If you spent the weekend talking politics and policy with a roomful of people who thought differently from you, how might it change your views of American democracy?
According to an experiment called America in One Room, that experience moves Americans toward a rosier view of how American democracy works.
“People do not think their voice matters, and they talk to the like-minded, and they are dispirited and inattentive,” said Jim Fishkin, director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford and one of the creators of this research method. The difference between that attitude and the outcome of deliberative research suggest experimentation in democratic institutions is needed, he said in an email.
“We are in a time when reform and experimentation is needed for democracy. It is under threat around the world. It seems to yield mostly deadlock and division. A democracy that incorporates more public deliberation will, in my view, achieve greater legitimacy because it will be seen to respond to the public’s priorities and key concerns.”
More than 500 participants from 47 states gathered in Grapevine, Texas, for a weekend to experiment, deliberate and, ultimately, compromise.
The project used a technique known as deliberative polling. Researchers selected a representative sample of Americans to come to a single location and spend four days discussing the merits of five issues at the heart of American politics today: health care, immigration, the economy, foreign policy and the environment. They answered survey questions about their views on those topics, and on the major party candidates running for president in 2020, both before and after their weekend of deliberation.