Prof. Fishkin is keeping busy

A deliberative poll for California’s future:

What’s Next California is an unprecedented attempt to bring the people into the process in a new way—one that is representative and thoughtful. A scientific random sample of the entire state will be transported to a single place for a weekend of face-to-face discussions, in small groups and in dialogue with competing experts. In California’s first statewide “Deliberative Poll,” the people will be supported by factual information and will consider the critical arguments on both sides of issues, then will articulate their priorities for fixing the state. A number of Deliberative Polls have been conducted at the national and local levels in sixteen countries around the world, including Britain, Australia, Denmark, and the United States. The deliberations will take place in Torrance on the weekend of June 25th. More than 300 citizens representing every region of the state will spend the weekend working in small groups and posing questions to public officials and policy experts. These in-depth discussions will likely range over legislative representation, taxation, whether local governments should have more autonomy and control over public services, and the initiative process.

This is a unique way for citizens who are scientifically selected to join the conversation about issues that might be included in future statewide ballot initiatives. The weekend will be moderated by Judy Woodruff of the PBS Newshour and videotaped for a documentary to be broadcast on PBS stations in California and elsewhere. The What’s Next California project will include digital participation at, on Facebook and on Twitter (#NextCA).

This effort is being organized by California Forward, the New America Foundation in California, the Public Policy Institute of California, the Nicolas Berggruen Institute, California Common Cause, the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University and the Davenport Institute at Pepperdine University. It is being coordinated by the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University and MacNeil/Lehrer Productions’ By the People Project.

Fishkin explains:
It’s Up to You

Some responses:
Can Deliberative Polling Work?

5 Responses

  1. I wonder how they will deal with people who decline? Will those be replaced with another person ‘of the same kind’? Or just a next random person on the list?


  2. > I wonder how they will deal with people who decline?

    This is an important question that appears not to be mentioned on the website. This cavalier approach to important details – who sets the agenda, who writes the “balanced information” based on which the representatives are supposed to make decisions, who decides what the “results” of the poll are and how they are going to be used, who manages the media coverage of the event, who gets to write the website, etc. – seems to be typical of Fishkin’s “deliberative polls”. This undermines the credibility of his endeavors and make them seem more manipulative than substantial.

    One of the responders, Tim Cavanaugh, put this well:

    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.

    (Cavanaugh does unfortunately mix this valid criticism with standard issue right-wing libertarian slogans, but on the point above he is completely correct.)


  3. Whilst it’s undeniable that the DP relies on establishment expertise for the agenda and information function it’s important to acknowledge the lengths that Fishkin goes to ensure that as many as possible of those selected actually attend — as well as the payment for attendance, the organisers go so far as to contact them individually to make arrangements for child care etc. This is in stark contrast with most other advocates of deliberative assemblies who are happy for the most part to rely on volunteers.

    As for the accusation that the DP is “manipulative”, this pales into insignificance compared to how easy it would be for covert forces to subvert the agenda of an assembly that did provide its own agenda and information function. The underlying assumption is that in a democracy the establishment is more or less in tune with public opinion — an assumption that many on this forum would deny.

    Fishkinian “balance” is based on the techniques adopted by media organisations to provide pro’s and anti’s for every contentious issue. Whilst this has the effect of reducing everything to a simple binary, its probably the best we can do.


  4. […] is referring to the What’s Next California deliberative poll: The original 30 proposals covered a gamut of concerns: term limits, reforming the initiative […]


  5. […] of Callenbach and Phillips and the fully managed theater-of-democracy proposals such as those of Fishkin and […]


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