Wednesday, October 14, 2009

James Fishkin, Democracy and Deliberation, Thoughtful Thursday

James S. Fishkin is of course known for his work in deliberative poling. His book, Democracy and Deliberation, of course discusses this; but more important is his work on classifying democratic thought and the references to different political thought and critics of democracy.

We should compare this quadrant system and set of two axis to that of Dr. Hibbing and Dr. E. Theiss-Morse. They hypothesized an axis where American's were asked how much direct democracy they wanted and on the other direction, the familiar left-right dichotomy. They pointed that there was a bell-curve with a centrist opinion of people's opinions in both axis. But in America, we have no direct democracy but the government is right in the middle on the conventional left and right political spectrum.

Aemrican Constitutional evolution has been pushing the direction of quadrant four. Obvious examples are the ammendments to the constitution:

  1. Ammendment Seventeen that provides for the people to elect the Senators.
  2. Ammendment Ninteen provided for women sufferage
  3. Ammendment twenty-four disallowed the poll tax
  4. Ammendment twenty-six allows eighteen years old to vote.
He points out that president and legislatures pay more attention to public opinions. This was termed the "plebiscitary President" Our electoral College simply votes as the individuals who selectd a slate for a particular party wanted them to. Similarly, delegates to political convetions vote for whom they want. (This was a shift to quadrant four.)

And now all States use primaries and the officials and elders in political parties have little power to select the individuals running for high office. Dr. Fishkin points that we have not had a series of ballots in a Presidential party convention since 1952 and the primaries started in the 1920's. And he despairs about the horse-race mentality, one lamented specifically by Dr. Krugman in the health care debate. Dr. Fishkin cites that sixty percent of presidential campaign coverage was to "horse race convention."

Yet our system is representative. On the federal level, there has never been a national referendum on any topic. We may write to our legislator about our opinions on a health care reform; we may threaten to vote the ... out of office, but ultimately, we are powerless to control what the reform will be.

But systems can vary in the amount of dleiberation they allow. Dr. Fishkin hypothesized a system like QUBE. This was the system that first had Pay-per-view and video-on-demand. It allowed the system to collect answers to a multiple choice question with five answers Dr. Fishkin hypothesized that the remote coudl be used for voting. But he despaired that people would quickly make a click on an important national issue without thinking about the consequences. And of course demagougery is an issue that Dr. Fishkin mentions and I discussed when I reviewed Paul Woodruff's book on Athenian democracy. Dr. Fishkin cites the famous argument in Federalist Number Ten that "was designed to show how impediments tto majorities could prevent tyranny" and also to find "representatives" that will protect the true good of the nation that puts us in quadrant one.

Dr. Fishkin, of course, studied deliberative polling. The goal is to get the same percentage results that would be gotten if the entire population could be forced to deliberate and think about an issue before voting or answering a poll. A group is selected randomly, as they would for conventional polling. However, they are given briefing materials and then meet, often telievised. They meet for a weekend and discuss the issues with experts and with trained moderators. Parts are televised As an experiment, they look at the opinions of the participants before and after the deliberative polling exercise and the Center for Delibrative Democracy reports on these differences. The Intelligence Squared Debate system has the audience give their opinion before and after the debate and reports the difference in the votes.

As one would expect, Dr. Fishkin talks about first democracy. And he mention the "graphe paranomon" It was literally a trial of a person who made an illegal proposal before the main assembly. It was 500 people. But it mentions two things I raised earlier in this blog: that the committee had little or no guidelines as to what to consider and they considered the whole life of the person.

Again, I look forward to chasing all the wonderful references in the back of the book which provide a good guide to political theory relevant to this blog.

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