nancy Peden, M.A.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2005 2:27 pm    Post subject: Some Opposition to Deliberation Day – 7 Reply with quote       

Jimmy Pryor:

At 02:52 PM 6/23/2004, NCDD Discussion – Lars Hasselblad Torres wrote: >(does deliberation EVER attract individuals with incomes over $100k?).

I participated last year in Houston Blueprint’s “Citizen’s Congress”. A thousand people participated in deliberating about Houston’s future. We were divided into groups of 10-12. I would guess that of those at my table more than half had incomes above $100K. And my guess looking around the room was that probably most in the room would be in that category as well.

My hunch is that people from households of $100K + would be MORE LIKELY to participate in deliberative activities, if they are unpaid, than those making average incomes, because they tend to be more educated, more informed about public matters and have the time to pursue such matters. Average and below average income people, I would guess, work longer hours and spend more time and energy on household maintenance, not being able to afford to pay others to do it for them. Also, higher income people tend to have more control over how they use their time, having more ability to use “work time” on civic matters.

Jimmy Pryor

Lars Hasselblad Torres:

Yes, I think you are absolutely correct, jimmy, which is why the deliberative poll folks (and a very few number of others) incentivize the process AND rely on (stratified?) random sampling to ensure their sample is representative. Obviously, most Americans don’t make anything close to $100k, although household figures in some areas may get close to that.

So I guess my choice of 100k was somewhat arbitrary, and my real question is what the threshold might be? To what extent to those who wield elite financial power view such forms of participate as in their interest?

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