This article investigates the hypothesis, dating back to de Tocqueville and Mill, that deliberation helps make citizens more “public-spirited,” increasing their support for policies that benefit the community, even at some possible cost to themselves. The hypothesis has previously occasioned much speculation but little empirical investigation. Methods. We employ data from a series of regional Deliberative Polls in Texas, gathering random samples from seven different service areas for weekend-long deliberations about the pros and cons of alternative energy choices. Confidential questionnaires were administered at time of recruitment and at the end of the weekend.
The participants showed an increased willingness to pay for renewable energy, conservation, and to see to it that everyone’s basic needs are met. The contours of these results suggest that they should be taken as evidence of increased public-spiritedness.
We provide new evidence in support of the venerable hypothesis that deliberation increases public-spiritedness— among deliberation’s most important but hitherto least examined effects.