Reason Writers Around Town: Cavanaugh on Deliberative Polling at Zócalo


In-depth discussion of the important issues has one voter ready to nod off.

With its robust public referendum process and dysfunctional political class, California inspires more than the average amount of complaining about how the clueless masses are to blame for the failures of government. In an attempt to cure California voters of their supposed ignorance, academics and activists are putting together a "deliberative polling" campaign that will hit the Los Angeles County town of Torrance this weekend. 

Deliberative polling is a combination poll, focus group, expert panel and symposium designed to promote "Athenian democracy." The idea is that you poll people while also letting them speak with experts and get better educated about issues that officials claim are important. At the end of the two-day process, we're told, we'll have a better idea how people would think if they were properly educated or re-educated. The Torrance event will bring together 300 randomly selected voters, along with experts from a range of think tanks. 

The good folks at Zócalo asked for my views on this process, which you can find here, sandwiched between two pieces by proponents of the process. While I don't feel especially strongly about deliberative polling, I do think it's a pretty good example of the misguided notion that public officials know better than the people who pay their salaries what the important issues are and what constitutes a proper understanding of those issues. Excerpt:  

By combining polling with top-down instruction from a panel of "experts," deliberative pollsters hope to determine how voting would change if voters' opinions could be forced into compliance with establishmentarian thinking – sorry, I meant to say, "if people had opportunity to become more informed and more engaged by the issues," as Stanford's Center for Deliberative Democracy puts it…

Voters don't need more be-ins with panels of self-interested experts. They see their taxes going up. They see the ever-expanding number of "For Lease" signs in their neighborhoods. They see the state economy falling apart under the misrule of the very same good-government types who organize events like this. And they are either resigning themselves to the collapse of a state government that plays no positive role in their lives, or (in increasing numbers) fleeing the state for places like Texas where the government does not prey upon them quite so eagerly.

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  1. Oh, Tim, it's obvious you remain ignorant despite their best efforts. The only thing left to do is proxy voting.

  2. That's from Raphael's School of Athens, which depicts a number of classical Greek philosophers. I find it somehow the opposite of apropos in connection with California voters.

    1. ...a number of classical Greek philosophers. I find it somehow the opposite of apropos in connection with California voters.

      They do, however, have one thing in common: butsecks.

    2. Supposedly, the grumpy looking guy in purple was a portrait of Michaelangelo.(I've forgotten which philosopher he was supposed to be.)

      1. He's supposed to be Heraclitus, and I believe you are correct about Michelangelo being the inspiration for the portrait.

  3. Will they have "Intensive Re-education Camps" for those who still get the "wrong" answer after "deliberative polling"?

  4. Instead of 300 random voters. Maybe they could try to inform and educate the legislators. I'm sure some of the Reasonoids would like to make up some materials to assist in this difficult task.

  5. C'mon Tim, of course the dumb voters don't know what's best for them. If the Economist said so, it must be true!

  6. Just one more reason to avoid the heavy traffic on Hawthorne Blvd near the Marriott.

    By the way, what the hell does "responsible advocacy" mean?

  7. Do the participants have to recite Mao's Little Red Book backwards to avoid getting a rifle butt upside the head?

  8. A substitution cypher where "good folks" means "undifferentiable stooges" and "proponents of the process" means "cunts" is too complex to waste on this job.


  9. Judging from the comments on our local newspaper web site, the average american voter is slightly less informed than the average Yanomami tribesman. But only slightly less.

    On the other hand, most of this is willful, and anybody who actually wants to learn about the issues can do so with little effort. If they are interested in learning more, they don't need organized sessions with panels of bloviators, and if they aren't interested, the bloviation will make little difference.

  10. I live in Torrance, no one called me. OUTRAGE!

  11. The Athenian Committee for Preparedness explains to the voters that - contrary to what the isolationists would have you believe - the Spartans are pussies and can be easily defeated.

    Common Greek Cause explains that Socrates has violated the Philosophy Finance Reform Act by accepting "in-kind donations" (if you know what I mean) from his students.

    The Center for Polis Responsibility shows that doubling the minimum wage would not affect employment - it would simply increase a slave's hourly wages from zero drachmas to zero drachmas.

  12. If they truly wish to have an Athenian council, I expect that they will deploy the Scythian archers.

  13. The phrase 'rational ignorance' applies to just about any politicos' goals.
    We know what they're trying to do: Empty our wallets for some silly 'feel-good' program or other. The details can profitably be ignored.
    If we could somehow limit their ability to suck up our money, they'd get the attention they deserve; exactly as much attention as the stock-boy in the local grocery store.
    This whole concept smells strongly like those 'free lunch at X time-share resort'. It's only 'free' if you think wasting your time listening to outright lies doesn't cost anything.

  14. Athenian democracy? Does that mean they're going to eliminate the professional political class and select officials at random from the electorate?

  15. The irony is that Democrats are admitting that they think democracy is a failure.

  16. They should move this thing to Athens.

  17. An excellent tool for the political hack who likes push polling but wishes it could be less subtle.

  18. You don't like the results of current political process, and your very business is informing people, some of whom are potential voters...so what would you do? How would you improve process, and what experiments could you countenance to find out whether they work?

  19. I have to say I'm impressed by the Zocalo folks soliciting alternative views.

    The important word in the piece is "duopoly". The organizers are leaving out a huge number of viewpoints. Specifically, they're focusing on the viewpoints of organizations that have a vested interest in the status quo and keeping the powerful in power.

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