Ours is an era of stunted public discourse, where instant polls, 900 numbers, orchestrated petitions, and talk-show campaigning appear to have overwhelmed participatory democracy. What has become of the freely reasoned public debate and informed "consent of the governed" that, as cherished principle, we hold will produce better leaders and better public decisions? Where--or what--is the voice of the people todoay? In this lively book James Fishkin evaluates modern democratic practices and explains how the voice of the people has struggled to make itself heard in the past. He tells a fascinating story of changing concepts and parctices of democracy, with examples that range from ancient Sparta to America's founders to the first Gallup polls to Ross Perot. He then develops the rationale for a new method--the "deliberative opinion poll"--that uses modern media and survey research to legitimately rediscover the people's voice. Fishkin's proposal for televised deliberative opinion polls has already been realized twice by the British television network Channel 4, and he discusses its implementation in the book.
In January 1996, his deliberative poll will be seen in action in a "National Issues Convention" to be broadcast by PBS on the eve of the American presidential primary season. During this broadcast, a national random sample of citizens will interact with presidential contenders in order to reflect and vote on the issues and candidates. Fishkin discusses the pros and cons of this important event, giving behind-the-scenes details about preparations for it. Here then is a compelling story of citizen deliberation from ancient Athens to the present, setting the context for future deliberative polls and related efforts to reinvigorate our public dialogue.
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(233mm x 155mm x 19mm)
Yale University Press
Publisher: Yale University Press
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US Kirkus Review »
An extended briefing paper on a nationally televised "deliberative poll" scheduled for early 1996. Fishkin (Government/Univ. of Texas) examines the central question of American democracy: How can we adapt the "ideal of face-to-face democracy" to a country with a population of over 200 million, where the old town-meeting form of decision-making cannot be exercised on a national scale? He considers various solutions, from the republic's initial reliance on representatives elected by a monied, white male elite to today's reliance on opinion polls to gauge the thinking of millions of Americans, most of whom feel disengaged from the political process. Polling, he laments, is a "superficial form of mass democracy," reflecting the opinions of an uninformed and uninterested populace easily manipulated by sound bites and dirty campaigns. The challenge is to find a way "to promote mass deliberation . . . to bring the people into the process under conditions where they can be engaged to think seriously and fully about public issues." Fishkin's solution: a deliberative poll, in which a random sample of Americans, selected by traditional polling methods, assembles for a weekend of study and discussion. This group, now thoroughly informed on the issues, is then polled, "giving voice to the people under conditions where the people can think." The result, he contends, would be "representative of the public the people would become if everyone had a comparable opportunity to behave more like ideal citizens." Fishkin's deliberative poll will be tested early in the 1996 presidential primary season, and its process and results publicized on public television. At that point, this book will become either an important introduction to a new approach to American democracy or an interesting footnote to a failed experiment. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - James S. Fishkin
James S. Fishkin holds the Darrell K. Royal Regents Chair in Government, Law, and Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also chair of the Department of Government. The most recent of his many books include Democracy and Deliberation and The Dialogue of Justice, both published by Yale University Press.