Public Support for Citizens’ Assemblies Selected through Sortition

A new paper explores public opinion in the EU regarding sortition based decision-making bodies. The paper was written by Jean Benoit Pilet, Damien Bol, Emilien Paulis, Davide Vittori and Sophie Panel.

Title: Public Support for Citizens’ Assemblies Selected through Sortition: Survey and Experimental Evidence from 15 Countries

Abstract:
As representative democracies are increasingly criticized, a new institution is becoming popular in academic circles and real-life politics: asking a group of citizens selected by lot to deliberate and formulate policy recommendations on some contentious issues. Although there is much research on the functioning of such citizens’ assemblies, there are only few about how the population perceives them. We explore the sources of citizens’ attitudes towards this institution using a unique representative survey from 15 European countries. We find that those who are less educated, as well as those with a low sense of political competence and an anti-elite sentiment, are more supportive of it. Support thus comes from the ‘enraged’, rather than the ‘engaged’. Further, we use a survey experiment to show that support for citizens’ assemblies increases when respondents know that their fellow citizens share the same opinion as them on some issues.

5 Responses

  1. About popular support for citizen conventions, and about lens of Pilet & al.

    *** In the mentioned Pilet &al article, the researchers write “First, we find that the general public is not particularly favourable to citizens’ assemblies selected through sortition. The average support is slightly below the midpoint of the 0-10 scale (where 0 means ‘very bad idea’ and 10 ‘very good idea’).”
    *** Let’s look more precisely.
    We have a recent detailed poll by Opinion Way for Sciences Po/CEVIPOF. Baromètre de la confiance politique. Vague 12/round 12.(https//www.opinion-way.com)
    P 132-133. They asked citizens to give an agreement note from 0 to 10 to the question
    “Overall, do you think that the recommendations made by these citizens’ assemblies or conventions should be implemented by governments?”
    The results are for France:
    NEGATIVE
    note 0 to 4 15 %
    MEDIUM
    Note 5 23%
    RATHER POSITIVE
    Note 6 to 8 47 %
    STRONGLY POSITIVE
    Note 9 and 10 8 %
    NO ANSWER 7%

    *** From these results we can deduce than only less than 10 % of citizens support the mini-populus idea, and that “the general public is not particularly favourable” as write Pilet & al.
    *** But we can read the same data with another lens and say: a clear majority has sympathy with this (politically) new idea, which was not brought neither by strong militant groups nor by strong media pressure.
    *** We must consider likewise that some, perhaps many, want the recommendations be implemented only after approval by referendum (not so great a support for the representative system).

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  2. *** In the Pilet &al. article, the researchers write “Support [for citizen conventions] comes from the ‘enraged’, rather than the ‘engaged’.”
    *** Let’s consider the beginnings of the Athenian dêmokratia. Cleisthenes could win the oligarchists supported by the Spartans only because he was supported by fighting common citizens, the “enraged” fraction of the common dêmos. But the establishment of dêmokratia, with the “melting” of the citizen body through strong and very “artificial” social engineering, in an archaic Athens with low literacy, was an “abstract” endeavor which could be brought about only by a “engaged” fraction of the elite.
    *** The formula is the same nowadays. But in modern literate societies, the social adscription of the “enraged” and the “engaged” will be less clear.
    *** For instance, in France Priscillia Ludosky who, through her petition against gas taxes increases, lid the spark of the Gilets Jaunes (typical enraged) leads now the movement of the Gilets Citoyens supporting the citizen conventions (typical engaged).
    *** The enraged being quantitatively more important than the engaged, any linear relationship study will see the enraged rather than the engaged.
    *** If we consider not the beginning but the ordinary working of a dêmokratia, the power will be distributed equally to the citizens, the enraged, the engaged, and the others. The strong supporters of the political mutation will not have a special share of power – a strong difference with many other mutations.

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  3. Andre:> an “abstract” endeavor which could be brought about only by a “engaged” fraction of the elite.

    Indeed. But as we are referring to an “artificial” form of “social engineering” we need to be extremely clear about the principles involved and how best to put them into practice.

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  4. Andre,

    Thanks a lot for pointing out this opinion poll – very interesting. The numbers (page 129 and on) actually look very encouraging.

    There is a lot of openness to the idea and outright rejection is very low. But most interesting is that in all the countries polled there is about 30% support for the idea of having “regular citizen conventions complementing the work of parliament”. The fact that a sizeable proportion of the public supports this option of creating a sortition-based decision making body independent of the elected bodies, an option which has not been seriously promoted by any political force, is extraordinary.

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  5. After Keith Sutherland remark.
    *** What was abstract in Cleisthenic reforms ?
    *** Equal suffrage of citizens, and power of the Assembly. Yes, but not so much, it is a (strongly) egalitarian drift from the Homeric assemblies.
    *** Lot for councillors, and jurors (for jurors, it is said Solonian, but I doubt). Yes, but not so strange in Greece where secular lot was used for instance for inheritances , already in Homer.
    *** Ostracism (in 4th century out of use). Yes, but it was a civilized and rationalized form of the archaic “politics of exile”.
    *** Which modern historians feel especially “abstract” and “artificial”, and already stroke the Greek memory, it is the “melting” of the civic body to blur differences of lineages and origins (up to cancelling official uses of family names). Interesting to see the feelings of some famous British scholars. Kitto wrote “Among us such a system would be damned from the start by the fact that it was so artificial, so made-up.” And Fred Alford wrote: “Today we have less confidence in institutions, less confidence in our ability to design them, and probably less confidence in reason as well, at least as applied to the solution of social problems. The disastrous failure of any number of brave new worlds certainly justifies an appropriate modesty in this regard. Karl Popper’s strictures regarding utopian engineering are well taken”.
    *** To compare, we should think of reforms in USA not only putting the populus in absolute power, but trying to “melt” the civic body by using the strength of dêmokratia to crush the race divide. Not very Popperian, indeed.

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