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Sun Jul 15, 2012, 01:59 PM

"deliberative polling" - Does it have a place in democracy?

The broader implications of this might be of interest to some. It is a wonderful tool for deep exploration of public beliefs and values, but is it a method for actually crafting good decisions?

Japan's energy future too important to be left to experimental polling method

Once upon a time, in ancient Athens, state policy was decided not by elected representatives, but by a great assembly of all eligible citizens. Five hundred of these citizens were also chosen by lot for the Bouletai, or council, which spent time deliberating the issues facing Athens and drawing up bills for the assembly's consideration.

In the modern world, a small-scale version of this selection by lot and the group deliberation that was such an important part of Athenian democracy is being resurrected by U.S. academics in the form of deliberative polls.

In a deliberative poll, respondents are chosen at random to answer questions on relevant issues, just as in a regular opinion poll. Unlike a regular poll, however, the process doesn't stop there. Respondents are invited to a weekend event where they are given detailed information about the issues at hand, hold discussions with experts and politicians, and debate various points of view. At the end of the weekend, the respondents are asked the same survey questions again.

Deliberative polls have been attracting attention in Japan as well. Specifically, deliberative polling is set to be used to help choose between one of three options presented by the government for Japan's energy future -- a weighty issue in the wake of last year's meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Though the government is aiming to make...


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