Explaining non-participation in deliberative mini-publics

One of the issues dividing commentators on this blog is whether participation in sortition-based assemblies should be mandatory or voluntary — see, for example. Those of us advocating legislative juries based on Athenian nomothetic panels advocate quasi-mandatory participation in order to ensure accurate descriptive representativity. Those, however, who argue for full in-depth participatory deliberation claim that mandatory participation would be ‘disastrous’, as it is hard to see how a a ‘full-charge’ legislature — essentially like existing elected legislatures but with members selected by lot — could function with (in effect) conscripted members.

A paper by Vincent Jacquet in the European Journal of Political Research, examines why it is that the overwhelming majority of randomly-selected persons refuse the invitation to participate in deliberative minipublics. Given that the descriptive representativity of the minipublic (vis-a-vis the target population) is one of the principal rationales for sortition, acceptance rates are extremely poor, ranging from 1% (America Speaks) through 3% (Belgium), 5.7% (Ontario), 6.2% (Netherlands), 7.4% (British Columbia) to 20% in Deliberative Polls. As a result there is a danger that voluntary participation risks the ‘over-representation of better educated and politically active individuals’ as ‘the [overwhelming] majority of the recruited population refuse to participate (pp.2-3).

Stratified sampling can enable some correction but this is generally on the basis of crude population metrics and ‘[voluntary] participation follows the social unequal distribution pattern of political engagement . . . participants are better educated, mostly men and older than the average population . . . participants are more politically interested and have a higher sense of efficacy’ (p.3). Such ‘statistical biases’ might suggest that deliberative minipublics privilege the usual suspects, the added disadvantage being that nobody has chosen ‘descriptive’ representatives and there is no way to kick the rascals out. There is a danger that

Using mini-publics to shape public policies may create new deliberative elites — randomly selected but distinct from the wider population precisely because they have taken the time to deliberate. (p.14)

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Equal Participation in the Post-Democratic Age

Forthcoming book chapter by Dirk Jörke and Anthoula Malkopoulou

Equal participation is a sine qua non of democracy. Yet, today equal voting rights are insufficient for embodying this principle. On one hand, the use of voting rights is not equal among the population. On the other, elections have increasingly become a post-democratic facade, because decision-making has shifted to unelected bodies or non-transparent network meetings. Are more direct democratic procedures the solution to this predicament? This chapter argues that they are not. For once, deliberative citizen assemblies bring inequalities in from the backdoor, as they permit knowledge, skills and other resources more available to advantaged citizens to weigh in positively. Likewise, introducing random selection as a way of distributing public office may allow advantaged citizens to dominate, if the pool of candidates is voluntary and thus self-selected. We argue that reforms should generally focus not on introducing more direct participation, but on reducing the inequalities of participation in representative systems.

The other alternative being large non-deliberative juries with mandatory participation.

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Let’s reimagine democracy: replace elections with lotteries

An article by Joe Humphreys, in the The Irish Times, November 19th, 2016:

What’s happening to our democracies? Donald Trump’s presidential-election victory in the United States, after a bitter campaign characterised by deceitful and incendiary rhetoric, is not an isolated episode. It’s the natural outcome of what David Van Reybrouck calls democratic-fatigue syndrome.

One of the most worrying facets of electoral democracy is what political scientists call rational ignorance. Citizens have negligible chances of influencing which candidates get elected and of influencing those candidates once elected. “Citizens thus have no incentive to become well-informed regarding political affairs,” says Dr Peter Stone of Trinity College Dublin.

The answer, says Stone, is to find new ways of invigorating democracy, suggesting a much greater role for “citizen juries” randomly selected to serve public roles. This notion of governing by lottery rather than election is at the heart of Van Reybrouck’s book, which has sought to popularise a concept that stretches back to ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy. In Athens, in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, the most important governmental offices were appointed by sortition, or the drawing of lots.

Double Review: ‘Against Democracy’ and ‘Against Elections’

I recently reviewed two books ‘Against Democracy’ by Jason Brennan and ‘Against Elections’ by David van Reybrouck for the Los Angeles Review of Books. I wouldn’t say that I loved either book, but I did give Terry a shout-out in the review :-)

“Against Democracy” and “Against Elections”: Where Do We Go From Here?

AS THE UNITED STATES APPROACHES a most divisive presidential election, it is hardly surprising to see an upsurge in literature proposing to diagnose and cure the ailments of modern politics.

Against Democracy and Against Elections both fall into this category. Despite their provocative titles, they each present detailed plans regarding what they are for rather than focusing solely on what they are against. This willingness to explore alternative politics is a clear strength of both books and what sets them apart in a market clogged with tomes that tend to be heavier on rants than original thinking.

Sortition finally in the public eye? A report-back from APSA in Philadelphia

The American Political Science Association’s annual meeting ran Sept 1-4th. Several happenings there indicate that sortition is now in the (political science) public eye.

On day 1, during a panel called “A good year for deliberative theory, 20 years later” Jane Mansbridge mentioned selection by lot several times, adding that the public needs more education on the concepts of representative samples and minipublics.

On day 2, during a panel on majoritarianism, Jeremy Waldron (I am told) raised a copy of Van Reybrouck’s Against Elections and mockingly shook it.

On the closing morning of the convention, a roundtable titled “Lotteries and the Transformation of Democratic Theory” included Alex Guerrero, Hélène Landemore, Claudio Lopez-Guerra, Peter Stone, Arash Abizadeh, Alex Kirshner, and Emilee Chapman. In the audience was Jim Fishkin (who made a long intervention, mentioning an allotted legislature he was asked to design for Mongolia, as well as Deliberative Polls in several other countries–Ghana, Japan, China–then quickly exited), myself and several others.

In addition, several panels throughout the convention involved political psychologist, scientist or theorists addressing minipublics, assessing deliberation, etc. Using the online agenda allows you to search the panels by keyword, if you’re interested in the specifics.

During the roundtable, Peter used the word “sortinista” to mean someone who thinks ONLY a pure lottocracy would be a true democracy. Is this how you understand it? I think of a sortinista as an advocate of SOME use of sortition in a democratic process, perhaps at some key stage of decision-making.

G1000 Kick Off in the UK – Cambridge, September 24th

against-elections.jpgIf Brexit proved anything, it proved that what Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels say in Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government is true. People do not vote after careful consideration of facts and options, they vote to affirm their membership of various social groups and express agreement with the opinions of those groups, which may have little or nothing to do with the issue at hand being voted upon.

As David Van Reybrouck expressed so eloquently in his article, Why elections are bad for democracy (an extract from his book Against Elections) there is something very wrong with voting and elections and there is a much better way to do democracy: select a representative random sample of ordinary people, provide them with balanced information, and let them deliberate together to find out not what people do think, but what they would think, if given the time and information together with a good deliberative process.

From 11am to 4pm on September 24th, in Cambridge at the Six Bells Pub, a group of volunteers will meet to kick-off the process of bringing Van Reybrouck’s brainchild – a G1000 – to the UK for the first time. The dream is to bring a randomly selected group of 1000 residents together for one day in early 2017, to deliberate and decide together what is best for Cambridge.

But we need your help to make it a reality. We need people to donate their time and their energy to help organise such an event. We will need fundraisers, social media ambassadors, technicians, volunteers, cooks and a whole host of other help. Can you be one of these people? If so please join us, get in touch or come along to the G1000 Kick-off in Cambridge on September 24th.

[This post is from the Sortition Foundation blog: http://www.sortitionfoundation.org/g1000_kick_off_in_the_uk_cambridge_september_24th]

Citizens’ assemblies are open to manipulation

Naomi has just flagged up an interesting article from Village Magazine on the Irish experiments with constitutional conventions in 2011 and 2016 by Eoin O’Malley, one of the participants. The article adds to my concerns that ‘full mandate’ allotted bodies are open to manipulation:

Some research shows that the act of deliberating with others has an impact beyond exposure to arguments or evidence. That is people given the evidence and arguments don’t move as much as those who are asked to discuss that evidence and arguments with others. This sounds like something positive for deliberative mini-publics. But it might not be.

The reason for this is because (as Condorcet demonstrated), independence is the key to getting the ‘right’ answer and this suggests that communication between jurors should not be encouraged — all that is needed is exposure to balanced arguments and evidence (as Goodin and Niemeyer discovered in their study of the Bloomfield Track citizens’ jury). This is distorted by the need to come to collaborative conclusions:

Because they are not independent the same flawed thinking or arguments can be magnified. For instance we could see the citizens in the mini-publics engage in groupthink. Some opinions might be aired, but can be effectively suppressed by the atmosphere in the room. There is significant evidence in social psychology that groups can push opinion to extremes and silence minority opinion. To prevent this great care has to be taken that all views are respected.

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