When Citizens Decide: Lessons from Citizens' Assemblies on Electoral Reform

When Citizens Decide: Lessons from Citizens' Assemblies on Electoral Reform

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Overview

Three unprecedented large-scale democratic experiments have recently taken place. Citizen assemblies on electoral reform were conducted in British Columbia, the Netherlands, and Ontario. Groups of randomly selected ordinary citizens were asked to independently design the next electoral system. In each case, the participants spent almost an entire year learning about electoral systems, consulting the public, deliberating, debating, and ultimately deciding what specific institution should be adopted.

When Citizens Decide uses these unique cases to examine claims about citizens' capacity for democratic deliberation and active engagement in policy-making. It offers empirical insight into numerous debates and provides answers to a series of key questions: 1) Are ordinary citizens able to decide about a complex issue? Are their decisions reasonable? 2) Who takes part in such proceedings? Are they dominated by people dissatisfied by the status quo? 3) Do some citizens play a more prominent role than others? Are decisions driven by the most vocal or most informed members? 4) Did the participants decide by themselves? Were they influenced by staff, political parties, interest groups, or the public hearings? 5) Does participation in a deliberative process foster citizenship? Did participants become more trusting, tolerant, open-minded, civic-minded, interested in politics, and active in politics? 6) How do the other political actors react? Can the electorate accept policy proposals made by a group of ordinary citizens?

The analyses rely upon various types of evidence about both the inner workings of the assemblies and the reactions toward them outside: multi-wave panel surveys of assembly members, content analysis of newspaper coverage, and public opinion survey data. The lessons drawn from this research are relevant to those interested in political participation, public opinion, deliberation, public policy, and democracy.

Comparative Politics is a series for students, teachers, and researchers of political science that deals with contemporary government and politics. Global in scope, books in the series are characterized by a stress on comparative analysis and strong methodological rigor. The series is published in association with the European Consortium for Political Research. The Comparative Politics Series is edited by Professor David M. Farrell, School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin; Kenneth Carty, Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia; and Professor Dirk Berg-Schlosser, Institute of Political Science, Philipps University, Marburg.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780199567843
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 07/28/2011
Series: Comparative Politics
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Patrick Fournier is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Montreal, and the principal investigator for the next two Canadian Election Studies. His research interests include political behavior, political psychology, citizen competence, opinion change, and survey methodology.

Henk van der Kolk is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Twente, and was co-directed the Dutch Parliamentary Election Studies in 1998, 2006, and 2010. His research interests include electoral systems, electoral behavior, political participation, and local politics.

R. Kenneth Carty is Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia, has held the Brenda & David McLean Chair in Canadian Studies, served as the Director of the UBC Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions, and is past President of the Canadian Political Science Association. He is a specialist on the structure, organization, and behavior of political parties and competitive party systems.

Andr Blais is Professor of Political Science at the University of Montreal, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and past President of the Canadian Political Science Association. He holds a Canada Research Chair in Electoral Studies, and is the principal investigator for the Making Electoral Democracy Work project. Blais's research interests include elections, electoral systems, turnout, public opinion, and methodology.

Jonathan Rose is Associate Professor of Political Science at Queen's University, and served as the Academic Director of the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. He has held visiting positions at Victoria University of Wellington, the International Study Centre, and Kwansei Gakuin University. Rose's research interests include Canadian politics, mass media, political communication, political advertising, and propaganda.

Table of Contents

1. Power to the People?
2. Why Citizen Assemblies and How Did They Work?
3. Who Were the Participants?
4. How Did the Decisions Come About?
5. Did the Citizen Assemblies Make the Right Decisions?
6. Did the Participants Decide by Themselves?
7. Did Participants Become Better Citizens?
8. Why Were the Assemblies' Reform Proposals Rejected?
9. Should we let Citizens Decide?
Appendix 1: Description of Electoral Systems
Appendix 2: Question Labels, Wordings, and Codings for Chapter 5
Appendix 3: Question Labels, Wordings, and Codings for Chapter 7
Appendix 4: Question Labels, Wordings, and Codings for Chapter 8

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