Bleg for research or contacts on sortition and egalitarianism

Hello to the Equality by Lot community and thanks to Yoram for inviting me to post here.

I’d be really grateful if anyone in the community could help me with something I’m trying to research. A critical question in many people’s minds in assessing the merit or otherwise of sortition based political deliberation is the way in which the conclusions deliberative groups chosen by sortition would differ from the conclusions arrived at after ‘deliberation’ as it occurs in the current system – via the mutual assured misrepresentation we see at the heart of most political campaigns.

Websites such as this one have extensive information on changes of view in individual deliberations in deliberative polling, but I’m interested in what writing has been done to try to characterise the kinds of changes that take place. The only stylised fact I have been able to glean from the literature and from researchers I’ve contacted is that sortition based deliberation tends to produce ‘swings’ towards more socially minded and cooperative conclusions – for instance people show themselves more prepared to pay for collective goods like environmental protection.

The question I’m particularly interested in, is whether deliberation amongst ordinary people tends to make them more supportive of egalitarian policies. To be specific, whether it would support policies to generate a more equal distribution of income and wealth than electoral democracy. It seems to me that it should, and that to some extent that is implied in more ‘social mindedness’ and preparedness to pay for collective goods but I’d be interested in any research or authorities anyone could point me to on the subject.

12 Responses

  1. While deliberation may play a part, dramatic differences between the attitude of allotted chambers and elected chambers regarding distribution of income can be expected simply due to the fact that the public at the individual level is much more egalitarian than the elected. See for example Michael Norton and Sorapop Kiatpongsan’s international survey regarding attitudes toward income inequality.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When political behaviour — including petitions, surveys and deliberative polls — has no effective outcome, there is a strong possibility of virtue signalling, but when it comes to actual power people vote with their pocket books. Elected politicians are well aware of this and that’s why they behave in the way that they do (rather than just doing the bidding of lobbyists or just following their own interests). If this were not the case then social-democratic parties would win every election and Bernie Sanders would be US president.


  3. Hi Nick – the research that this great video is based on is very much worth a look: It obviously does not demonstrate that post-deliberative opinion would be for less inequality, but it gives a strong indication that it might. This article is also worth a look:

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yoram’s response is a good example of the neo-Machiavellian doctrine that there are inherent differences between the beliefs and preferences of the grandi and the popolo:

    The tribunes were ordered with such eminence and such reputation that henceforth they mediated between the plebs and the senate, and halted the insolence of the nobles. (Machiavelli, Discourses, I.3)

    Unfortunately this perspective is not borne out by research. A YouGov poll published last week showed that, notwithstanding the warring factions in the UK government, support for the Conservatives and Labour stands at 43 and 38% respectively. More importantly there has been a switch in support by those in the social grades C2DE — that is, skilled manual workers downwards — from Labour to Conservative. The Conservatives are three points ahead among C2DEs (43% to 40%). Given Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist redistribution policies (in contrast to Tony Blair’s New Labour) this poll suggests that support for egalitarianism is stronger amongst ABC1 (elite) social categories than the huddled masses. The election of Donald Trump as president would suggest this is even more the case in the US.

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  5. Voice Of the People ( has found that on the question of social security reform randomly selected groups arrive at more egalitarian policies than do their members of congress — and all the participants don’t just seek to maximize their so-called economic self-interest.


  6. Further to my above post, here’s an example: “Although they would be disproportionately affected, among those in the top quartile of income, about seven in ten in both districts recommended reducing benefits for the top 25% of earners, and 86-88% recommended raising the cap on income subject to the payroll tax.” Source:


  7. In both of the examples a) was voting secret and b) did the groups have the power to implement their decisions? If the answer to either or both questions is “no” then virtue signalling cannot be ruled out.


  8. This is an important question, and Keith’s comment is important to note.
    Keith wrote: “when it comes to actual power people vote with their pocket books.” This may be true or exactly wrong. We don’t know, and no studies have been conducted to show one way or the other (simply because so few deliberative minipublics have had real power). There are many (potentially countervailing) psychological factors at play.

    1. There is a huge difference between a body elected using partisan elections and a random group, in terms of their real goal. Elected representatives have a far HIGHER priority than finding good solutions to problems. They have the priority of staying in power, which involves demonising the other parties, and satisfying funders and core supporters, etc. They know that most voters are uninformed and unable to hold them to account due to rational ignorance. In other words their deliberation is a performance or show, and not real. Elected legislators almost never deliberate. Their paid staff meet with lobbyists and publicity experts, to formulate positions. Deliberation has nothing to do with it. (I speak as an insider who served 20 years in elective office). Random groups serving short duration terms don’t have these distorting incentives and can actually seek best solutions.

    2. If a minipublic has REAL power, we simply do not know if they would be more pro-social or more selfish. All of the deliberative polls of Fishkin and most minipublic experiments have not been conducted in circumstances of real power… Keith’s guess may be right or exactly wrong. We simply don’t know. All we know is that the decisions would be MORE DEMOCRATIC. We also know they would be able to base their decisions on better information than either voters OR elected legislators, (who are more interested in hearing from supportive lobbyists and publicists than policy experts, or opponents.)

    3. There are also countless well replicated studies showing that when people are made to feel powerful (as the status of being an elected leader), it tends to make those people behave less honestly and in a less prosocial way. The notion that power corrupts is a scientific fact, not just a witty saying. The design and procedures of the minipublic are thus crucial. We must not simply replicate the structure of elected chambers, but fill them with random people who serve long terms.


  9. I realized my last sentence can be read to mean the opposite of my intention…I meant “We must not replicate the structure of elected chambers, and we must not fill them with random people who serve long terms. The point being that approach invites the corruption of power. It might be better than the status quo, but we can do so much better.

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  10. Anonymous,

    The website you linked to looks interesting, but can you point me to the particular material?


  11. Terry, your point 3. is of course a good reason for decision-making juries (such as legislative juries that decide laws) to serve for short terms, and also, it seems to me, to make only a very small number of decisions, such as deciding on just one proposed law rather than on dozens of them. And it is also a reason for term length being less of a concern for advisory/recommendation juries.


  12. Terry is right that there is no evidence one way or the other, leaving theorists and sortition advocates free to imagine whatever they like about the workings and outcome of a full-mandate sortition body. But the evidence of history ( as uncovered by Cammack and her peers) is that Athenian democracy — in both its assembly and jury form — was a lot more like elective democracy than we would like to believe. The tiny political class (who largely monopolised the debate) adopted a form of forensic rhetoric that would appear to be a ubiquitous characteristic of democratic politics. “Deliberative” democracy is no more than a set of procedural norms and even Habermas has acknowledged that it bears no resemblance to how actual groups behave in the real world. And it has no historical provenance whatsoever, notwithstanding attempts to mis-represent Athenian democratic practice.

    >They have the priority of staying in power, which involves demonising the other parties, and satisfying funders and core supporters, etc.

    True, but it’s a double edged sword. Satisfying the preferences of one’s constituents strikes me as a laudable goal, especially when you remember that Athenian jurors were lampooned by the playwrights on account of their godlike and unaccountable power.

    >the decisions [of an allotted body] would be MORE DEMOCRATIC

    Presumably what you mean by this is that the decisions would be made by persons who better resemble their peers. But, given the need for representation in large modern states, and that this takes various forms (active, descriptive, ascriptive, symbolic etc), your assumption that resemblance=democracy is unwarranted. There is no reason why the policy proposals of persons who do not “describe” their constituents should not represent their beliefs and preferences — indeed this is what the electoral theory of democracy is based on. Of course it’s not perfect for the reasons that we are all familiar with, but there is no evidence to suggest that a full-mandate sortition body, which is accountable to nobody, should perform any better.

    >more pro-social or more selfish

    Even that is a partisan statement as the former cashes out as social democracy and the latter as classical liberalism. It’s important to remember that advocates of the latter claim that it is grounded in a moral philosophy that prioritises individual aspirations over collective behaviour. As to how the two moral philosophies/anthropologies cash out in practice that’s another matter, but since Popper we should all be mindful of the danger of collectivism as opposed to the open society.


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