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.

Full text

Le Parisien Magazine: For or against allotting senators?

Nicolas Priou, January 18th, 2017

Appoint some of the senators by chance. That is one of the proposals of Arnaud Montebourg, for “rebuilding the lost confidence” between the citizens and the institutions. More precisely, the candidate for the primary of the left (on the 22nd and the 29th of January) would like to allot 100 senators in an assembly reduced to 200 members. This means on citizen for each department, drawn from the electoral registry, as is already the case for judicial juries.

A system created in ancient Greece

The goal? “Assure the involvement of citizens in the political system” and making the Senate “a chamber with oversight powers over the public purse, public commitments, political promises to the public, and European decisions”. The idea is as old as the Athenian democracy – or rather klerocracy, as the Greeks called the political system where the representatives of the people and the rulers are selected by lot. But this method is rarely applied other than for selecting juries. More recently, it was Iceland that went farther. In response to the financial crisis of 2008, an assembly of 1,000 allotted citizens was formed to create the basis for a new constitution. Which was eventually rejected. In France, in addition to Arnaud Montebourg, various think tanks, philosophers, and researchers have been promoting the idea of sortition of senators for several years, proposing different numbers of people designated by lot. But are the French people ready?
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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.

Antoine Bevort: Chouard and democracy: an intellectual and political fraud

The following is my translation of a recent article Antoine Bevort in the online French publication Mediapart. Like Tommy Lasserre’s Sortition in politics – the false good idea, which appeared in Mediapart two years ago, the article is a critique of Chouard and his proposals. Bevort makes some similar points, but, unlike Lasserre, doesn’t focus solely on sortition, and when he does discuss sortition he often deals with implementation details rather than with the principle itself to which he is not wholly hostile. Bevort also relies much less than Lasserre on canned Leftist rhetoric. As a result of those differences more of his punches land on target.

Chouard and democracy: an intellectual and political fraud
29 June 2016 Antoine Bevort

Étienne Chouard presents himself as the scholar of “real” democracy. His proposal of allotting of a constitutional assembly is however a fraud. It incorporates general principles which can be embraced, at least in part, but rests on largely specious argumentation, eventually leading to a strange and dogmatic conception of democracy.

Chouard considers himself the guru of “real” democracy. He feels he has found the “cause of causes” of the political crisis (“the political disempowerment of the citizens”) and proposes as a solution the allotment of a constitutional assembly. In his analyses, Chouard invokes general principles which can be embraced at least in part, but advances mainly through theoretical and historical shortcuts, simplifications or even misinterpretations, and through blunt claims and assertions. His dogmatic propositions are based on largely specious argumentation and lead eventually to a strange philosophy of democracy.

In order to deconstruct this rhetoric of mystification, we use a conference video available online[i], a text on the Gentils Virus website whose contents are very similar to those of the conference, as well as on the wiki of this organization, and particularly on the constitution drafted by Chouard. We first discuss his analysis of the existing political system, his claims that “we are not living in a democracy yet” and that “an electoral system is not a democracy”. Then we examine his conception of the “true democracy”, and his proposal of drawing by lot a constitutional assembly. We conclude with the mode of action which Chouard, the Gentils Virus (GV) and Les Citoyens Constituants (LCC), two organizations which promote his ideas, are pursuing.
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Graham Smith: The problem with politicians and democracy…

I would complete the headline of Alex Sakalis’s interview with Graham Smith on openDemocracy with “… is that they are mutually exclusive” (at least if by “politicians” it is meant “elected politicians”). Smith, however, strikes a more tentative note:

Citizens’ priorities are not necessarily the same as those of their political representatives. […] What is clear is that citizens are willing and able to deliberate on complex and contested political issues. The question is whether they will be listened to by local and national political leaders. The evidence is not promising.
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