THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE: Public Opinion and Democracy by James S. Fishkin

THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE: Public Opinion and Democracy

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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.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0300072554
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.