2. Opening Minds through Dialogue


The concept of the Deliberative Poll was developed by the political scientist James Fishkin, and has been put to use on a large scale several times in the past ten years. It truly finds a pivot point for the way societies function: how to create an engaged and informed electorate. Among the articles written on the subject:

"MIRABEAU LAMAR, the second president of the Republic of Texas back in the 1830s, declared that 'the cultivated mind is the guiding genius of democracy.' James Fishkin, a professor of government at today's University of Texas, would like to prove that Lamar was right. Mr Fishkin proposes to introduce to American politics the idea of "deliberative polling". This is a process that would draw together a representative group of ordinary people, have them listen to all sides of an issue, and then cast their considered votes on behalf of their fellow citizens. He claims that the ancient Athenians used a similar system. Would it not be wonderful, Mr Fishkin muses, to resurrect the idea in a world where opinion polls are still merely a quick, come on, yes-or-no snapping up of instant reactions?

Instead of asking a random sample of people to decide instantaneously whether they think America should bomb Iraq, Mr Fishkin would invite his representatives to spend a weekend learning the basics of American foreign policy, of Iraqi politics and of military power. He would let them put their questions to experts, and debate the matter among themselves. Then he would ask them for their answer. That is responsible voting -- the guiding genius, he argues, of democracy."

The Economist, May, 14th, 1998


"The image of the New England town meeting or the Athenian Assembly provides a picture of people discussing things democratically in one place. It is the longstanding model for how to conduct democracy under conditions where not only does everyone's vote count the same but social conditions have been provided that facilitate everyone's thinking through the issues together. We can call this image the ideal of face-to-face democracy."

James Fishkin, The Voice of the People


"'[The deliberative poll] has proved to me -- don't be apathetic, find out about your subject. What I like about it is that we have covered such a wide range of opinions, that the opinion furthest away from me has made me think and strengthened my own opinion...The questionnaire that I filled in four weeks ago, I might as well rip it up now and toss it in the bin. It was an absolute waste of time -- because I didn't know enough about it."

Carmel Meredith, a participant in the first nationally televised deliberative poll in Great Britain.



A link to the first chapter of James Fishkin's book "The Voice of the People"



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