The Problem

Citizens are often uninformed about key public issues. Conventional polls represent the public’s surface impressions of sound bites and headlines. The public, subject to what social scientists have called “rational ignorance,” has little reason to confront trade-offs or invest time and effort in acquiring information or coming to a considered judgment.

The Process

Deliberative Polling® is an attempt to use public opinion research in a new and constructive way. A random, representative sample is first polled on the targeted issues. After this baseline poll, members of the sample are invited to gather at a single place for a weekend in order to discuss the issues. Carefully balanced briefing materials are sent to the participants and are also made publicly available. The participants engage in dialogue with competing experts and political leaders based on questions they develop in small group discussions with trained moderators. Parts of the deliberative events are often broadcast on television, either live or in taped and edited form and/or through social media and other mediums. After the deliberations, the sample is again asked the original questions. The resulting changes in opinion represent the conclusions the public would reach, if people had opportunity to become more informed and more engaged by the issues.

Applications

Deliberative Polling® is especially suitable for issues where the public may have little knowledge or information, or where the public may have failed to confront the trade-offs applying to public policy. It is a social science experiment and a form of public education in the broadest sense.

History

Professor James Fishkin of Stanford University originated the concept of Deliberative Polling® in 1988. He has served as either Director or Academic Advisor for all of the Deliberative Polling® events conducted thus far. Previously he was the Director of the Center for Deliberative Polling® at the University of Texas at Austin. The Austin Center was moved to Stanford on Sept 1. 2003 and has continued under the new name Center for Deliberative Democracy. The Center focuses on research and application of Deliberative Polling®.  Deliberative Polling is a registered trademark and fees from the trademark go to the Center to support research. 

Professor Robert C. Luskin of the Department of Government at the University of Texas in Austin is a Research Advisor at the Center in Stanford. He is a recognized expert on public opinion and on research methodology.

The Center’s Senior Advisors are Dan Werner and Gombojavyn Zandanshatar. Dan Werner is the former President of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions and was Co-executive Producer of the National Issues Convention broadcasts. Gombojavyn Zandanshatar is the Former Foreign Minister and co-chair Deliberative Polling Advisory Committee in Mongolia. 

Case Studies

Deliberative Polling® experiments have been conducted over 100 times in 28 countries.

  • In August 2011, we gathered South Korean citizens for the first Deliberative Poll® in Korea to discuss various aspects of the Korean unification issue: the conditions, timing, and potential consequences. The entire process was broadcast as a one-hour program on KBS, the public broadcasting network in South Korea.
  • In November 2009, we traveled to Poznan, Poland and collaborated with the University of Warsaw and the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe to conduct a Deliberative Poll® about what should be done with the Bułgarska St. Stadium after Euro Cup 2012.
  • A scientific sample of citizens from all 27 countries in the European Union came together in June of 2009 to deliberate in 21 languages about the upcoming elections for European parliament.
  • 226 Brazilians gathered for two days in Porto Alegre, the home of “participatory budgeting” to discuss the issue of career reform in civil service in the state of Rio Grande del Sul.
  • In Sofia, Bulgaria, participants took part in a Deliberative Poll® about the conditions of the Roma in society, specifically with regards to the areas of housing, education, and crime.
  • In January 2007, a scientific sample of parents in Northern Ireland, both Protestant and Catholic, debated the future of schools in the town of Omagh. Even though these people were debating a very sensitive issue across deep cultural divides, they were able to come to some mutually agreeable conclusions.

Selected Results

Each experiment conducted thus far has gathered a highly representative sample together at a single place. Each time, there were dramatic, statistically significant changes in views. The result is a poll with a human face. The process has the statistical representativeness of a scientific sample but it also has the concreteness and immediacy of a focus group or a discussion group. Taped and edited accounts of the small group discussions provide an opportunity for the public to reframe the issues in terms that connect with ordinary people.

The weekend samples have typically ranged in size from approximately 200 in the utility polls; however some have had numbers as high as 466, such as at the 1996 National Issues Convention. The process provides the data to evaluate both the representativeness of each microcosm and the statistical significance of the changes in opinion.

  Before
Deliberation
%
After
Deliberation
%

Difference
%
Agree that:
Unification is “unnecessary” 72 91 +19
Unification would be beneficial to South Korea 48 73 +25
Continuing humanitarian aid to North Korea regardless of the nuclear issue 43 78 +35
South Korea should posses nuclear weapons 53 34 -19
The Gae-sung industrial complex should be expanded 46 78 +32
  Before
Deliberation
%
After
Deliberation
%

Difference
%
Agree that:
The UK should scrap plans for a National Identity card 62 72 +10
Expanding the Freedom of Information Act 69 57 -12
Consulting the public on matters of wage expenses and working conditions of MPs 72 62 -10
Requiring political parties to practice more “internal democracy” 69 61 -8
Giving more decision-making and taxation powers to local governments 53 67 +14
Requiring full disclosure of MPs and other civil servants communications with lobbyists 89 59 -30
Choosing mayors of populations centers by direct election 63 50 -13
Lowering the voting age to 16 40 51 +11
Holding a referendum on whether or not Britain should withdraw its membership from the EU 60 45 -15
  Before
Deliberation
%
After
Deliberation
%

Difference
%
Agree that:
The stadium should be managed by the football club Lech 20 16 -4
The stadium should be managed by the government agency POSIR (Poznan Center for Sport and Recreation) 35 16 -19
A private operator that should commercialize activities in the stadium, leaving the surrounding area to the city, sport and recreation 28 48 +20
The stadium should be financed by the city 27 7 -20
The stadium should be financed by users, with little support from the city 48 60 +12
  Before
Deliberation
%
After
Deliberation
%

Difference
%
Agree that:
“We should do everything possible to combat climate change even if that hurts the economy” 49 61 +12
“I am enthusiastic about energy efficiency” 75 84 +9
“Immigration is an important problem” 44 64 +20
“Illegal immigrants should be eligible for national health care” 63 71 +8
  Before
Deliberation
%
After
Deliberation
%

Difference
%
What should be the basis for awarding pay increases?
“Years in service” 66 49 -17
“Productivity” 69 71 +2
“Evaluations by coworkers” 72 52 -20
“Evaluations by subordinates” 71 51 -20
“Self-evaluations” 81 61 -20
Civil servants should be “penalized for poor performance regardless of how long they have served” 55 60 +5
  Before
Deliberation
%
After
Deliberation
%

Difference
%
Agree that:
“Market should be as open as possible” 36 51 +15
“Finding a job is one’s own responsibility” 26 44 +18
“Allowances, aids and benefits should be paid only to those who work for them” 27 15 -12
“Government should spend more on education, health care and pensions even if this means increasing taxes” 26 34 +8
  Before
Deliberation
%
After
Deliberation
%

Difference
%
Agree that:
“The Roma should live in separate Roma neighborhoods” 43 21 -22
“The Roma neighborhoods breed crime and disease that affect everyone” 60 69 +9
“The government should hire more Roma police officers” 32 56 +24
“The government should hire more Roma in the court” 26 45 +19
“The Roma schools should be closed and all the children should be transported by buses to their new school” 42 66 +24